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

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 interest in 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.

 

"Tres belle, Mademoiselle! C'est magnifique!" Paulette, the Baroness
Fitzgibbon's lady's maid stood back to gaze upon her creation. I stood
before a tall mirror in Her Ladyship's apartments. The gown had been
at last decided upon by the two of them, with no opinion from me either
offered nor solicited. It was of a very dark, claret-coloured velvet, in the
new empire style, high waisted and fitted close to the body. The
sleeves were narrow and tight, and very long, ending in little points that
covered the backs of my hands. The gown emphasized my
slenderness and height, but it was the emphasis on my bosom which
had me most disconcerted. As far as I could see, there was no top
portion to the gown at all! The sleeves began at the outermost curve of
the shoulder and the "neckline" crossed my chest at a point far too low
for decency, I thought,and vanished into my armpits. To make matters
worse, the Baroness being of somewhat slighter build than I , and this
being her gown, I felt stuffed into it to the point where I thought I dared
not breathe for fear that one or the other of my womanly blessings
might come popping out the top at any moment! It is a simple fact,
Sarah dear, that I have never been a woman who needed a great deal
of enhancement in that area.

"My bosoms are going to slap me in the face when I walk!" I
complained.

"Mais non, Mademoiselle! You are beautiful! The gentlemen will be
falling at your feet!" Insisted Paulette.

"Well if they should chance to fall forward, they shall at least be
assured of a soft landing!" I fumed,tugging with futility at my neckline.

Paulette laugh, "Oo, oui, Mademoiselle! You are so - tres jolie!"

The Baroness frowned into the mirror as she stood behind me and
fastened the clasp of a magnificent choker of diamonds and rubies
around my neck. "For heavens sake Paulette, enough! For the one
thousandth time, you are not French!"

"I am too, French," said Paulette, pouting, "at least mon pere was
French, an' I take after 'im. You can even ask my mum!"

The Baroness rolled her eyes. This was a very old routine with the
two of them, and one I'd seen played out many times, like some kind of
silly private game. In truth of the matter Paulette was about as French
as a steak and kidney pie. She had been born at Ladyfair, and her
father was known to be a certain randy underfootman who had been
ultimately given the sack for impregnating no less than three
housemaids in the six months extent of his employment. Her mother
had named her Polly. Yet for some reason, Paulette had at a very early
age conceived this notion of herself as the daughter of some itinerent
Gallic spy, or sometimes he was a French gypsy musician, depending
on her current whim. It was entirely possible that the girl was quite
mad, and yet her delusions had stood the Baroness in very good
stead, for part and parcel of Paulette's obsession was her ambition to
be a French lady's maid. In this ambition, she had succeeded
spectacularly, for she was a veritable magician when it came to her
taste in clothing and jewelry, and her skills in dressing hair and
applying cosmetics.

Indeed, having been the beneficiary of her ministrations that night I
have to say I hardly recognized the spectacular looking young woman
who was frowning back at me in that mirror. Paulette had painted me
up like the true artiste she was, and one would not even know that any
artifice had been applied, so natural was the effect, and yet my skin
glowed, my eyes sparkled, my lips looked soft and full and rosy-red.
The hair had been a bit of a problem, apparently, owing mostly to its
complete lack of inclination to curl. It is (still) quite thick and heavy and
straight. Most of Alexander's and my children had the great good
fortune to have inherited a perfect mixture of both of us, all having hair
that falls in nicely manageable waves. All except for poor little
Iphigenia, who was always the very image of her father, from her
determined little face to those damnable Edrington corkscrew curls!
Sweet, child, all is well though, for her Richard does love her! I do like
Richard. It is difficult to imagine that Lady Barbara is only his
stepmother, for he does so favour the Wellesleys, except for his dark
looks. That father of his was always a queer duck, though. I always
thought there was something hidden, some little bit of tension
pertaining to some history that he and Alexander shared. I know they
had served together at some time in the past. Alexander has always
maintained that they were friends, and that nothing was ever amiss
between himself and Lord Hornblower, but I have always had that
sense - Well! Back to the story! When you have written this all down
properly, Sarah, you may omit all of my old lady ramblings!

