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 7

" There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea four which I
know not: The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a
rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man
with a maid." Proverbs 30:18:20

*****

My mare, Cordelia, had still not had her foal, and Ozias, my stable
man, was very concerned.

 

" Look at her, Miss. It's too big. It should've been here weeks ago, but
look at her, she ain't even bagged up!"

 

We stood in the muddy little paddock adjacent to the stable. I squatted
down beside the mare and examined her udders. Ozias was right. If
the birth was imminent, the udders should have been swollen with
milk, the teats oozing with a waxy discharge.

 

Cordelia was big as a barge allright. Poor girl! I do know the feeling!
Why, when I was about to drop Cass and Philly I was absolutely
enormous! It would take two footmen just to get me out of a chair!
Dreadful! Oh, and that was the time when Alexander gave me that little
fellow. Do you see him there on the shelf, Sarah? This blue stone he
is made of, I don't remembered what is called, but the colour is
extraordinary, is it not? He is ever so old. Alexander had him in with the
things that he brought back from his time in Egypt. I am told that in fact
the hippopotamus is a huge, fearsome creature. The Egyptians call it
the River God. But this fellow is really very sweet, isn't he? Oh, but I did
not think so at the time! I suppose Alexander thought it endearing and
meant only to tease me a little, but I was not amused at all! I was quite
inconsolable and I did not speak to him for days! Men! How they ever
came to rule the world!

 

Oh, dear, Sarah, I thought I was getting better about going off on
these little rambles! We were talking of my mare, Cordelia, were we
not? Well, yes, she was very heavy with the foal, but she did not seem
that much discomfited as yet.

 

" Could we have misguessed the time when she was bred?" I asked.

 

" I reckon it could be," Ozias said, " Her bein' turned out with the stud
an' all t'others all last winter. Coulda slipped one foal an' got another.
But I'm usually right about this such, Miss." A frown was wrinkling his
brow. Ozias was a good looking boy of nineteen, black-haired and
brown-eyed. Only a year younger than me, but at the time, I felt so much
older! He was a wizard with horses, like his father, Ezra, now passed,
from whom he had learned his craft.

 

" I know you are, Ozias," I said, getting back to my feet, " But I think all
we can do is to keep her near and watch her carefully. And the minute
that something happens you must come for me, allright? No matter
the time. Will you?"


" Of course, Miss." His expression was still clouded with concern. " I
just don't like 'em comin' in winter like this."

 

I smiled at him, " I know. It's not the best time. But I have confidence in
you, Ozias, and I really think she seems fine. Everything will be allright,
I am sure of it."

 

" Yes, Miss."

 

I walked back to the house through several inches of new snow. It
was truly winter now. Christmas come and gone, and too ,the
Epiphany, when at last was taken down the dried and browning
greenery that had earlier graced the house so prettily. I imagined that
at Pantops, the servants were dismantling all of the decorations with
which Portia and I had so happily lavished the great parlor and the
grand stair. Portia, I think, had been hurt and confused by my abrupt
departure, and this was probably worsened by the fact that I had only
been able to bring myself to write her the briefest of notes of
explanation. Of course I could not tell her the truth, which depressed
me still further, for I did so hate to deceive her. She had written to me
several times trying, in the sweetest way, to draw me out, for certainly
she suspected something, but I could only respond with more lies; all
was well, I would see her again soon, I was still her friend.

 

Home. I had thought to escape back to the familiar and the
comfortable, to slip back into my old life as if nothing had ever
happened to change me forever and break my heart. Of course it was
not so easy, as surely you will know, Sarah.

 

The first thing I had done upon my arrival at Chopping Bottom was to
go and see my beloved James, and there, with him in the paddock,
were Alexander's two mares, Persephone and Thisbe, both fat and
woolly and looking well contented.

 

" They's well settled, Miss," said Ozias, " I'm sure of it. James, he
don't mind 'em no more. You want we should send 'em back to His
Lordship's then?"

 

I sighed, and suddenly had to swallow very hard, surprised at the
sudden prick of tears behind my eyes, " Yes. Send them back, if you
please, Ozias."

 

I could not help but think of that day at the stable at Edrington.
Alexander, so handsome, riding into the stableyard with gun and
pheasants, terrifying the stablelads . Taking possession of my heart
and my body with one melting kiss.

 

The mares were pregnant, and the foals would come in the early fall.
It would be the beginning of the hunting season once more. And when
these babies came, what more would have changed? Would there be
war or peace? Would Alexander be gone to fight once more? Would he,
perhaps, have found his suitable bride in some London drawing
room? And what of me? I was a reasonably sensible girl. I did
understand that inevitably, in time, the hurt would grow less and less.
But just now it was difficult enough to find a way to get through one day,
and then the next without having to contemplate the whole of my future.

Trudging back through the snow on that gray, January day, my
thoughts were mostly of Cordelia. And of a scalding hot cup of tea. And
a big, fat, buttered scone. Or two. I was starving! The last thing I was
expecting as I strode into the parlour in my breeches and hastily
scraped but still very muddy boots, was to see none other than the
Countess of Edrington, sitting by the fire opposite my mother, chatting
away as if they had done so everyday of their lives for the past twenty
years!

