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 3 Of a Bad Morning and A Good Mare, Of Friends and French
Vices and A First Kiss

I smelled coffee. I was trying to open my eyes, but the lids seemed to
be glued shut.

"Wake up, Princess! I shan't kiss you again, your breath is dreadful!"

"Gussy - " One crusty lid finally popped open, and then the other. I
groaned. As ghastly as I had felt on the previous morning , it was quite
possible I now felt at least three times worse.

"What - I was talking to the Countess - " I struggled to a sitting
position and promptly regretted it."Oh! God!"

Gussy was sitting on the bed, looking crisp in a dark blue jacket and
and primrose waistcoat. He pushed the coffee cup into my hands."
Here. Drink. What in the world happened? Edrington said you were
suddenly taken ill."

"I don't remember - was I in the library - ?"

"No, you were in the little ladies drawing room. He must've carried
you in there, and then come to find Mother and me."

Carried me? I thought about the position my body would have had to
be in for such a thing to occur. In that damned dress!

"Oh, God, Guss, did anything fall out?"

"Fall out? Don't know what you mean, dear."

I made a cupping gesture in the general direction of my breast with my
free hand.

"Ah. Um, not that I could see."

"What do you mean, 'Not that I could see'?"

He grinned."Well, perhaps His Lordship sort of tucked them back in
for you. He is gentleman, after all."

"AAAH!" I screamed,"Don't even joke"Oh, I'm going to be sick!" I
shoved the coffee cup at Gussy, and throwing back the covers, leapt
out of bed and raced to the dressing room to find the chamber pot.

I could hear Gussy carrying on in a conversational tone as I retched
my guts out. "Whatever were you thinking, ducks? I saw the way you
were tossing back that claret. His Lordship asked should we get the
doctor, but Mother told him she thought it was just a female complaint."

"Guck - She did not! Stop teasing me Gussy!"

"Poor old thing. Feeling really dire are we?"

Finished heaving for the moment, I dragged myself to the washstand ,
splashed some water on my face and rinsed my mouth. I staggered
back to the bed and crawled under the covers once more, pulling them
up to my chin."It wasn't just the wine." I said.

"Father thinks it was the saddle of lamb. You should've heard him
this morning," Gussy pulled in his chin to make it double and bugging
his eyes, did a wickedly accurate impersonation of the Baronet,"I'm
telling you Susannah, it was underdone! I was on the pot half the
night!"

I giggled a little."Please don't make me laugh. No, really Gussy, it
was the smoke - the Countess was smoking. It was some kind of
medicine - for pain she said. The smell was - overwhelming."

"Interesting. D'you suppose she's really ill? She is rather old."
Changing the subject abruptly, he said," Edrington sent a note over
this morning asking after you. And he was on about those horses
again. Says he's leaving for London within the fortnight and wants to
settle things before then. You're to come and look at a few of his mares
or some such thing?"

I had the covers pulled up to my eyes."I don't think I should go near
the Earl of Edrington. Every time I see him I am ill the next day! I think
he is bad for my health." Oh! And for my waistline as it would happen!
My goodness, Sarah, when we were first married all he would have to
do was unbutton himself and I'd have another baby! I had to learn a
thing or two, and quickly, I can tell you! Mark my words, my girl, a
woman must do what is necessary to protect her health. It won't do to
just keep having a baby, year after year! You come to your old
Grandmama when the time comes, Sarah, and I will tell you what you
need to know! And whatever you do, don't listen to the servants!
Sneezing and coughing and raising one's thigh! Mind you, Alexander
could have been a lot more forthcoming with his own store of
knowledge. I suppose he didn't want to have to answer a lot of
questions as to how he'd acquired it! As if I should've believed he'd
spent a dozen years in the army and remained pure as raindrops! Now
I have gone off on another of my rambles, haven't I ? Where were we?
Ah! Gussy wanted to know what would be my message for Alexander
regarding his mares, and I had remarked that the Earl was bad for my
health, yes?