My hair had been arranged satisfactorily at last, pulled back from the
forehead and braided into a thick rope that was then coiled onto the
back of my head and fastened with a number of bejeweled pins. The
Baroness, effortlessly splendid herself in dark blue silk and dripping
with diamonds, pronounced the effect "Grecian" and finally we were
able to be on our way.
We all piled into the Fitzgibbon's carriage, Gussy, me, his parents,
Tweedy, the valet, and Paulette, who was to station herself in the ladies
salon in order to make any necessary repairs to our toilette should the
need arise. I was most afraid of bursting my gown at the seams ,and
so she had to reassure me at least twice that she carried sufficient
needles and thread and pins to attend to any unforeseen emergency.

*****

"Poor Archie! He was always a little prone to panic! It was a bit of a
family joke!" This was my dinner partner, Captain Kennedy, of the
Dragoon Guard. When we had been introduced, I had recognized him
as one of the gentlemen who had been riding with the Earl when I had
first seen him on the lawn yesterday morning. Captain Kennedy was
the second son of a Baronet who had large holdings in Scotland and
Ireland. As the soup was being served, Lord Edrington had been
relating an amusing story of Captain Kennedy's younger brother,at the
time an acting Lieutenant in His Majesty's Navy. "Major" Edrington and
he had served together on what had apparently been a complete fiasco
of a mission in France. I must confess, I had heard nothing of it. Surely
the papers must have buried the account!

I think my lord may have felt he had gone a little too far in poking fun
at this poor young man, who had apparently quite gone off his head
and wasted great quantities of gunpowder blasting away at an invisible
enemy. In fact the boy had aquitted himself bravely in the end, racing
out onto a bridge that was about to be blown up, in order to save his
commanding officer who was trapped on the other side.

"It was perhaps one of the greatest acts of loyalty and courage I have
ever witnessed," said His Lordship.

"And what of your little brother now,Captain Kennedy?" I asked, "
Does he continue to amaze with his feats of derring-do?"

The Captain looked down at his plate for a moment. Then, "He was
shot. In a fight with the Spanish off Santo Domingo. He died some
weeks later in Jamaica."

Oh, dear. How could I have known? A great pall fell upon the entire
table and I am quite sure everyone was thinking the same thoughts.
That these handsome young men in their splendid uniforms were in
fact engaged in a grim and deadly business. Wars killed innocent
people and beautiful young men in scarlet coats. There was a
chance - there was always a chance, that Alexander could be killed in
battle. This was the very first occasion upon which this reality made
itself known to me, and of course it was an anxiety I would come to live
with for many years.

Oh! But you must forgive me, Sarah, for I have plunged us right into
the middle of the dinner party already! Shall I tell you of our arrival at
Edrington House and of meeting Alexander's family for the very first
time?

 

 

I had never before set foot in this house before, of course, and my first
impression was that it was very old fashioned, even Medieval in
feeling, what with the dark oak paneling on the walls of the great
hall,the black and white squares of marble on the floor, and the ancient
tapestries"why there was even a display of armor and armaments! It
most definitely gave one a sense of permanence, and that this was
indeed a very old and powerful family. Of course much of the interior
had been refurbished at later dates, the dining room, for instance had
been done in Alexander's grandfather's time and it was a lovely room,
with its intricate carvings by Grinling Gibbons and the beautiful barrel-
vaulted ceiling painted all over with scenes from Greek mythology, as
were the walls.

There was not very large party of guests, perhaps a dozen or so of the
local gentry. Gussy's family knew them all of course, and I had some
idea, although I could not always put the correct faces to names.
Everyone was gathered in the hall before dinner. Oh, how I caught my
breath when I saw His Lordship coming forward to greet us! I had
literally to catch myself, for to have taken too great a gulp of air would
surely put me in peril of revealing far more of my décolleté than I cared
to! I was holding myself very straight and daren't bend forward in my
curtsy at all!

