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

The Hunt. Chapter 5 : Alexander the Great!

Our outing at Windsor did take place after all, the following week. The
weather was not so fine as it had been. Autumn's brightness was
giving way to the grey of winter. Soon it would be too cold to ride out for
pleasure, and people would keep to their carriages and their homes.
My mood on this day would seemed to match this promise of coming
chill and gloom, for the discovery of Pamela's letter, and my
subsequent conversation with Portia had done much to bring my high-
flying hopes back to touch the earth. I carried in my heart , as well, a
little glowing coal of anger, whether justified or not, towards the Earl of
Edrington,( for I felt very much now that he had trifled with me) and in no
small degree towards my own self for my own stupidity and naivete. I
was sad and homesick, but stubbornness and pride would not let me
run, and in truth, I was no less in love than I had been when I had
arrived in London. I was a little astonished, I think, to learn that this was
so, and yet it would seem it could not be helped!

"Hawksbury is bent on peace, no matter the cost," Alexander was
saying to Captain Kennedy, "With the Americans, the Portugese and
the Austrians at peace with France, and with Belgium now in French
hands, he feels England has no choice, in spite of all our victories, at
least according to Grenville." The men were riding a few yards ahead
of Portia and myself, assuming with typical arrogance that young ladies
must have little interest in affairs of state. It was irritating.

"And what of the Czar, my lord?" I spoke up.

He turned in the saddle to look at me, "You are correct, Miss Edgerton,
to think that Russia is potentially a powerful ally. The Czar, however
remains uncommitted at this stage, and Lord Hawkesbury feels that
after ten years of unremitting war the cost is""

"But what of the cost to us in terms of territory? Of prestige? Surely any
agreement with France at this time will yet be expensive. Is
Hawkesbury, or more to the point, Mr. Addington willing to suffer this
compromise?" I asked.

A raised eyebrow for my efforts! "Mr. Addington is indeed a great deal
more malleable than was Mr. Pitt as Prime Minister and much less to
my liking, were you to ask. Also, if you were to ask, I would tell you that I
do not think we have seen the last of Mr. Pitt."

"You do not believe the peace will last." I said. The recently resigned
Prime Minister, Mr. Pitt ,was a most dogged and unrelenting opponent
of Bonaparte.

"I do not. But I am military officer. My opinion is perhaps coloured by
that fact," was his reply.

A military officer, indeed, and so compellingly handsome in all his
scarlet and golden splendor that the gush of love within me was
threatening to extinguish with a little hiss and a sigh my angry little
ember! And I will say, Sarah, that in as much as I could gaze upon the
face of my husband for all of eternity and never grow tired of the sight, it
must be said that the anterior view has always offered its own
particular delights. Oh yes, the view from behind was very fine and so
perhaps I did not mind so much that the men rode ahead, ignoring us.
It left me free to admire the rhythmic swing of that black- ribboned
queue across his lean, straight back , the flare of his coattails ,the little
swell there where seat met saddle , the easy fall of his long legs
against the horse's sides.

The weather, I suppose was too chill for all but the most intrepid of
us, for the grounds seemed nearly deserted. We were riding down a
straight avenue of tall, precisely spaced linden trees. The turf beneath
the horses feet was soft and still quite green. Ahead in the distance
loomed the high walls of Windsor castle, the favourite residence of the
king in these later years of his life. Our mounts were borrowed from
the mews of the cavalry school at Windsor, where Captain Kennedy
was Riding Master. All, that is , except for Apollo.

"Does he never ride any other horse?" I had whispered to Portia as we
set out.

She'd giggled, "Its peculiar, isn't it? And he rode all the way to London.
I suppose he doesn't want to go all soft!"

Not very likely, had been my thought.

"You must show Miss Edgerton how your horse can do tricks,
Captain," said Portia, probably growing impatient with the subject of
politics.

The Captain smiled. He did have a dazzling smile, and dear little Portia
was quite smitten with him already by this time, I think. She was too
young for him then, of course, but still I know I should have been a little
ashamed of myself for the way I behaved toward him that morning in
her presence. But then, it was not her emotions I sought to affect.

"They are not tricks, Lady Portia," he lectured teasingly, The High
School of Dressage is not the circus." Then he was serious. "The
movements are designed as the ultimate expression of the horse's
training in the art of war, as you will know, Miss Edgerton, from your
reading. They show the results of the culmination of his physical
development and of his willing submission to the rider."

The Captain was passionate about his work, if a little pompous, and
who knows, if there had been no Alexander Edrington, perhaps - We
did seem to have things in common. He was attractive, and as a
second son of a lesser peer, there would have been less of an
obstacle to overcome, certainly. But then, if there had been no
Alexander Edrington, I would no doubt still be galloping round the
countryside at home in Buckinghamshire, chasing a fox instead of an
impossible, unattainable man !

"Go on, show us your tricks, sir!" I laughed, nudging Portia.