 

I was stopped in my tracks. I looked first at my mother, smiling
sweetly and rising from her chair, then at the Countess, nodding her
head in greeting, and then into the startling, aquamarine eyes of Posy,
immobile and impassive, stationed as always behind his Mistress's
chair.

 

" Darling! " My mother was saying, " Cousin Jeanne has come! I'm
just going to call for tea." She came forward and kissed me on the
cheek, " I won't be a moment." And then she was gone in a rustle of
China blue silk, and a breath of perfume that made me very aware of
my own shabby appearance and no doubt less than sweet aroma.

 

" Your pardon, your ladyship," I said, dipping a little curtsy, " I have
been with the horses."

 

" That's quite allright my dear," said the Countess with a wave of her
hand. She was dressed, again, all in black, which I decided most
definitely suited her. " I daresay it would take more than a little mud and
horseshit to render you anything less than perfectly beautiful, Electra."

 

My! I went to sit in the chair previously occupied by my mother. If Her
Ladyship's intent was to startle me even more so than I had been
upon walking in and discovering her here, then she had more than
succeeded. But her common language and use of my proper name
did not startle me half so much as the words she said next.

 

" My son is a damned fool!"

 

I blinked. " Ma'am?"

 

" A damned fool. And I expect he even knows it, for all the good it will do
either of you." She leaned back in her chair for a moment, and I thought
I saw a flicker of a pained expression cross her face. I stared at her.
Looked at Posy. Then back at the Countess.

 

" I-I," I began " How did you?"

 

" Oh, Portia wrote to me. Told me everything."

 

This was very confusing! " I beg your pardon, ma'am, but how does
Portia know everything?" I asked.

 

Her dark eyes were blazing. So familiar. " Well,she sent her maid to
speak to that girl of Susannah Fitzgibbon's, the one that thinks she's
French? This was after your young Master Fitzgibbon turned up at the
house with a few choice words for His Lordship."

 

Oh, no! Gussy! I had asked him to return the diamond necklace. Well,
if either of them had killed the other, I certainly would have heard of it!

 

" Then she he got the rest out of Alexander. She's not speaking to
him now. The girl is devoted to you, my dear."

 

I tried to imagine that conversation. Portia was never to be
underestimated. For all her sweetness, she had a will of iron.

 

I stared at the floor. " I don't know what to say, my lady," I said, " I feel so
shamed."

 

" And why on earth should you feel shamed?" she said angrily, " You
have done nothing wrong, my dear. It is he who should be shamed! To
treat you like some common--! And unsuitable! It is ridiculous! It is not
as if you're a tinker's child! You are my dear Eloisa's daughter! If you
ask me, it has nothing to do with that at all. I think it has to do with that
American chit. Oh, I am sorry, dear, to mention her, but Portia told me
you knew. Good God! What a debacle! The first time he doesn't get
exactly what he wants and he goes all to pieces! I never would have
thought it of him. "

 

Where was my mother with the tea? I couldn't have this conversation!
But then, it wasn't exactly a conversation. Her Ladyship was talking,
and I (and I suppose, Posy) listened.

 

" He went into the army as an Ensign. Did you know that? A
lieutenancy, at the very least, was a respectable rank for a young
gentleman of standing. And even after his training, he refused to buy
promotion. ' If I am found fit for command, I shall get it,' he wrote to me, '
If I am not, then God knows I am better off without it. The men can tell
the difference, Mamah.' So stubborn and determined! It cannot have
been easy, for I am sure the army is quite happy with its system of
cash and favour and does not appreciate a rich young man who
doesn't care to deal. I imagine that's why they packed him off to that
Godforsaken Canadian wilderness when he could have had a
comfortable place close to home. And yet he had his Majority by twenty-
two, and now, the Lieutenant-Colonelcy, and he is not yet thirty. I do
believe he is quite unused to failure. "

 

" I don't understand, ma'am," I interjected quietly, " What has this, and
the situation withPamelahave to do with me?"

" Oh, it's quite simple, really," said the Countess, steepling her
bejeweled hands under her chin. " I think he has convinced himself
that he could not have married her. That she would have been
unsuitable, because she was not of his class. And it follows that if she
was unsuitable then so must you be. Or rather, if he can have you, then
so should he have been able to have her. Oh, don't ask me to explain
the way men think---what fragile things they are! In any case, I am
convinced that is his logic."

 

I shook my head. " But it makes no sense. The woman loved her
husband."

 

She laughed, " Oh, quite right. It was something over which he had no
control, and Alexander dislikes to have no control. Perhaps you have
noticed that about him?"

 

Well, even I had to smile at that, Sarah!

" He failed to win this woman away from her husband," the Countess
went on. " And Alexander Edrington does not fail. In short, I believe he
has got himself in a panic and done this appalling thing to run you off
rather than admit to failure! "

 

" That isstupid." I said." If it is true." Suddenly I was so sad. I put my
face in my hands. " It just tells me that he did not love me."