"Miss Edgerton," He was once more resplendent in scarlet with
brass fittings , the coat so beautifully cut, lying just so over his broad
shoulders. More than anything I wished to be able to breathe. If I make
it through this night without fainting, I thought, I shall count myself
fortunate indeed! I found myself holding out my hand, and he took it in
his. So warm! I stared at his long, strong fingers curled around
mine.And then, the slightest brushing of his lips. Formal. Cordial. But
oh, Sarah! There is nothing so erotic, I think, as those first moments of
touching when one is just falling in love, and hungering for that touch
and not knowing if ever - He was speaking to me, saying something -

"My lord?"

A thin smile, "I wondered did you receive the package I had sent over
this morning?"

He had released my hand. Unconsciously, I put my other hand over it ,
smoothing the place where he had kissed. "Oh, yes, my lord. It
was - exquisite. Unexpected - thank you."

"But it was a gift of thanks. You are thanking me for thanking you.
Where will it all end?"

I smiled. "It is more than sufficient thanks for the use of a knife and
file, my lord. I would say you have made a considerable advance upon
those s-s-stud fees." Oh, my! What an unfortunate word to stumble
upon! My face felt hot.

"We may come to an agreement then, regarding my mares?"

"I think so, certainly, my lord."

At that moment we were joined by Alexander's baby sister, Portia,
who was , I think fifteen at the time, and I have to say, my first thought
was that this must be the family changling! She was petite, plump, dark
haired, with bright blue eyes, and she fairly bounced over to us, seizing
Alexander by the arm and tugging on it. "Introduce me Sandy! Oh, there
is no need, for I know who you are, Miss Edgerton! I am Portia! Sandy
says you have a magnificent Arab stallion, and he means to get some
of his babies! Oh, and I saw you yesterday out hunting and I thought
you were splendid! I am a hopeless rider! I only wish I rode half as well
as you!"

Somehow she got a hold of me and was dragging me away from her
brother and the Fitzgibbons, chattering nonstop. "There is Captain
Kennedy! Have you met him yet? Is he not the handsomest man you
have ever seen? Oh, I think you should not meet him, for he will surely
fall in love with you and then what will I do? Your gown is just stunning!
I could never be so daring!" One could not help but love Portia, over-
ebullient as she could be, for she was never anything less than
completely genuine and open-hearted. She was just so un-
Edringtonian! Now, Athena, the elder sister, and the old Countess
Dowager, they both fit the mold. I am sure, in fact, that the Countess
WAS the mold. Quite obviously, Athena and Alexander favoured their
mother, both tall and golden, with that straight nose and firm chin, and
that quality of , what is the French expression? Noblesse oblige, is it?
Oh, I don't know, but one definitely had a sense of one's own place
when in their presence! Particularly Athena, if ever a woman was aptly
named! The Goddess of Intellect. I do believe she was quite the most
intelligent person I have ever known. She frightened the devil out of
men, of course, not that she ever had any use for them.

And I must tell you, too, about Posy! You see, when the Countess was
young, she lived in Paris for a time, as her father, the Marquess Of
Edbury was an ambassador to the court of Louis the Fifteenth Well, it
seems that at the time, it was considered quite the thing for a young
lady of fashion to have a little black boy as a page to carry her train, and
hold her fan and her champagne glass. These children were brought
from the slave markets of North Africa and could be purchased right off
the street in the City of Paris! The Countess's father had given her such
a little boy, just five years old. This slave child was given the fanciful
name of"Posy". Well, just imagine, when we were led in to dinner, and
the Countess was seated at the head of the table, and there, standing
behind her chair was this self-same Posy, having attained the age of
some forty-odd years, and I must say, quite the most remarkable
looking specimen of the human race I have ever chanced to behold! All
of seven feet tall, and so black as to have a sheen of blue to his skin.
Extraordinarily handsome he was, with the most unusual eyes, the
colour of aquamarines, which naturally contrasted startlingly in his dark
face. Atop his fine livery, he wore a turban, with a dazzling jewel in the
center. I do not know if he kept to the Mohammedan faith it
represented, but it certainly heightened the effect of his exoticism.