"Ah. Then shall I send back that you've changed your mind?" Gussy
asked.

"No!" I surprised myself!

"What's this?" The teasing tone was back. Gussy pulled down the
covers and peered into my face."To see your face, Electra! D'you know
what I think? Hm? I think you're hoping His Lordship got a good look at
'em after all!"

"Gussy!"

"You want him to squeeze 'em don't you, you wicked girl!" He made a
fiendish face and made to come at me with his hands like claws.

"Stop it! You're horrid!" I shrank from him, diving under the covers. In a
muffled voice I pleaded,"Leave me alone! I'm ill!"

"Allright , allright. What shall I tell His Lordship, then?"

I came up for air once more. Gussy had moved to the little slipper chair
beside the bed."Tell him I'll come tomorrow, if that's agreeable. Most
definitely not today." I thought for a moment,"Will you come with me,
Guss? I can't go alone."

He smiled."I take it this will entail the touring of stables?"

"Most likely."

"And you do know what happens to me in the presence of hay and
straw and animals and the like in an enclosed space?"

"Do I?"

"I may have to step outside for a moment."

"If you must."

"Wicked girl."

"Oh, stop. You don't know anything. Is there any coffee left? Tell me,
how did you fare at cards last night?"

Gussy groaned,"It was ruinous! Edrington is a damned predator! I'd
love to know who taught him to play like that!"

*****


Gussy and I rode over to Edrington late the following morning. I
should think I knew the way quite well by now! Paulette had managed
to resurrect my good habit, which I feared had been ruined by pond
water, and she had applied her considerable skills to repairing my
pasty complexion and dark undereye circles. I still wasn't quite up to
snuff and I failed to imagine how the Countess's"medicine" was
making her better, considering the effect it had on me! Thanks to
Paulette, however, I was at least looking fresh and pretty, for all that I
felt like I'd been run over by a coach-and-four!

"How is it, Electra, that I am not in love with you?" Gussy asked, right
out of the blue.

"Why, Guss, what a strange question!" I said, surprised,"Why would
you think of such a thing?"

Our horses were walking companionably, side by side, James
behaving himself for a change, thinking of making a good impression
upon his new lady friends, perhaps.

"Its not such a strange question, is it ?" he asked. I must say, he
looked most uncharacteristically serious."It's just - well, I can look at
you and think you're probably the most beautiful woman I've ever seen,
and I do love you, but - "

"But - "

"There's nothing - "

I suddenly had the uncomfortable feeling that he was finding his way
around to a topic of conversation I would feel most unprepared to
discuss. Of course I knew a little of the world, and I had always had an
inkling - I smiled at him and reached over to take his hand.

"It's because you are my own darling Guss, who shared the bathtub
with me when we were babies! I love you too, Gussy, but I shouldn't
want you to love me that way! My goodness, you know me much too
well for that! We should have no intriguing secrets to keep from
eachother! It would be dreadfully dull!"

He grinned, that beautiful smile that would one day break so many
hearts,( a few of them even female)."I daresay you're right about that.
You are a dreadful bore! His Lordship is welcome to you!"

*****

 

His Lordship kept us waiting in the stableyard a good quarter hour.
We looked around at the stable and its beautiful surrounding grounds.
The building itself was considerably newer than the house, built of
white Portland stone with a Greek temple façade, which I thought a
rather amusing conceit. The Earls of Edrington quite clearly valued
their horses a great deal. The stable was surrounded by small stone
walled paddocks which opened out through gates to lush pastures
beyond. There were a number of mares in the paddocks, and by the
time His Lordship arrived, James was bugling and stamping with
excitement , and the mares racing along the fencelines screaming
back at him. I had dismounted, and a pair of grooms at last came out
of the stable to take him and Gussy's horse, just as the Earl cantered
into the stableyard astride the ubiquitous Apollo. He was looking none
too pleased.

"What the devil is going on here? Scroggins! Take these horses
around back and put them up! What's the matter with you man! At
once!" The grooms scrambled to obey."And someone take these, for
God's sake!" A third man appeared out of thin air and hurried to take
the very dead brace of pheasants that was dangling from His
Lordship's gauntleted hand. Within moments, it seemed, order was
restored.