 

" Oh, my child!" She rose from her chair and came to kneel beside me.
Into her long, elegant hands she took mine. " I do not tell you these
things to give you more pain. I merely wanted you to understand that
you are not at fault. And also to tell you that I would have welcomed you
as my daughter-in-law. Forgive me. I am old, and I suppose I simply
tire of all this nonsense. I want to visit with Eloisa. I want my children to
be happy. That is all. Not that any of them will listen to me, Alexander
least of all. Prideful and vain! Oh, Posy, you must help me." Without a
sound, and with perfect grace, Posy came forward and gently lifted his
mistress back to her chair. She leaned back, closing her eyes, " Dear
me," she sighed.

 

" Here I am at last!" my mother called, sweeping into the room with
the tea tray in her hands. " I had to do everything by myself! I can't think
where everyone has gone off to!"

 

Typical Chopping Bottom!

 

*****

 

 

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Date: Sat, 11 May 2002 15:30:57 -0400
Subject: [hhfic] FIC: The Hunt: Or,...Chapter 7 Part 2 of 5
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The Hunt Chapter 7 continued. Same disclaimers

It would seem to be my week for visitors and painful reminders. Not
two days after the Countess paid her call, I received a letter from
Captain Kennedy. He was traveling to Ireland, he wrote, where his
father had decided to settle on him an estate which he was eager to
inspect. That would be very good news for Portia, I thought, as it would
improve his prospects a great deal. He had a matter of some urgency
he wished to discuss with me, he said, before he left. I was sure Portia
had sent him, for surely Alexander would notAh, well, it would be
enjoyable to see him, and I was eager to show him the progress I had
made with James's training in recent weeks.

 

He arrived late one afternoon, looking quite dashing in his scarlet
Dragoons uniform and fur trimmed riding cloak. I must say, my parents
seemed to be utterly charmed by him as he chatted easily with them in
the parlor. I was anxious over what his news would be. I was fearful he
would tell me that Alexander had gone back to the army, or worse, that
he had become engaged. It shouldn't have mattered to me, I suppose,
but I could not stop thinking of it. I suggested we might take a walk out
to visit the horses before the light was gone.

 

The frozen ground crunched beneath our feet as we strolled arm in
arm towards the stables, well bundled against the cold.

 

" I am surprised, Captain Kennedy, that you would choose to make
your journey in the dead of winter." I remarked, " The sea crossing will
be miserable this time of year, I am sure."

 

He smiled, " I do wish I could convince you to call me, ' Allistair ', Miss
Edgerton."

 

Oh, what was the harm? After this, I should probably never see him
again! " Very well, then, Allistair," I said, " I suppose you must call me
Electra."

 

His blue eyes danced as he smiled at me, " I would be most happy to.
Electra." He seemed to roll my name upon his tongue as if he had
been practicing it before a mirror! Oh, dear!

 

" I suppose you are right," he went on, " It is not the most comfortable
time of year for a sea journey. But I am most eager to see my lands. My
prospects for the future are very different than they were. I am thinking
of leaving the service and trying my hand at being a gentleman farmer. I
think I should very much like to have something like what your family
has here. Such a comfortable, happy house."

 

" Yes, it is, " I agreed, " And we love it."

 

He stopped and turned to me, clasping his hands behind his back, " I
am eager to see what improvements are needing on the estate, for I
plan on returning there in the spring, and when I do, I hope to be
accompanied by my wife."

 

" Oh!" I exclaimed, " But I had no idea! Portia did not tell meI must
say, it surprises me that His Lordship would give his permission" I
stopped then, for he was looking at me oddly.

 

" Lady Portia?" he began, " Why no, why would you think?"

 

Oh! I had put my foot in it most assuredly, I thought! Oh, poor Portia!

 

He was reaching for my hand, " No, Electra. I assure you I have no idea
what you might mean by referring to Lady Portia. Yes, we are friends.
She is a charming girl, but I thought you knew. Surely you are at least
a little aware of the regard I have for you? And in truth, if you will think on
it, I know you will agree that we are well suited. I have come here to ask
for your hand, Electra."

 

" Sir, I am flattered" I began. Oh, how did one do this? I hadn't the
faintest!

 

" Please don't give me your answer just yet, " he said. He had hold of
both of my hands now. " I have overstepped, I know, not even having
spoken to your father yet. And I confess, that until very recently, I thought
I had not any cause to think you might welcome my suit."

 

That was a curious statement! " Would you tell me, then, sir, what has
occurred that might make you think differently?" I wondered if he could
know of my feelings for, and my rejection of Alexander.

 

He smiled again, his dazzling white smile. Oh why, I mused, were the
powers that governed our emotions so very perverse? Here was this
perfectly beautiful man who thought he loved me, and wanted nothing
more than to make me happy, and yet I knew I could never accept him,
because my heart would always belong to another. And Portia! Oh, my
little dear! What a complete mess!