So you see, already Sarah, there was a great deal for an
unsophisticated country girl such as myself to take in!

At dinner, as I have said, I was seated to the right of Captain Kennedy,
and Portia, to her utter elation, was on his right. The Captain was, in
fact, a very good looking man, well-built, golden blonde and blue-eyed,
with that pink and white Irish high colouring underlying his lightly
tanned skin. I noticed, but just barely, for I was a bit distracted, as you
must know. His Lordship was seated opposite and diagonally to my
right, where, for better or worse he was afforded an excellent view of
what I felt was my frighteningly overflowing bosom! I imagined I could
feel every set of male eyes at the table upon me and I was dreadfully
self-conscious, petrified of dropping something down there where it
would surely be lost forever! I tried to concentrate on sitting up straight,
and listened to the conversation to try and get my mind off my own
discomfiture.

"What news of the war, then, my lord?" the Baronet Fitzgibbon was
asking.

"My lord, there is apparently no news," Edrington replied, "My own
regiment is presently dispersed, and I am here, I have no orders, nor
even an indication that any will come. There is talk of a peace, as you
may have heard, though as yet the details are vague. I do have my
doubts as well. If there is to be a peace, I should not be surprised to
find it a short one. I do not trust Bonaparte to be contented as yet, do
you gentlemen?"
There were murmurs of general agreement. I raised my wine goblet
and tried to steal a look at Edrington over its rim. I distinctly thought I
caught him looking away from me just as I was looking at him.

"And if there is peace, what do the officers of his Majesty's army do
then?" asked a lady, a little flirtatiously, I thought.

"Well, madam," he began, "Having been so often away in these
years past, there is naturally a great deal of business needing my
attention, both here at Edrington and in London. So I, for one will be
sufficiently occupied until such time as His Majesty shall once more
require my services."

"And he will be taking his two beautiful and charming sisters to be
presented at court!" Portia bubbled. "You promised, Sandy!"

"So I did." His Lordship sighed , looking indulgently upon the girl.

" I suppose it will mean making the usual rounds. Paraded on the
marriage market like some prized heifer," Athena remarked.

"Only if you wish it, dearest," said Alexander, "Otherwise you shall be
free to indulge yourself in the dingy environs of Covent Garden to your
hearts content." It was well known that the salons and coffee houses
of Covent Garden were a haven for wits and poets, artists and authors.
As you know, Sarah, Athena never married, and when she came into
her own money, she established her own salon in London, and herself
became an author of some renown, although I must say,to read and
comprehend the majority of her work was quite beyond my patience.
Well, I will say it, it was boring!

Her "marriage market" remark did get my attention, however. I had
been to London less than a handful of times in my life, but even a
bumpkin such as myself knew that matchmaking was as much of a
sport in the rooms of White's and Almack's as was chasing the fox
here in the country! Was His Lordship thinking of taking a bride? He
would be a catch, and I have to say I liked not at all the idea of him
being pawed over by ambitious Mamahs or seduced by some
winsome titled Miss!

Captain Kennedy spoke,"When you come to London, my lord, you
must come and tour the cavalry school. The manege has just been
completed, and I shall be giving public exhibitions soon in the Methode
de la Gueriniere."

That got my attention. "Are you a student of Gueriniere, sir?" I asked.

He seemed surprised at my question. " Indeed I am Miss Edgerton.
Before the war I was most fortunate to have won a place at
L'Academie de la Gueriniere in Paris. Unfortunately, with the
dissolution of the Royal Court, there is a danger of his teachings being
lost to France. The Spanish Riding School in Vienna preserves his
methods, and

now we hope to do the same here in England. France's loss will be
our advantage. You have read Gueriniere?"