"Forgive me, Miss Edgerton, Master Fitzgibbon. I seems I am late."
He swung down from the saddle. He was dressed in hunting clothes,
the same woolen breeches, brown boots and leather waistcoat he'd
been wearing when he'd nearly caught me trespassing. A long-
barreled gun hung in a leather scabbard on his saddle. I have to say,
Sarah, I thought him the most manly, the most handsome, the most
- oh, it made me shiver to see him! This will not do, Electra, I told
myself. You are here to conduct business. Oh, indeed!

"My apologies. The horses should have been seen to at once," he
was saying,"It would seem I have been too long away. This estate has
gone to hell in a basket. My sister Athena is a capable manager, but
she has little interest in certain aspects. I cannot fault her, really." It
was just a little thrilling to see him angry, Sarah, but oh, I did pity those
poor grooms!

"You are looking well, Miss Edgerton," he said with a little bow,"I
trust you have recovered completely from your sudden illness?"

"Yes, my lord. And I must thank you for your kindness." I found myself
imagining him carrying me down the length of the gallery, imagined I
could feel the places on my body where his hands must have been -
the backs of my thighs - the sides of my ribcage just under the arms -

"Nonsense. I am glad to see you are well. Will you come inside?" he
began to lead the way into the stable, "There are two horses I was
thinking in particular of putting to your stud. You must tell me if you
agree with my choice."

The interior of the stable was immaculate, flooded with daylight from
numerous clerestory windows. There was a wide center aisle and
along the sides, enormous box stalls, lavishly bedded with bright,
clean straw. It was very clean and airy, but when I glanced at Gussy,
who was holding a lace edged handkerchief over his nose and mouth,
I could see his eyes already looked a little red and bleary. Alexander
seemed not to notice. He walked briskly down the aisle and stopped at
last in front of one stall. A shining brass plate affixed to the door read"
Thisbe".

"Hello, my darling." He crooned softly to the occupant, who came
forward at once and poked her head out through the opening in the
wrought iron grill that covered the top portion of the door. She was a tall
black mare with kind, intelligent eyes , beginning to show a lot of gray
hairs about the muzzle. Alexander reached in his pocket and brought
out a handful of barley corn and fed it to the horse, who lipped it up
delicately from his flattened palm, all the while watching him with
adoring eyes.

"Thisbe is Apollo's dam. She's near twenty, but I should like to get
one more foal out of her, if I can." He slid back the bolt and opened the
door, motioning me to enter the stall. Gussy remained outside.

"Allright there , Fitzgibbon?" Alexander asked.

"Its stables, my lord. I can be out hunting on horseback all day and it
does not affect me, but indoors I seem to react rather badly, I'm afraid."
Gussy said,"But do carry on. I am fine." Dear Gussy. It was true. He
had a terrible time coming to stay at Chopping Bottom as
well,because of all my mother's cats.

"Isn't she a beauty?" My Lord was saying as he moved to stroke the
massive neck. He removed his glove, and I watched his hand glide
along the mare's neck, up over her beautifully sloped shoulder and
topline, then down to her flank, which quivered a little at his touch.

"She is lovely, my lord." I said (trying to breathe normally!) ,"She's
very well conformed, a bit heavy on the forehand, perhaps? I think she
could benefit some from James's refinement. The Arab is light, but very
dense of bone, as you know."

"Exactly my thoughts. We are in agreement on this one, then?" He
wasn't looking at me as we spoke. He was standing at the mare's
head, stroking her. She raised her muzzle and pushed at his nose and
chin, nuzzling him.

"Oh, yes. Only - I am thinking - it's a little late in the season, is it not?
Its coming on winter. Sometimes the mares do not take."

He nodded."We can but try. Apollo was born in the autumn, as it
happens. I just don't know what is going to happen with the war, where
I shall be , even in the next few months. At least we should have an
agreement. If we don't succeed, we may try again in the spring, if you
will allow."