 

" I had a conversation with your good friend, Fitzgibbon," the Captain
said, " And it was he who led me to believe I might have cause to
hope."

 

" Gussy? " Why would Gussy tell Captain Kennedy such a thing? Did
he have some misguided notion that Alexander could somehow be
replaced in my affections? It made no sense, and I felt a little angry with
Gussy for putting me in this awkward position, however good his
intentions might have been.

 

I sighed. " Sir. I am sorry to say, I am afraid you have been misled. I am
honored by your proposal. Truly I am. But I must tell you honestly, that I
do not love you. " I looked into his eyes, seeing already the hurt there.
Oh, this was a hateful business, and I longed for it to be over!

 

" Electra. Listen to me, please, " he said softly, still not letting go of my
hands, " Many a successful marriage has begun with far less than the
good friendship and regard which you and I already share. I know we
could have a wonderful life together. Please, I beg you only to think on it
for awhile. I can wait for your answer."

 

" No, " I said, gently extricating my hands at last, " I would not give you
false hope, Allistair, for I know my answer must be the same today or a
month from now. Please do accept that. I am sorry." An awkward
silence followed. I looked up at the darkening sky and shivered.

" I think there will be a storm tonight," I said.

 

" Yes. I should go."

 

" Go? No, Allistair, you needn't leave now! You must at least stay the
night! My parents are expecting it! It will not be a fit night for travel," I
said.

 

" I will make my apologies to them." He said briskly, then, softening, "
Its allright, Electra. I think its for the best. And don't worry, if the weather
is bad, I will find a place to stop for the night."

 

" Are you sure?" I asked. Truthfully, I was somewhat relieved that I
would not have to sit across from him at dinner, feeling awkward and
guilty. " But I wanted you to see James!"

 

He grinned, " Well, give me some time, " he said, " I do not intend to
give up our friendship, or my best student, for that matter. Can we not
still be friends, Electra?"

 

Perhaps I should not have done it, but I went to him and put my arms
around him. Such a kind, good man. It was truly a pity. " Of course we
are friends, Allistair, " I said.

*****

 

 

 

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Subject: [hhfic] FIC: The Hunt: Or,... Chapter 7 Part 3 of 5
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The Hunt Chapter 7 continued. Same disclaimers

Getting ready for bed that night, I was thinking I should sit down and
write a letter to Portia, telling her everything. She would probably never
forgive me for blurting out her secret to Captain Kennedy, and it would
hurt her to know that he had proposed to me. But surely it would be
worse for her to hear of it from some other source. I went to the window
and looked out. It had begun to snow. Well, it was more of a mix of
snow and freezing rain, driven against the glass by a wicked , lashing
wind. I truly hoped that Captain Kennedy had in fact stopped at the
nearest lodging.

 

There was a knock at my door. " Come in ," I said. It was Jane, one of
the kitchen maids. She peeked her head around the door, " Pardon,
Miss. Its Ozias is at the back door. He says he was to call you about
the horse."

 

Oh, Cordelia, at last! She'd picked a fine night for it, but then it would
seem they always did! " Oh, yes. Allright, Janie, tell him I will come at
once." I said. She ducked out, and I hurried to dress in my oldest
breeches and a woolen shirt and jumper of thick, knitted wool, warm
stockings and boots. Running down to the kitchen, I took someone's
oiled cloth jacket off a hook by the back door, and went out into storm.

 

In the stable, Ozias had things set up very cozily. He had hung
lanterns in the corners of the big foaling stall, which was thickly bedded
with clean straw. Directly adjacent to the foaling stall was a smaller
stall, which was set up with a cot and a little stove where he could
spend the night while keeping watch on his charge. The stove was well
stoked and was managing to dispel the chill a little in the immediate
area surrounding it.

 

" Ozias?" I called as I entered, shaking the icy drops from the oil-cloth
coat. " What is happening?" I opened the door to the foaling stall.
Cordelia was on her feet, walking in circles. A little steam was rising
from her sweating flanks.

 

" She's up an' down, Miss," he said, " I fear something's not right." Just
as he spoke, the mare let out a loud groan and sank to her knees.
Grunting, she rolled on her side, kicking out with her hind legs.

 

" Oh, no, Ozias! Look!" I pointed. A tiny hoof, encased in membrane,
had begun to protrude from the birth canal. But it was quite obviously a
hind foot, rather than a foreleg. Normally the baby would make his
appearance front first, with his little head resting on his forelegs. This
baby was turned wrong way round, which was most certainly not a
good thing!

 

" What can we do?" I asked him, kneeling in the straw. Ozias knelt
beside me. He coughed. I looked over at him. He looked dreadful! He
was flushed, and his breathing sounded very congested.

 

" You're ill!" I exclaimed.

 

" A cold is all." He said, reaching out to stroke the mare's flank, " He
might come out all right this way, but t'would be better if we could get in
there an' turn 'im round ."

 

" Have you done it before?" I asked, anxiously.