"I despair of you both!" he declared, rolling his eyes, "Come, Tiburon!"
He clucked to his horse. Tiburon was a magnificent black Spanish
stallion, of the type that is bred in the region of Andalusia. He was large
and spectacularly muscled, with an enormous cresty neck and a long,
silky mane that flowed all the way down past the point of his shoulder.
As we watched, Captain Kennedy picked up the trot on a small circle.
Once he had established a rhythm, within a very few strides he was
able to collect the horse, bringing his haunches well under, and
without any sign of resistance, or indeed, without the appearance of the
rider doing anything but merely sitting calmly on his back, the horse
was suddenly trotting in one place. All his forward movement was
arrested, and the resulting energy seemed to propel him up, and up, in
a perfect, metric rhythm. It was stunning. Beautiful. I gasped in delight.

"It is the piaffe!" I exclaimed. I have only seen pictures! I should not
begin to know how to train, or to ride it !"

The Captain removed one hand from the reins and still neither the
horse's frame nor his rhythm faltered. Then in an imperceptible
transition, they were once again moving forward in the highly collected,
elevated trot which is called the "passage". I clapped my hands.
Captain Kennedy removed his hat and saluted us as the horse came
to an immediate, immobile and perfectly square halt. The Captain
tapped Tiburon's shoulder, and the the horse bent one foreleg
underneath him and tucked his head into his chest, dipping to a deep
bow. Marvelous!

"Now that was a trick." The Captain said of the bow.

"Oh, you are wonderful, Tiburon," I exclaimed. "I would so like to learn
how you do it, sir!"

"It is best to learn on a schoolmaster such as Tiburon," the Captain
said, "It is nearly impossible to teach a horse unless the rider knows
the feeling of what he is trying to achieve."

"May I try?" I asked.

Captain Kennedy glanced at Alexander. "Well, I don't see how - you
would have to ride astride."

"I assure you , sir, I have spent a great deal more time riding astride in
my life than I have in this ridiculous contraption," I laughed.

"Still, perhaps a more private setting would be - "

"Oh, pooh!" I scoffed, "There is no one about! Here," with that I hopped
down to the ground and taking the reins over my horse's head, handed
them to Portia. I began to untie the apron of my habit.

"Miss Edgerton, I don't think - " Poor Captain Kennedy!

"Oh, don't be silly." I admonished him. "Would you mind holding this,
my lord?" I asked, smiling sweetly as I whipped off my skirt and tossed
it at him. Apollo shied, throwing up his head, and I caught a glimpse of
a startled expression as the skirt landed on Alexander's hat. He
removed it calmly, and folded it over the front of his saddle. Was there
the beginning of the slightest ticking of the vein in his temple?

I walked over to Tiburon in only my black breeches and boots and
short riding coat. The Captain surrendered, and dismounted. He went
to give me a leg up, but before he could position himself I raised my
leg and put my foot in the stirrup, swinging myself easily up into the
saddle. Oh, it was a terribly shocking thing for me to do, I am sure, but
it seems I found myself suddenly in a mood to behave shockingly,
Sarah!

"Tell me what to do," I commanded, taking up the reins.

"Well, let us begin by adjusting your seat," the Captain said. "Your
stirrups will not be as short as you would have them for jumping. You
must have a nice, long leg that you can wrap softly around the body."
With that he pushed my thigh back with his hand, then deftly adjusted
the stirrup leather to the correct length. He moved to my other side and
did the same. "Now," he said, returning to my left side, and placing his
hand once more upon my thigh, "You want your - seat - to be right
underneath you, not stuck out behind." He took his other hand and
actually gave my bottom a little push in the desired forward direction! I
was looking down at him, but at that moment I stole a little glance at
His Lordship from beneath my lashes, and oh, Sarah, I don't think he
was liking it one bit! The line of his mouth was very straight indeed, and
yes, that temple was truly pulsing now! Well and good, I thought.

The Captain stood back and surveyed the line of my body in the
saddle. "Excellent." He said. "Now you may move forward in trot, but
you will sit, not rise, and you will use your seat to create the energy,
which you will then catch and hold in your hands, but softly, and you will
send the energy back again from the hand to the hindquarters, and so
forward again. Do you understand?"

I nodded, "A perpetual circle of energy," I said.

"Precisely. Trot on. Just make a small circle around me."

Tiburon had a powerful, lofty trot, but I did not find it difficult to sit.

"Find the rhythm." The Captain said.

On about the third go around the circle, he said," Now, think of
containing the energy in the hand. Let him push himself up into the
bridle. I do not want to see that you are doing anything to help him, but
your leg is softly urging, your seat is allowing, your hand is
accepting - "

And then, it was happening! Oh, the most beautiful feeling, like floating!
I felt we could stay like that forever, suspended in air. I began to laugh. I
looked at Alexander. Our eyes met. He - smiled.

I suppose I must have lost my concentration, for the next I knew, we
were trotting forward again on the circle.

"Oh, I love it!" I cried.

"Well done!" called Portia, clapping her hands, but looking, perhaps, a
little less enthusiastic than she sounded.

"Very well done indeed, Miss." Captain Kennedy said, as I halted
beside him. Overstepping just a bit, I thought, he once more placed his
hand upon my thigh!