If his tone was a little condescending, I tried to ignore it, "I have, sir.
And Xenophon, and Pluvinel, Grisone, Pignatelli, Baucher and von
Weyrother!." Well, perhaps his tone had made me a little testy. Or
perhaps it was the fact that everytime he turned to speak to me his
gaze tended to wander from my face and wind up at some points to the
South. "I am most interested in the movements of the haute ecole de
dressage, although I have never seen them performed," I said.

"Ah, well then you would be interested in one of our exhibitions." We
then began a most absorbing conversation, just we two, and for the
first time that evening I was able to momentarily forget my own self-
consciousness.

But just as I was really beginning to relax and was leaning in toward
Captain Kennedy, laughing at some amusing remark, I heard his
Lordship say to his mother in a carrying voice, "Oh, and did I tell you,
Mamah , that Maddox and I surprised a poacher this morning? In the
deer park. We gave chase, but he got away. Fortunately for him the little
fellow was a damned good rider. Had we caught him I think we should
have had to hang him, for the horse was quite obviously stolen."

With that he looked directly at me, and there again was that self-
possessed smirk. My dear he KNEW ! I am sure I must have flushed
as crimson as my gown, although no one else at the table seemed to
pay me any mind. All I could think of then was for the dinner to be over
so that I could escape my humiliation. For the rest of the meal I tried to
avoid His Lordship's mocking eyes by keeping either my wineglass or
my water goblet in front of my face as much as possible. The footman
behind my chair was greatly helpful in this, refilling my glasses as
promptly as they emptied.

When at last the ordeal was over, I was fair to bursting with all of that
liquid, and I made my way hastily to the ladies' salon.This was a little
withdrawing room off the great hall, which had a number comfortable
couches and chairs, and dressing tables and mirrors as well as a
little alcove concealed by a Chinese screen behind which was a
commode. I ducked hurriedly behind the screen. Paulette followed,
standing on the other side of the screen and speaking to me.

"Mademoiselle, you are a success! Did I not tell you the gentlemen
would swoon? And did you see that body servant of Le Comtesse?
Mon Dieu! I have never seen such a beautiful man!"

"Paulette, have you been spying?" I asked.

"Oui, of course, how else can I be of help in your affaires de la coeur,
if I do not observe?"

"What affairs? What are you on about, Paulette?"
"His Lordship could not take his eyes off of you."

Really - ? "Don't be ridiculous, Paulette. He was probably just
awaiting the moment when one of my tits would pop out and land in the
soup! I am quite certain he and Captain Kennedy had a wager on it!"

"Non, Mademoiselle, he is in love with you. I know about l'amour. I
am French ,you know."

I had to say it. In the absence of the Baroness someone had to play
the game. "Paulette, you are not French!"

 

I passed by the drawing room on my way back from the salon and I
saw that the servants were setting up the card tables and the guests
were milling about waiting for play to begin. It was going to be a very
long evening. I despised card games in the first place, probably as
much as Gussy loved them. I could think of nothing worse than sitting
there bored all night, with His Lordship smirking at me in that knowing
way,which embarrassed and irritated me greatly, in spite of Paulette's
opinion.

On top of things, I was feeling none too well, possible owing to a lack
of oxygen, or maybe to the prodigious amounts of claret I had so
recently consumed, or more likely a combination of each. I thought I
should like nothing so much as to find some quiet, secluded hiding
place I could disappear to and perhaps read a book, until such time as
Gussy or one of the others came to fetch me.

I began to wander down the long side gallery, turning at last down a
rather dark ( and promising ) corridor at the end of which was a tall,
carved oaken door. Coming near, I placed my hand upon the knob and
listened for a moment. No sound. Slowly, I turned the knob and pushed
open the door, entering quickly and closing it softly behind me.

Perfect! The room was a library or study. Carved cases filled with
books lined the dark paneled walls from floor to ceiling. The room was
very masculine in feeling, with dark red velvet draperies concealing tall
windows and thick Turkey carpets on the floor. A blue and white
Chinese bowl filled with autumn chrysanthemums on a round table
caught my eye, as did the two enormous stag's heads which flanked
the fireplace. A small wood fire was burning there, giving the room its
only light. Directly over the fireplace was a large painting. I walked over
to see in the dim light. A tall, handsome, brown haired man, dressed in
hunting clothes, but with very fine lace at his throat and cuffs. His
hands rested one each on the shoulders of two young boys, one a bit
taller than the other, but both very much alike with their serious dark
eyes and tumbling golden curls. I smiled to myself. Alexander. I moved
closer.