 

" Aye. When I was smaller, I helped my Pa a couple of times. It helps to
have a slender arm." Ozias did not have slender arms now, I thought,
looking at him. He was broad-shouldered and muscular. Probably
quite the attraction for the girls around these parts, I would say.

 

" Do you think I can do it?" I asked, " Can you tell me what to do?"

 

" Aye." He coughed again, covering his mouth.

 

I looked at him with concern, " Well let's get this over with then, so you
can get to your bed. You shouldn't be out here working when you're
sick. Especially not on a night like this! Why do they always wait for
storms, Ozias?"

 

" They do, don't they, Miss," he grinned, " I reckon they figure the
creatures that might want to eat 'em won't be out an' about. Safer, you
see."

 

" That makes some sense, I suppose,' I said, standing to remove my
jacket and jumper and rolling up my left shirtsleeve. Cordelia groaned
and thrashed. Ozias went to her head and spoke to her soothingly.

 

" You need to get right down in the straw," he said. I obeyed, prostrating
myself on the stall floor.

 

" Mind her legs!" Ozias warned, " Now, when I say, you're gonna push
that foot all the way back in, but you got to wait til she ain't pushin' or
she'll squeeze your arm as like to break it, understand?" I nodded and
waited.

 

After a moment, he said, " Now! Push 'em in!" I grabbed the little hoof
and pushed, and as my hand slid in, I felt the second one. I pushed as
hard as I could. Then, suddenly, it felt as if the legs were pulled away
from me, slipping back up into the womb.

" Oh! I've lost it!" I cried.

" Good! Good! " Ozias said, " Now reach in an' see if you can find the
head!"

I was in up to my shoulder, my cheek pressed up hard against the
mare's rump. She was being most awfully good, considering. I don't
think I should have submitted so meekly to similar treatment. In fact, in
hindsight, and as the mother of six , I know I was never so obliging a
patient!

 

" I think I've got it!" I panted. It felt like a head, anyway. " AH!" Suddenly
the mare's muscles were clamping down hard on my arm," Ow!"

 

" Relax! Don't pull!" Ozias said, " An' when it stops, if you can jes' get the
head round to where its 'sposed to be, she can do the rest."

 

I was sweating like fury. Finally, the squeezing let up, and hooking my
hand around what felt like the back of the baby's ears, and using all my
strength, I managed to nudge it round to the opening of the womb. " I
think I did it!" I cried.

 

" Good! Now get out 'fore she mashes ye again!"

 

I slid my arm out with a great, disgusting slurping sound. I sat up in the
straw. I was covered with blood and slime and bits of straw stuck to me
everywhere. " Phew!" I exhaled, blowing my sweat dampened hair off
my forehead.

" Here he comes!" Ozias scooted round to Cordelia's rear end, and
sure enough, here came the two little forelegs, pressed neatly
together, and then the little black muzzle. Cordelia rolled a little, getting
onto her belly and folding her forelegs under her.
She started to rise, and just as she did, the baby slid out and dropped
into the straw with a final "sploosh".

 

We watched as Cordelia pushed aside what was left of the birth sac
and began to clean her new baby with her tongue.

 

" Oh." I said softly, " She's a filly. A beautiful little black filly."

 

 

" Aye. She's fine." Ozias said. He coughed once, and then again.

 

" Why don't you go to bed, Ozias?" I said." I think I can manage now."
Within an hour or so, the little filly would be on her feet. I wanted to be
sure she had " the beestings", that first of the mare's milk, which was
said to contain a powerful medicine that could insure health and long
life.

 

" I have my cot here, Miss," he said, " It's warm enough with the stove. I
can watch her."

 

" No. I want you to get to your own bed. And go and see if Janie can give
you some hot broth." I told him, " Go on. You're no good to me if you're
ill, so the sooner you're well, the better."

 

He smiled, " Yes, Miss. Thank you. " He started to go, then turned back
to me, " You done that just right, Miss. An' yer not one bit squeamish.
Yer one hell of a woman, Miss, if ye don't mind my sayin'."

 

I laughed. " Thank you very much, Ozias ! No, I don't mind your saying it
one bit!"

 

After Ozias had left, I went into the little stall with the stove. He had a
kettle with some hot water. I poured some into a bucket, and removing
my filthy shirt, washed off the worst of the gore. Leaving the shirt, I
pulled on the scratchy woolen jumper, and went back to look at
Cordelia and her baby.

 

I squatted down and leaned my back against the planks. The little girl
was getting to her feet. She tottered and wobbled and swayed. I
giggled to watch her. With those long, spindly legs and her fuzzy little
black body, she looked like nothing so much as a big, black spider.
The name came to my mind. I could not help it. Arachne, I thought.
From the Greek. I sighed. Would there always be reminders, I
wondered, for as long as I lived, whether it be Greek names, or the
sight of a chestnut horse, or the smell of oranges and hothouse
flowers?

 

Arachne lurched on her unsteady pegs over to her dam. With her tiny
muzzle she nudged around, and succeeding at last in finding the teat,
began to nurse greedily. I smiled. Everything was going to be fine. I
would stay awhile longer, just to be sure. I went back to Ozias's cot,
and pulled off the blanket to wrap it around me.