"What's next?" I asked excitedly, beaming at him.

His Lordship, it would seem, had had enough. He cleared his throat. "I
think perhaps it is time we started back. Did you not say, Portia, that
your music master was coming this afternoon?"

"Well, yes." Portia answered. Poor little thing, her Captain Kennedy
putting his hands all over my person and me seeming to enjoy myself
whilst he was at it! , I knew her to be my friend, and I don't think it really
would have been in her heart to think ill of me, but at that moment she
did appear very confused by the goings on.

I had been enjoying myself. "Thank you, Captain Kennedy," I said as I
dismounted, "You are an excellent instructor. I only wish you could
teach me more." We were standing rather close, and I smiled up at
him. He was quite tall.

"If you would like - I think I might be able to manage - would you like
to come to the manege for lessons?" he asked. "The thing is, its men
only at the school. You would have to, I think, disguise yourself
somehow." Then he seemed embarrassed, "Forgive me - I
shouldn't - I don't mean to suggest - "

His Lordship spoke,"Oh, I would say that sounds like something Miss
Edgerton would enjoy very much. Disguising herself as a boy and
running around on a horse? Oh, I do say, great fun. Do you need this?"
he asked and flipped my riding skirt at me. I stepped forward and
caught it before it touched the ground. He was already riding ahead in
the direction of the castle, for we had come in a great circle from that
starting point. He was annoyed. Somehow, I felt as if I had won a little
victory .

I smiled to myself as I tied my apron on. Captain Kennedy gave me a
leg up onto my own horse. He took his time about removing his hands
as I settled in the saddle. Enough, man! I thought, thank you very much!

I was the first to catch up with His Lordship. Portia having managed
to engage the Captain in conversation, they were lagging, and I was
happy to give her the opportunity of a few moments alone with him.

"Are you enjoying yourself, Miss Edgerton?" He did not even turn his
head as I came alongside.

"Yes, my lord. Very much." I said.

He still did not look at me. "My sister admires you a great deal."

"And I adore her." I said truthfully, "She's has been nothing but sweet
and generous towards me."

"She is young."

"Yes - "

At last he turned to me, "Miss Edgerton, I cannot condone your
behavior in my sister's presence."

Now, here, you see, Sarah, it was necessary to feign affront. "My
behavior! I don't know what you mean, sir."

"I think you do. I realize you have had something of an unconventional
upbringing""

"What would you know of my upbringing?" I WAS affronted!

He pressed his lips together, "I do know a little, Cousin."

I wondered. Had he spoken to his mother about me? The expression
on his face at that moment was almost enough to make me laugh. Oh,
Alexander, I thought, how can I love you so desperately and think you
such an unbelievable prig at the same time? Oh, enough of this, I
thought.

"Do you think this horse can take that privet, my lord?" I asked.

"What?"

"The hedge, there." I pointed toward the castle. A few hundred yards
ahead was a high, manicured privet hedge which surrounded the
immediate grounds, "Do you think we can take it?"

He snorted. "Not likely. It looks to be five feet at least."

"Oh, come on, lets have a bash at it!" I said, and kicked on to a canter,
leaving him there.

"No---Electra!" I heard him call. Then he was after me.

I laughed and got up over my horse's neck, urging him on to a gallop. I
looked around to see him gaining on me. He got closer, then, leaning
far out of the saddle, reached over and grabbed my reins just below the
bit. "WHOA!" He yelled, yanking on the bridle, "WHOA! DAMN IT!"

My horse propped his front end and slid to a stop. Alexander glared at
me. I burst out laughing. We were not twenty feet from the hedge. It was
closer to six feet high than five. I should probably have had a
tremendous crash had he not stopped me. I thought it very funny. I
couldn't stop laughing.

"What is the matter with you?" He demanded.

I couldn't answer.

"It is not funny!" he fumed, "Why are you so reckless? You can't just go
jumping the king's hedges! You don't even know what's on the other
side! There could be a ditch, or - "

It did seem to me, Sarah, that as he spoke, his expression changed,
and his voice began to soften, just a bit. I had the feeling that, just
perhaps, he had actually been a little frightened for me. I stopped
giggling. I opened my mouth, to begin to say the words,
"I'm sorry" -

But there seemed to be some commotion on the other side of the
hedge. Curious, I moved closer and looked over. It was very well
indeed that I had not tried to jump it, because what was on the other
side was a smallish vegetable plot, surrounded by a fence of woven
willow twigs. There was not much there; a few old corn stalks, some
beans and pumpkins. Two young men were working, one spreading
manure and one piling the last of the pumpkins into a barrow. A third
man was very odd indeed. Shabbily dressed and wearing a large,
misshapen straw hat,carrying a little trowel in his hand, he kept
bustling back and forth between the other two, bending down and
thrusting his own face very close to theirs, speaking very rapidly. I could
not tell what he was saying, except for the word "what". "What?" he
would say, very loudly, "What? What?"

"Oh, that poor old man," I said. "He's obviously not right in his mind.
He needs to be looked after. Why do you think they have him working?"