Just then I became aware of a most unusual smell. Smoky, but not
like wood smoke. It was cloying and sweet. I sniffed.

"You're Eloisa's child."

I nearly jumped out of my skin! I spun in the direction of the voice, and
it was a most interesting sight that met my eyes. Seated in an
enormous wing chair in the corner was the old Countess, and
crouched silently at her feet was the giant Posy. The source of the
smoky smell would seem to be the very unusual pipe he was holding
up to the Countess's lips. How shall I describe it to you? It consisted of
a long tube of what I recognized to be bamboo, with a smaller, metal
tube protruding part of the way down its length, ending in a tiny silver
bowl at the bottom. In one hand Posy held the pipe and with the other
he held a little spirit lamp to the bottom of the bowl, causing whatever
substance was contained therein to smoulder.

"Forgive me, Your Ladyship, I did not mean to disturb you. I just
wanted to be alone for a moment." I recovered myself enough to say.

"That is quite allright , child. I too, needed to get away. It is difficult for
me - I have such pain, you see - this helps." With that she sucked
daintily on the proffered pipe for a moment, then sighing and closing
her eyes, sank back into her chair. Posy sat back on his haunches. He
placed the pipe on a little stand on the table next to her chair where it
continued to smoulder, filling the room with its sweet, choking smoke.

"Come and sit," said the Countess motioning me to a little plush
footstool beside her chair. I did as I was told.

"You don't look a great deal like her, like Eloisa. But you are lovely, as
she is." I studied her face as she spoke. The light of the fire highlighted
the clean strong bones of her face. She had probably never been
beautiful, I thought , but surely she had always had a presence.

"Do you know that I still write to your mother? You did not, I see. She
chose happiness, and it has gone well with her. I am glad of it. As the
years pass, my dear, the rules and conventions of society matter less."
I saw her eyes move to the painting over the fire. "My husband, Hector,
the Seventh Earl. And our eldest son, also called Hector. And the little
one is Alexander." A little half-smile played about her lips. The smoke
was rather thick, I thought. My head was beginning to swim. Why had I
drunk so much?

"I think Alexander was as surprised as any to find himself an Earl. He
was barely twenty when his brother died and he inherited, but he would
not give up his career. All he ever wanted was to be a soldier. He went
into the army as soon as I would let him go. He was sixteen. I wanted
to keep him with me, my baby. Three children. I would as soon have
had a dozen, but my husband no longer came to me once he had an
heir and an assurance." She sighed. "He loved another you see. Any
number of others, as it eventually happened."

I should not be here, I was thinking. Why is she telling me these
things? What is in that pipe? Wait, three children?

"You are thinking of Portia," she said, as if reading my thoughts. "
She is Hector's child, but not mine, although I love her as if she were.
Such a dear little girl. One cannot let an innocent child suffer for the
pain caused by its parents."

The room seemed so oppressive. I looked over at Posy, still
crouched silently on his heels. I gazed at the painting. The little one is
Alexander. Then back at the Countess who appeared to have dropped
off to sleep. I was feeling distinctly woozy and a little sleepy myself.

The door opened. Someone was there.

A voice said, "Mamah?"

I have no memory whatsoever, I am afraid, Sarah, of what happened
next, but according to your grandfather, who enjoys retelling this story a
great deal, what happened was this: He entered the smoke filled room
to find his mother passed out in her armchair, watched by Posy, and
me seated on the little stool beside her. As he came into the room, he
says I rose very slowly and turned, swaying on my feet. I held out my
arms and walked towards him, and with a strange, dreamy smile upon
my face, sighed, "Oh! Alek-ZAAANDER!" and swooned, fainting dead
away into his arms!

End of Chapter 2