 

" Miss!" Ozias was back, calling to me, " Where are you Miss?" He
sounded panicked. I put my head out of the stall.

 

"I'm here. What is it?" I asked.

 

" I'm sorry, Miss! I told him you wasn't at the house! I ran to tell you! I'm
sorry!" He was positively frantic.His lips were blue, and he was
dripping wet from the freezing rain.

 

" Ozias, what are you talking about ? Whom did you tell?" I demanded.

 

He did not have time to answer, for at that moment, I heard the
hoofbeats outside the stable entrance, and I looked up to see
Alexander on Apollo, riding right into the stable! The ceilings were not
so high here as they were at the stables at Edrington, and he had to
duck his head a little as he rode in. The entire space seemed to fill with
them. Apollo was blowing loudly and great plumes of steam furled
from his nostrils. He snorted and pawed at the floor.

" Miss!"

 

" Its allright, Ozias," I said, remarkably calm, " It is only the Earl of
Edrington."

 

 

 

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Date: Sat, 11 May 2002 15:36:05 -0400
Subject: [hhfic] FIC: The Hunt: Or,...Chapter 7 Part 4 of 5
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The Hunt Chapter 7 continued. Same disclaimers

 

Well, Sarah, he looked extraordinary! I shall never forget it as long as I
live! He looked as if he had never finished dressing that day, or as if he
had been disturbed in the middle of undressing, for his greatcoat was
open over his unbuttoned white waistcoat and a shirt with no neckcloth.
He had either forgotten his hat or lost it along the way, along with his
hair ribbons, for his hair was loose, hanging in soaking, twisted ropes
about his shoulders. His face was wet and looked chapped from the
cold, his eyes, red-rimmed and glowing withwas it anger? He looked
simply wild! It took my breath away, to say the very least! And yet
somehow, I seemed, at least outwardly, to be calm.

 

" Go on to bed Ozias," I said.

 

" No, Miss, I won't"

 

" Do as I say, Ozias, " I commanded, " I promise you it is allright."

 

After a long moment, Ozias inclined his head towards me and began
to back out of the door. Alexander watched impassively as he retreated.
Then he turned and looked at me.

 

Anger welled up in me. I felt my hands clenching into balled fists as I
clutched the blanket around me. " What in God's name do you think
you are doing, coming here like this?" I hissed.

 

Without a word, he dismounted, taking the reins over Apollo's head and
dropping them to the floor. Apollo, the perfectly trained warhorse, stood
like a statue. Alexander was coming towards me. I willed myself to
stand my ground, but I found myself taking a step backward as he
came nearer.

 

" Has Kennedy been here?" he demanded in a low voice.

 

" What concern is it of yours" I began.

 

" HAS HE BEEN HERE?" He roared, coming forward suddenly and
taking me by the shoulders.

 

" Let go of me! What is the matter with you?" I cried. " Yes, Allistair was
here!"

 

" Allistair!" Oh, dear, what perversity had given me to use that name? I
must have known it would provoke him! His fingers were digging into
me through the layers of blanket and wool.

 

" Alexander," I said quietly, " You are hurting me. Let go."

 

He dropped his hands, then reached up to flip a lock of hair away from
his face. Drops of water flew through the air, sparkling in the lantern
light.

 

" He asked you to marry him, didn't he?" he asked.

 

I put my hand out of the blanket to rub my shoulder where he had
pinched it. " How do you know that?" I asked, annoyed, " Did he tell you
he was going to do it?"

 

He snorted. " So its true? No, actually, it was your little friend Fitzgibbon,
casually let it drop at White's last night."

 

Gussy again! What on earth was he playing at? Surely he knew I would
never accept the Captain, so why then tell Alexander? The answer was
beginning to dawn, and Alexander's presence here, in my stable, on a
freezing, hellacious winter's night was looking like proof that Gussy
might just know what he was about after all! A little smile came to my
lips. I couldn't help it. I lowered my head to keep Alexander from
seeing it, but as I did so, he put his hand out and lifted my chin so I
must look at him.

 

" Electra!" my name seemed to come from his throat all ragged and
raw, " Tell me you did not accept him!"

 

" Alexander"

 

" God!" he cried, grabbing me again by the shoulders and shaking me
so that my teeth snapped together! " I don't want anyone else to have
you!"

 

He pulled me into his arms and kissed me so hard I thought he would
bruise me. He forced my lips apart with his mouth and his hot tongue
shot in , stroking the roof of my mouth like a lick of flame. I gasped and
sagged against him. I raised my arms to push him away, but instead, I
found them circling his neck, and the blanket fell away from my
shoulders. He was crushing me against him, bending me back with
the force of his deep, invading, kiss And then he was lifting me, blanket
and all, carrying me into the little room with the stove, laying me on the
cot, and covering me with his body.