"I believe it is his garden," His Lordship said dryly. "That is your king,
Miss."

 

 

 

To say that I did not much care for London would be to express it far
too mildly. I disliked the noise, the crowding, the ever present coal
smoke and grime. It pained me to note the presence of so many
desperately poor people. Great houses such as that of the Earl of
Edrington had the luxury of burning coal to warm the flowers and the
lemon trees of his orangerie, whilst on the streets of London there
were people who froze to death. I was not so naïve as to think, Sarah,
that poverty did not exist everywhere, even in my own beloved
countryside, but at home at Chopping Bottom at least, my mother
always did her best to assure that none of our people would ever go
cold and hungry through a winter if they were not fortunate enough to
have been able to put by enough for their own needs.

I was missing the comfortable predictability of my old life. I say that
as if I had been gone forever, and yet it had not been five weeks! Late
autumn at Chopping Bottom was a busy time, making preparations for
the arrival of winter. It was slaughtering time, time to preserve the last
of the harvest, time for gathering herbs and hanging them to dry in the
attics, to be used for cooking and for the dozens of special recipes my
mother used for household and medicinal purposes. Everyone shared
in the work. We had our diversions; the hunts, musical evenings,
dances at the homes of our prosperous farmer neighbors. Reading
aloud and reciting to eachother. And of course, our amateur theatricals!

In London there were many diversions. But they seemed to be
regarded, not as a respite and reward from the drudgery of work or
study, but as the sole focus of the lives of many of those privileged few
who enjoyed them. It seemed so especially for women, although there
were a great many young men of that class who spent their days doing
little more than drinking and playing cards.

For ladies it would seem that life was an endless round of making
and receiving calls, and a great many activities that required the
endless changing of one's clothes. Different gowns for mornings at
home and for visiting. Clothes for riding, costumes for going to the
shops, dressing for dinner, the theatre, the opera. Certainly, it was not
a way of life I would wish to follow for any great length of time.

I may well have succumbed to my homesickness even in spite of my
wish to be near Alexander. I confess, that particular pursuit had
reached something of a stalemate. We were often in eachother's
company, owing to both to my friendship with Portia and the fact that my
hosts, the Fitzgibbons, and the Edrington's were neighbors and
traveled in the same exalted circles. At a reception given by the
Duchess of Devonshire, and her sister, Lady Caroline Brownlee,( the
premier hostesses of the Season), he danced with me, and when he
held me, I could feel his attraction, could see in his eyes still that hot
look that had been there when he had kissed me. But where was the
man who had so impulsively taken me in his arms not five minutes
past our first meeting? Perhaps here, in the rarefied air of London,
surrounded by the trappings of his class, he was constrained by
formality. Or did he simply remember himself? Too, he was
preoccupied by the war, or rather, by the prospect of its ending, for
Napoleon had at last authorized his brother, Joseph Bonaparte, to
carry out the peace negotiations with Lord Hawkesbury, the foreign
minister. But the talks dragged on interminably. I knew that Alexander
defined his own self in terms of his career as an army officer. He was
probably consumed with questions and doubts as to his own future. I
could never have imagined him as one of those gentlemen of leisure,
so what would he be, if not a soldier of the king? A politician? A
gentleman farmer?

And then there was Captain Kennedy. Good to his word, he had
managed to contrive a way to bring me to the calvary school for
lessons in the art of dressage. Dressed in riding clothes borrowed
from Gussy, my hair tucked up under my hat, and usually with Paulette
in tow as my chaperone, I would go to Windsor in the very early
mornings, long before the other "young gentlemen" would arrive. The
manege was my cathedral, I fancied, my place of contemplation, with
the first of the morning sun streaming in from its high, Palladian
windows, backlighting the steaming breaths of the horses, with only
the sounds of breathing, the muffled footfalls of the horses on the soft
footing of sawdust and sand, and Captain Kennedy's quiet instruction.
Sometimes he would stand in the center of the arena, but usually he
rode along beside me, demonstrating and encouraging.

The physical activity and the company of the animals were comforting
reminders of home, and I should have been loathe to give them up. But
while I may not have had the first idea of how to proceed where
Alexander was concerned, I did have enough experience of men to
know the meaning of a certain look, or a seemingly innocent touch, and
as much as I truly liked Captain Kennedy, I did find it necessary to keep
him very much at arms length, for fear of encouraging him.

So you see, Sarah, now you will know what was my state of mind
during those weeks, wherein I learned a great deal about myself, and
about the wider world, from which I had been very much sheltered all
my young life. But surely you are thinking that I have gone on far too
long about these things, and as you know already how this story will
end, you will probably wish for me to get on with it, and to explain how
the events occurred which at last brought about this happy conclusion.
Well, there is still a good way to go, my dear, but let me tell you -

*****

The twenty-fifth of November was to be Lady Portia Edrington's
sixteenth birthday, and for weeks she had talked of little else. Her
beloved older brother was at home, and he had promised her that she
could plan the celebration in any way that she wished. What she
wanted, she had decided ,was to have an old fashioned masquerade
ball. She determined that the guests, were all to come as a favourite
personage from history, literature, or myth. There was to be music and
dancing and games and a grand unmasking at midnight.