"Of course. You said there was another - ?"

"Yes, Persephone. Come."

Apollo, Thisbe, Persephone, Alexander, Athena, Hector! These
Edrington's were nothing if not persistant with this Greek theme of
theirs! Its as well that my own name already fit the scheme, for who
knows if I should have been required to change it before I was allowed
to sign the marriage register! My dear, you don't know how narrowly the
twins escaped being named Castor and Pollux! Isn't that dreadful? To
this day I don't know if Alexander was truly serious, or if he just enjoyed
teasing me, but I did have to fight for those poor babies! For one thing,
poor Cassandra was a girl! Alexander said we could call her"Polly".
Oh, he could be a trial! Phillip and Cassandra was the final
compromise, of course.

I looked again at Gussy again as we exited the first stall and headed
for the second. He lowered the handkerchief, and looking miserable,
said,"Ub, 'Lectra, I think I'b going to hab to steb outside for a bobent.
Will you be allright on your ode?" I almost burst out laughing at the
stern, warning look he was attempting to fix upon His Lordship. My
champion!

"Of course, Gussy," I said, trying desperately to keep a straight face,"
I'm so sorry, I should never have asked you to come! What was I
thinking?" ' Don't you dare make that face at me, August Fitzgibbon!' I
thought, ' I know what you're thinking and you had better not let His
Lordship see that you're thinking it!'

 

 


I looked again at Gussy again as we exited the first stall and headed
for the second. He lowered the handkerchief, and looking miserable,
said,"Ub, 'Lectra, I think I'b going to hab to steb outside for a bobent.
Will you be allright on your ode?" I almost burst out laughing at the
stern, warning look he was attempting to fix upon His Lordship. My
champion!

"Of course, Gussy," I said, trying desperately to keep a straight face,"
I'm so sorry, I should never have asked you to come! What was I
thinking?" ' Don't you dare make that face at me, August Fitzgibbon!' I
thought, ' I know what you're thinking and you had better not let His
Lordship see that you're thinking it!'

Gussy bustled out, and as I turned back to my lord, I thought I saw the
merest hint of one of those aggravating little Edrington half-smiles
playing about his lips.

Persephone was a plump, draughty little mare, but very pretty,
dappled grey, with a white mane and tail.

"Oh, isn't she sweet!" I said, patting her velvet nose.

"Yes. She's good tempered as well. I was thinking perhaps we could
get a nice lady's horse out of her, something a little more elegant. For
Portia, perhaps. You surprise me, Miss Edgerton."

I looked up. We were not discussing horses."My lord?"

"I am surprised by your choice of chaperone."

"Oh, yes, poor Gussy, I had forgotten - "

He rested his arm over Persephone's broad back. She lowered her
head, fishing in the straw for wisps of green hay that had escaped the
manger."It's not that," he said,"You are unrelated?"

I thought the question somewhat offensive,"Oh," I scoffed,"I think I
am quite safe with Gussy!" As soon as I said the words I knew I had
made a mistake. He looked at me thoughtfully, then nodded, smiling
slightly.

"Ah. The French vice, is it? I daresay the French call it the English vice.
Or 'the unspeakable predilection of the Greeks' as our old
schoolmaster liked to say. He would have Hector and I omit countless
passages form our reading of Homer, lest we should divine the true
nature of the affection of Achilles for Patroklus!"

I stared in disbelief. I thought him unbelievably rude."How dare
you - " I began.

"I beg your pardon," he said, "I was merely - forgive me. I do not
judge. God knows we see enough of it in the army, particularly among
young gentlemen of quality, for whatever reason. Makes not one whit of
difference to a man's capability or character in my opinion."

"Gussy is my dearest friend." I said, lowering my eyes.

He took a step closer."I did not mean to offend. Perhaps I am too
used to the company of only men. One becomes accustomed to
speaking frankly. You do surprise me."

"You have said that, my lord. What is so surprising?"