 

I could not get a breath. One of his arms was beneath me, and with
the other hand he held my head so that I could not turn away from his
burning, bruising kisses. My fingers tangled in his hair, the ends of
which were tipped with ice, melting now, sending chilly, wet trickles
down my arms, inside my jumper.

 

He wrenched his one arm out from under me, and breaking the kiss,
rocked back on his knees to shrug off the greatcoat. It fell atop us as he
lowered himself back down. He was lifting the bottom of the jumper.
His hands were warm, sliding over my bare skin. I was once more, it
would seem, completely sans underclothing, but I was past care.
There was nothing that would save my maidenhead this night and I
knew it! The moment had come and gone for me to stop this from
happening, and the truth was that I wanted him as much as he wanted
me, no matter the consequence. Why may a man follow his desire and
be called but a man, but a woman can be but a wife or a whore? ! Oh, I
knew that the answer lies in a woman's particular fate, Sarah ,as any
woman must know: " Unto the woman he said, 'I will greatly multiply thy
sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children .'
But why must I be the one to summon the will? My heart pounded. My
blood boiled. I was a creature of nature and longing and need, no less
than any man.

 


My hands went round his back, grabbing at the fabric of his shirt and
pulling it out of the waist of his breeches. In one motion, I pulled both
shirt and waistcoat off, over his head.

 

He was kneeling over me. His skin was milky, pale and smooth, with
just the faintest smattering of tiny freckles over his beautifully muscled
chest, the lightest covering of golden blonde hair. Rivulets of water
were still streaming from the ends of his hair, down over his shoulders
and torso. There were scars. The lantern light was dim, but I could see
across his left chest and shoulder, a long line of shiny pink flesh,
disappearing under the arm, and a bit below it , a little circle of similar
colour and texture, slightly puckered. I put my hand there. A thought
crept into my clouded mind, jarring, nonetheless. The letter. Her words,
" I am thankful that your injuries have healed"

 

" What is this?" I whispered, my finger tracing the line.

 

He took my hand and brought it to his mouth , pressing a kiss into the
palm. "Just an old wound." He told me, his voice a sweet caress, " All
healed now."

 

" You were hurt."

" Yes." He held my hands, turning them in his own, kissing the
knuckles, the fingertips, " I was hurt. But it is all better now." He
smiled at me, a wistful little smile, " My sweetheart. It is all forgotten
now."

 

He pulled me up by my arms and relieved me at last of my scratchy
woolen garment. I sank back down onto the cot, pulling him with me,
taking his kiss with a hunger and an abandon I did not know I
possessed. His hands were working, pulling off first one of my boots,
and then the other, pushing down breeches and stockings. I shivered,
and he found the end of the blanket, pulling it over us both.

 

" Am I your sweetheart?" I whispered against his mouth.

 

"Yes."

 

" I, and no other?"

 

" No other."

 

I could not believe the sensation of his touch on my bare skin, sliding
over all my most intimate places , the blaze of his lips and tongue on
my cheek, my neck, my breasts and my belly. " Ohh" I moaned,
burying my hands in the damp, curling mass of his hair, "Ohh"

 

" Tell me what you want," he said huskily, raising himself above me
and looking down into my face, eyes dark with passion. That question
again. The answer, still the same.

 

" I want youAlexanderoh, I want only you"

 

My hands worked at the buttons of his trousers , and finally, sliding
my hands down the back, pushed them down over his behind. I placed
my hands upon his shoulders then, and arching my body towards him,
waited for him to fill me.

 

*****

 

I suppose, Sarah, if one were to remove oneself from the situation, and
look down upon oneself in the very throes, it might seem quite absurd,
even amusing. Two utterly filthy, sweaty, soaking wet people, one
crusted with blood and horse manure, one still wearing his riding
boots with his trousers down around his knees, making all manner of
shameful noises and thrashing about on a flimsy cot much too small
for two!

 

But somehow, I believe, that God in his wisdom has seen fit to render
us blind to distraction in such moments, and thankful we should be, for
truly the act itself, with its accompanying noises and expressions might
otherwise seem quite ridiculous, and our race might never have
survived the embarrassment!

 

But this, this very first moment of our joining, to me was nothing less
than an act of sacred beauty, The power of it! The fulfillment and the joy!
I clung to him as the rapture subsided, a laugh bubbled up in my throat
and found its way out as I fell against his chest, following him when at
last he rolled away from me, flushed and panting.

 

" What's funny?" His voice was hoarse. He pulled the blanket close
around us, wrapping me in his arms.

 

" I love you!" I breathed, laughing still, " Oh, how I love you!"

 

*****

 

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Date: Sat, 11 May 2002 15:40:26 -0400
Subject: [hhfic] FIC: The Hunt: Or,... Chapter 7 Part 5 of 5 (Final)
Reply-To: hhfic@yahoogroups.com

The Hunt Chapter 7 continued. Same disclaimers

 

 

It was growing colder. I slipped out from under the blanket. The fire in
the little stove had all but gone out. I thought to stir it, but changed my
mind. He would have to go soon. Not that the entire household would
not be aware by now of what was going on here! I retrieved my clothing
from the straw, and dressed hurriedly, shivering. Alexander did not stir.
Outside the door, Apollo dozed on his feet, still in the very spot where
Alexander had left him, his head hanging low. He looked none the
worse for wear. I expect it was not the first time he had carried his
master through day and night and heavy weather, and it would not be
the last. At least the sleet seemed to have stopped. I could no longer
hear the slashing sound on the roof.