My own costume, not unexpectedly, became the cause for the latest
battle royale between Paulette and myself. For the life of me, I do not
know why I would persist in my attempts to have any say whatever in
the dressing of my own person, nor why I might think it possible for any
dictum of mine to prevail in a head to head contest with my maid. Had
the woman truly been French, a man, and a General, the course of
European history as we know it may have taken a very different turn
indeed!

"Non! Mademoiselle! I will not have it !" Paulette stamped her foot. "
You will spoil ze entire line and ze drape of my creation! C'est
criminale!"

There I was, once more standing in front of a mirror. Artemis, Greek
goddess of the hunt, was looking back at me. I will say, it was an
inspired choice( having nothing to do with me, of course), and it was
indeed all of Paulette's own creation. A Grecian style gown of pale,
diaphanous, lilac muslin was gathered at the shoulders, leaving my
arms bare. Criss-crossings of gold cording defined the bosom and the
waist. Paulette had
"gilded" an old pair of slippers and attached more gold cording,
winding it sandal style up my calves. The gown had slashes up the
sides as far as the tops of my calves, and Paulette had insisted that all
of the fun of a masked ball was in ladies being permitted to get away
with this sort of risqué attire! I was extremely doubtful, and determined
to take only very small steps so as not to reveal myself over much.

Paulette had dressed my hair according to her idea of a Greek
goddess, very much "au naturel" as she called it, with a simple braid
interwoven with laurel leaves crowning my head, and the rest left to fall
as it may. She had overlooked no detail, from the little gilded bow I was
to carry, to the quiver of arrows on my back, and the leather wristband
that would protect my arm from the slap of a bowstring were I actually
to fire off one of my dainty little arrows!

But what was my crime, you will ask , which had Mademoiselle
l'artiste all in a lather? It was simply my insistence on being allowed to
wear just the merest and most minimal of undergarments beneath this
filmy, gossamer habiliment as I deemed necessary for comfort and
decency. But no! To even suggest! Drawers would bunch and catch at
the fabric, Mademoiselle, and it would be tres, tres horrible! I was a
Philistine, undeserving of her consummate artistry! Well, Sarah, what
do you think happened? I surrendered, of course, and only prayed that
a great gust of wind would not catch me as I climbed into the carriage!

*****

"Who are you supposed to be?" Portia squealed at Gussy as she
ran to greet us.

Gussy laughed in mock exasperation. "Electra asked the same thing!"
His costume almost defied description. He was dressed to the
absolute hilt of at least three different decades of men's fashion, no
one item of which bore any resemblance to what might be termed
good taste. He wore a short, tight brocaded jacket, and garishly striped
knee breeches under which he wore elaborately clocked stockings. .
Every opening of sleeve and waistcoat frothed with great tumblings of
lace. He towered over both Portia and myself, tottering on dizzyingly
high, red-heeled shoes. He wore an enormous, full-length periwig,
powdered to a fare-thee-well, topped by a sweeping, plumed hat. He
had a diamond earring in one ear, and ay least a dozen huge rings on
his hands.

"Don't I look marvelous, though?" he asked, making a leg. "I truly
believe I missed my era. To do oneself up like this everyday! I suppose
I misread the invitation, dear Lady Portia. But if I must be a "someone"
and not just a "something", then you must simply call me "Beau"." He
was referring , I suppose, to those famous "Beaus" , dandies of a
bygone era, Robert Fielding and Richard Nash, who, I have to say,
would not have been caught dead in that ensemble!

Portia was - Portia. Shakespeare's Portia, and I thought her
exceptionally pretty in her Venetian costume of red and gold. Two steps
behind her was stunning, black, Posy, be-silked and bejeweled, tall
and silent. His presence must mean that the Countess was in
residence, for I never knew them to be apart. ( Although there had to
have been times, because over time I did have occasion to note the
presence, at Edrington and at Pantops, of a handful of distinctly coffee-
coloured and extremely attractive children, of varying ages. Quite
clearly, Paulette was not the only female ever to have been affected by
Posy's unusual and exotic beauty!) In his arms he carried Portia's
caskets three, of silver, gold, and lead. Apparently there was to be a
contest,just as in the play, for the young gentlemen present to guess
which casket contained her image, with all correct guessers winning a
dance with the lady. I do believe there must have been a great deal of
cheating going on, because every time I saw Portia that evening she
was in the arms of yet another young man, laughing and having the
time of her life.

The house looked magical. In the hall and the great parlor, candles
were everywhere, in the crystal chandeliers, in gleaming silver
candelabras on tables and mantles, casting glittering reflections in
windows and mirrors. Arrangements of lilies, roses and ivy spilled
from huge marble urns placed around the rooms. Tables groaned with
food; platters of sliced meats and roast fowl. Pies and tarts. Towering
jellies,and every kind of sweet; tiny macaroons, petit fours and nipples
of Venus! Exquisitely molded fruits of almond paste and a huge pink
cake caged in glistening spun sugar. Lemonade, wine and
champagne to drink, as well as a vast punchbowl.