Another step closer."That you are here, alone, with me."

I couldn't look at him. I busied myself with unravelling a witch's knot in
Persephone's mane."Why?" I asked,"Am I in danger, my lord? Am I
to be hanged for a horse thief after all?" Stupid! Now he had me off
guard. I had as much as admitted to trespassing!

A short laugh. His voice sounded different when next he spoke, lower,
softer, deep in his throat. He was standing very near."No," he said,"It
is only that I have been told, yes, very recently, in fact, that I am not a
gentleman." Then he said my name,"Electra."

I don't know how it happened, Sarah, but it seemed that one moment
I was focused on a knotted tangle of horse's mane, and in the next
moment I was staring into my lord's eyes. They looked - hot. I do not
know how else to describe it! Instinctively, I tried to turn my head, but
his hand came up"so quickly!"and took my chin, holding it there. I
opened my mouth, just a little, in surprise, and then he was kissing
me, and I could not resist him. Oh, Gussy was right, I was wicked, but
he should not, oh, he should not! He needed to be slapped---
Alexander, of course, not Gussy-- but all I could think of was how the
warm press of his mouth on mine was dissolving my limbs. All I could
think was that I wanted to sink down with him, beneath him, into the
soft, clean straw.

I should like to tell you, Sarah, that when he at last released me,
gasping and breathless, that I did slap him, that I was composed and
brazen and bold! But the fact of the matter was, I fled!

I hurried out of the stable, with him close behind me. Just as I
reached the door, I saw Gussy a little way off, leaning over the stone
wall of a paddock, looking at the horses. I slowed my step, regaining
my composure somewhat.

"Gussy!"

He turned, smiling, and strolled towards me. I was aware of the
presence of His Lordship directly behind me.

"There you are," Gussy said,"All settled then?"

"Yes, yes, all settled," I said. Did I sound all out of breath?

"There are still the terms - " I turned at the sound of His Lordship's
voice. He, at least, looked perfectly composed, damn him.

"The terms, My Lord?"

"Yes. The fees. The money. Payment for services rendered, Miss
Edgerton."

Services rendered indeed. I smiled at him."What would you say is the
value of the Arab livery you sent me, my lord?"

"It would be difficult to say," He replied.

"If one were to sell it, what would it bring?" I continued,"Would you say
at least twenty guineas?"

His eyebrows flew upward. Good God, I thought. The jewels are real!

"I would say it is somewhat in excess of twenty guineas, Miss. But as I
have said, it would be difficult to make an accurate guess."

I smiled again."I will consider your 'advance' to be payment in full for
services rendered, sir. Send the mares to me at Chopping Bottom. I
will keep them until such time as they are settled in foal, or until I am
convinced they will not settle. Then, as you say, we may try again in the
spring."

He made a short bow."I thank you, Miss Edgerton. I do look forward to
seeing the results of our partnership."

As do I, my lord, I thought but did not say. At that moment I saw the
groom, Scroggins, bringing James and Gussy's bay around. No doubt
he was trying to get back into his master's good graces.

"Can I offer you both some refreshment?" Edrington asked. The groom
started back tracking!"Will you come up to the house for tea?"

"Oh no, thank you, my lord," I said, partly out of a desire to escape, and
partly out of pity for poor Scroggins."We are expected at home, aren't
we Guss?" I held out my hand to him.

The heat in his eyes was still there.

*****

Gussy and I rode home in companionable silence. It is wonderful to
have someone you can do that with, do you not think, Sarah? Someone
you can just be with comfortably, without speaking? I rode a little
ahead, thinking my thoughts. I felt strangely lighthearted, almost giddy.
He thinks he knows everything, I thought, smiling to myself. Thinks he
is amusing himself with a silly, wild, unsophisticated country girl. But
what he doesn't know, I thought, is that he is going to love me. Just you
wait and see, Alexander, Lord Edrington! You will love me, and I shall
come to live with you and sleep in your bed and have your babies! I will
make him love me, I thought. I will!


End of Chapter 3. To be continued.