I saw the Countess of Edrington, wedged onto a settee with the
Duchess of Devonshire and her sister, Lady Caroline. These two very
old ladies had come as their favourite historical personages, which as
best as I could tell, happened to be their own younger selves. They
were both done up in old-fashioned gowns, which looked suspiciously
motheaten here and there, with stiff stomachers and huge panniers.
They wore powdered wigs and a great deal of rouge, as well as a
number of velvet face patches in such shapes as stars, moons and
hearts, which winked distractingly in and out of their wrinkles as they
talked. The Countess was dressed in black velvet and diamonds, her
only concession to the masquerade being a black, feathered mask.

I went to pay my respects, in spite of my apprehension at subjecting
myself to a conversation with the Duchess and Lady Caroline. The two
of them seemed to take an extraordinary interest in me. It was
astonishing to know the speed at which gossip traveled in London, as
well as its detailed nature. It would seem that within three days of my
arrival in town everyone knew everything about me, from the details of
my parents marriage to the size of my fortune, near to the penny. There
were, apparently, two separate camps of opinion regarding me. In one,
I was an heiress come seeking a title to legitimize my family name.
There were at least several young gentlemen, the ladies assured me,
who were well qualified in noble lineage, but under-endowed
financially, who would do me quite nicely. The other camp held that I
was not the Baroness Fitzgibbon's protégé, but rather her future
daughter-in-law, and not a suitable match for young August at all, who
could certainly aim far higher.

As I approached the settee, and curtsied to the ladies, I noticed
Athena Edrington standing nearby. At first I did not recognize her, but
rather thought that a charwoman had somehow found her way into the
ballroom, for she was very plainly dressed, with a scarf covering her
hair. Upon inquiry, it was revealed that she was supposed to be
Charlotte Corday D'Armont, the notorious assassin who had murdered
the revolutionary, Jean Marat in his bath! I thought it a very odd, perhaps
even offensive to some, choice of a favourite personage, but as you
know, Sarah, your Aunt Athena always was an odd woman who did
love to provoke the conservative sensibilities of others.

The Countess bade me come to her and kiss her cheek. "How lovely
you look ,my dear, and how happy I am to see you again. My Portia tells
me that you and she have become fast friends."

"Lady Portia has been very kind." I replied.

"How pretty she is!" exclaimed the Duchess, "I was as pretty as you,
my dear, was I not, Caroline? If not prettier! Had to beat them off with a
stick! With that face and figure you should have no trouble at all making
a nice catch , young lady. You'll have your pick, I dare say!"

Would that it were so! I thought.

The Countess patted my hand. "You hold on for the one you want, my
darling girl," she said, "You are more than just a pretty face and you
know it." She winked at me. I had a feeling that the Countess knew me
better than I should have thought. Did I have an ally?

I see you are growing impatient with me, Sarah. You want to know
where was Alexander and what could he possibly be wearing? I know
you must find it as difficult as did I to imagine your grandfather, his
magnificent and dignified self, effecting any type of a masquerade, and
in truth, only Portia could have induced him to do it. But when at last I
did see him, standing before one of the pink marble columns that
flanked the entrance to the parlor, talking to Gussy( who looked truly
absurd in contrast!) my only thought was, "But of course! It would have
to be, it could only be - Alexander the Great!"

 

 

 

 

"My lord," I curtsied, smiling. Oh but it was brilliant, Sarah! A short
sleeved tunic of white linen, pleated at the bottom, that fell to his knees.
Leather leggings bound with thongs. A breastplate of tooled, gilded
leather, a cloak of dark red wool, and a golden helmet which partially
masked his face, and under which he must have tucked his queue. He
was - beautiful. And what marvelous legs!

"Miss Edgerton," he bent over my hand, "I see you are armed, this
evening," he said, noting my bow and arrows.

"Indeed, my lord, and what's more, I have been told I am dangerous.
Reckless even."

"I daresay." he said, with that half smile turning the corners of his
mouth, "I do miss danger. It has been months since I have faced
cannon fire. No bayonet charges. Not even a sniper to speak of. Will
you dance?"

The music was very fine on that night, Sarah, there being a full quartet
of strings, as well as a harpsichord and pianoforte, a flute and a
vocalist. Unfortunately, this dance was one of those old fashioned,
formal things where one finds oneself changing partners at every turn!
Bow, take hands, wrist to elbow, turn round one another, bow, turn to
the next, and so on. I found myself dancing in turn with a red Indian, the
late Lord Nelson, Dr. Faustus, and Omai, Prince of the South Seas! Oh,
and Captain Kennedy, very dashing as the Red Cross Knight, in
hauberk and faux chain mail, with his golden hair flowing about his
shoulders. I wondered if he'd yet had a guess at Portia's caskets!

So, much to my disappointment , I was only dancing with Alexander
once every half dozen turns or so. Furthermore, my Grecian sandals
were giving me a bit of a problem. The laces seemed to be loosening,
and they were in danger of slipping down my legs and tripping me up!
It was most distracting. I couldn't very well just stop and hoist up my
skirts to make an adjustment! I needed Paulette. As the dance ended
with a final bow, I begged His Lordship's pardon, "You must excuse
me, my lord, I'm afraid I must go and find my maid."

He had my hand in his. "Of course," and then after a moment's
pause, "Why does it seem, Miss Edgerton, that you are always in a
hurry to escape from me?"

I was taken aback by this remark. First, because of its suggestion of
intimacy, and next, because I realized it was quite true. To my mind, I
had wanted nothing but to be close to him, and yet he did have a way of
frightening me off in those moments when we had come close. But
then, what else could I have done? His advances had been most
unsubtle, to say the least, almost as if intended to provoke my
inevitable reaction. Was it possible he did not see it ? It was mystifying!
And yet it was happening again, at this very moment, for a found myself
lowering my eyes, unable to look at him.

"I - do not know what to say, sir," I stammered, "I really do need my
maid." And with that I was off and running once more!

The ladies salon was down a corridor from the reception rooms. I
looked in, but Paulette was not to be found. Where had she got to? I
looked down the corridor, towards the entrance to the orangerie. Ah!
There went the back of Paulette's dark blue skirt, disappearing through
the tall glass doors. I hurried after her, my laces now having fallen
completely down around my ankles. Why must it be so damned
uncomfortable to be beautiful? If one wasn't obsessing over falling out
of one's gown, unable to breathe properly, it was disagreeable
footwear, or suffering the effects of drafts because the proper drape of
a garment precluded the wearing of underclothes!

I reached the doors and went inside. It took a moment for my eyes to
adjust to the relative darkness, the only light coming from the nearly full
moon through the skylights, and the faint glow of the little coal stoves.

"Paulette?" I called. No answer. I went down the three stone steps to
the garden floor. I thought I saw movement in an alcove behind a
grouping of orange trees. Whispers and giggling. "Whatever are you
up to?" I asked, coming round the trees, only to surprise not my maid at
all, but Hamlet and his Lady Ophelia, who had been locked in a
passionate embrace! Indeed I gave them such a start that they
promptly bolted, the Melancholy Dane nearly knocking me over in his
haste to escape!

Alone, I sat down on the stone bench of the alcove, and lifted my
skirts to examine the problem. Removing first one slipper and then the
other, I yanked at the laces. It took some doing to pull them off, for
Paulette was a conscientious seamstress and her close, tiny stitches
were admirably strong.

I put the shoes back on, sans laces.I took the quiver of arrows from
my back and set it on the floor with the bow. Letting out a sigh, I pulled
my legs up onto the bench, and hugging my knees to my chest, let my
head fall back, looking out through the skylight overhead. The moon
was surrounded by a ring of glow, such as it would have on a night
when it would snow. Just as I was forming that thought, a few fat, wet
flakes did begin to fall, striking the glass with a soft "ptt - ptt". How
lovely, I thought, to sit here and watch the snow fall, almost as if one
was outside, only cozy and warm, and surrounded by the fragrance of
fruit trees and flowers! I closed my eyes and breathed the scent.

He came in so quietly, I did not even know he was there until I
opened my eyes once more and saw him standing there in the
moonlight.

"God, this thing is bloody hot!" He said, pulling off the golden helmet
and tucking it under his arm.

"My lord!" Startled, I lowered my legs into a proper sitting position. "
You followed me."

He ignored my accusation."Did you find your maid?" he asked.

"I thought I saw her come in here," I said. Oh, how annoying. I was
being truthful, and yet I am certain he thought I was not. "I'm afraid I
surprised a couple who were - I think they may be back!" I
said,nervously. Oh dear, I was feeling flighty again!

"You are afraid to be alone with me."

"No, I am not afraid."

"Electra." He sat down beside me.

"I hear someone coming, I think," I said. What on earth is wrong with
you, Electra, I thought. Is this not what you want? Why are you so
jumpy?

His voice was very soft and low. "No one is coming, Electra," he said, "
This is my house. I have latched the door." My expression must have
been one of panic , for then he said, "Go on, if you want to. I only
thought we might talk."

I leaned back against the wall of the alcove, taking a breath. "Talk - of
what ,my lord?"

He reached out took a strand of my hair that had fallen forward and
smoothed it back over my shoulder. It was a tender, comforting gesture
,I felt. Perhaps I should try to relax.

"I think," he said, "Its time for you to tell me."

My skin prickled at the sound of his voice. What was he talking about? "
Tell you - ?" I began.

"I want you to tell me why you are here."

I sighed. "Truthfully, my lord, I was looking for my maid!"

A little smile. "No. I mean, I want you to tell me why you have come to
London."

What was I to say to him? To say that I had come at the invitation of the
Fitzgibbons would not be a lie, and yet it was not the full truth. And now
he was moving closer, his hand was curling round the back of my
neck, his fingers were in my hair. His face was only inches from mine.
He was going to kiss me again! I pulled back, abruptly, banging my
head against the wall.

"Ow!" I exclaimed.

"Damn it, Electra! Why do you do that!" He said, at almost the same
time.

"Why do I?" I was suddenly angry. I put my hand to the back of my
head. "Why do you - do what you do? You give a person no warning!
What do you expect?"

"What do YOU expect?" he countered. He made a gesture at my
costume. "The huntress. Very fitting. You hunted me down on
horseback for God's sake! And then you turn up here!" He reached over
and took both my wrists in his hands. "Don't tell me that you don't
know what you want, Electra, for I vow I never met a woman who knew it
better!"

"Alexander!" I cried. It was the first time I had ever spoken his name to
him, "Please!"

He released me. "Allright." He said. He ran his hand over his hair,
which was a little damp from sweating under that helmet, I suppose.
The oddest little curl had escaped and tumbled down over his
forehead. It was the tightest, most perfect little spiral. My fingers itched
to reach up and pull on it and then let it go to watch it spring back up
again.

"Alexander - " I said again. "You are right. I know. I do know - " I
reached to touch his face.

"Forgive me," he said, "Allow me to try a different approach." Then he
leaned in toward me again, but with that funny little smile. He placed
his hands against the wall, on either side of my shoulders. "Electra,"
he said, "I am giving you fair warning. I am about to kiss you, and you
are not to smack your head against the wall, or jump, or wriggle away,
or run." He searched my face and saw that I was smiling. "You have
your orders," he said, "Now. Be still."

I bent my head back as he lowered to kiss me, "Aye, aye - Major
Edrington - sir," I breathed.

"We do not say aye, aye' in the army, Miss Edgerton," his lips were on
my neck, "And it is Lieutenant-Colonel."

*****

 

When I was a young girl, I was extremely skeptical of the stories of
young women who claimed to have gotten into trouble with men
because they had "simply lost their heads." Surely it was not possible,
I reasoned, to go from being fully clothed and in a standing position to
completely undressed and supine without a great deal of deliberate
thought and purposeful action! Certainly one must have time a-plenty to
contemplate the act, and to take sensible and appropriate measures
against it! Oh! How very young I was!

How could I have known of that intoxicating flush of heat that filled my
brain, banishing all that even resembled a thought and leaving nothing
but the pulse of desire? That all sense would leave me but that of my
burning, tickling skin,and that I would see nothing , hear nothing but the
amplified sound of our breathing? How could I have known of that
restless urge to melt into another, of never being close enough, of
being on the brink of dying for love?

My mouth was filled with him. My hands were in his hair, and it was
loosening, falling over my arms, brushing against my breast. He held
me against him, but his hands were moving, pressing. "Tell me - " he
whispered, "Tell me what you want - "
He was asking me what I wanted, but Sarah,there was no mystery
where he was concerned! My dear it was quite evident! When a man is
wearing what is essentially a skirt - well , I don't mean to raise such a
delicate subject - Oh, ho! Did I say that? Or should I say to bring it
up - Oh, no! I mean, the point is - Oh! I've done it again! You must stop
me my dear, I am a wicked old lady, having such thoughts!

"Tell me - " he kept repeating, and covering me with hot kisses, his
hands moving everywhere "I want - " I gasped, "Oh, God! I want - only
you!" . He was pushing me back onto the stone bench, pulling me
underneath him, and I could feel - and I think the shock of becoming
aware of the very real, shall we say, solid , nature of his desire brought
me around a little bit. That and the fact that his hand had found the slit
in my skirt and was sliding up my bare leg, My bare - ! I suddenly
remembered, and it was as if someone had thrown cold water over
me! Oh God! He was going to - !

"Stop!" I cried. But it was too late! His hand slid up,up, all the way to my
hip, without a hindrance! And then he did stop. He propped himself up
on his arms and looked into my face and said, "Why, Miss Edgerton,
you do think ahead!"

"Oh!" I gave him a shove and he landed on his behind on the stone
floor. He was laughing! It was the first time I had ever heard him
actually laugh!

"No, no!" he said, "I admire your forethought! We could use a
strategist such as yourself in the army!"

"Stop it!" I demanded, "You are embarrassing me! I can assure you
this was not done for your - your - convenience!" I sat up and crossed
my arms over my chest. "It was my maid's idea."

"I like you maid," he said, "Tell me - the red velvet gown at dinner,
was that her idea? It was full of surprises as well."

I gaped at him. "You!" I wanted to throw something at him!

He got to his knees, still laughing, "I'm sorry! Electra - " he put his
arms around my waist, "My God, you are beautiful."

His hair was a complete mess, half in and half out of its queue. I
reached out to touch the funny little spiral curl. Somewhere a clock was
chiming.

"It's midnight," I said.

"Mm," he was kissing my palm.

"It is Portia's birthday. The unmasking. She will miss you."

"Let us go then," He got to his feet and began pulling the tangled
ribbons from his hair, "What have you done here?"

I stood and straightened my gown, then bent to pick up my "weapons".
I started for the door.

"Electra." He was but a step behind me. I stopped and turned.

"My lord?"

"You will not run away from me again? "

I smiled. "No. Alexander."

 

End of Chapter 5. To be continued.