 

I looked in on the foaling stall. Cordelia was standing, munching
contentedly on hay. The baby, Arachne, was stretched out in the straw,
asleep, her little ribcage rising and falling in a steady rhythm.

 

He was awake when I returned, looking for all the world like some
gloating, contented pasha, the blanket pushed down to his waist, arms
folded behind his head, that quirky, smirky, half smile curling his lips.

 

" You should get dressed," I said, bending to pick up his breeches,
shaking off the straw. His boots had been flung into a corner of the stall
at some point.

 

He rolled on his side, raising himself up on one elbow. He let out a
sigh that I think was meant to sound put upon.

 

" Well, " he drawled, " I suppose I shall have to marry you now."

 

Well, Sarah, do not ask me what it was about his tone of voice and his
smug expression that set my teeth on edge, but I did not like it. It would
not do. I stopped and stood up very straight.

 

" Pardon, my lord?" I said, " Has something changed?" The irritation in
my voice was plain.

 

" Electra"

 

" No. I would like to know what that means," I said. Tossing his
breeches onto the cot, I stood, crossing my arms over my chest.

 

He rolled his eyes at me. " Electra, I did not mean"

 

" A month ago I was good enough to be your mistress, but not your
wife. I should think that tonight's events would confirm that
assessment, rather than refute it." I said crisply.

 

He sat up in the bed, his arms upon his raised knees. His hair was
utter madness, having finally dried, standing out from his head in dips
and waves and spirals, lit by lantern light into a halo of bright gold. Most
incongruous under the circumstances!

 

 

" Why are you angry?" he asked me. How could he not know?

 

" I told you before, I don't need a husband, my lord," I said, " You do not
HAVE to marry me now, anymore than you did before."

 

He gave a snort, " Don't be absurd. There could be a child."

 

I turned away from him, gathering my hair into a knot at the back of my
neck. It was matted in places with what I guessed to be dried blood. I
had never needed a bath more in my life, I thought. I looked at
Alexander.

 

" There is no need to concern yourself with that."

 

" Oh, stop it, Electra! You are just being contrary. What would you do
if"

 

I took a step toward him. He reached out and grabbed my arm. I pulled
against him, but he would not let go. " I will do as I see fit!" I cried. "
Perhaps I will go to America! I have family in Halifax, in New York"

 

" You will not take my child!" He shouted at me, but cut himself off
before he finished the sentence. I twisted and pulled my arm away
from him at last. He huffed, and rubbed his face with his hands. He sat
on the edge of the cot, the blanket still wrapped about his waist.

 

" I did not come here to do battle with you, Electra," he said at last," I
came here to make you mine."

 

He held out his hand and I took it. Tugging gently, he pulled me to sit
beside him. I couldn't help but put my hand up to push at that funny little
spiral curl,once more bouncing down over his forehead.

 

" I have always been yours, my love," I said. " That has never been the
difficulty, has it?"

 

" I want you." He said simply.

 

I took a deep breath and looked into his eyes," If you want me,
Alexander, then you must ask me honestly. You are free, as am I. Ask
me, if you truly do want me, but don't make jokes, and do not couch it in
terms of honour or obligation, because I will not have you, Alexander
Edrington, do you understand me? I will not have you!" I felt my throat
closing, and the tears coming to my eyes. My cards were on the table
once again, but it was too late, too late, to do anything else. I waited.

 

He took my face in his hands. It was so cold now, I could see our
breaths. He must be freezing, but he seemed to pay it no mind.

 

" My lady huntress," he said, with a gentle smile, cocking his head a
little to the side," Do you not see that the quarry is yours? His blood
upon your cheeks" he ran his thumbs across my cheeks in imitation
of the way a huntsman would smear the cheeks of a boy with the blood
of a first kill.

 

" I would let him go to run another day," I said, the tears running down
my face.

 

He leaned forward, kissing the tears. " I think he has no more heart to
run," he whispered, " He makes you a willing sacrifice"

 

" Ask me, Alexander."

 

He slid off the cot, kneeling before me in the straw, clasping my hands.
" Marry me, Electra. I beg of you. Please. Be my wife."

 

" I will." I whispered. Oh, Sarah, I do not know what possessed me at
the next moment. Perhaps it was simply the profound relief I felt, but
suddenly I found myself desperately trying to suppress a giggle. Oh, I
struggled, but it was no good!

 

" Hfnuuugh!" The laughter spurted out from my tightly pressed lips.
Alexander started backward in surprise.

 

" What?" he barked, confused. " What the hell is so funny?"

 

I flopped over on my side on the cot, the giggles overtaking me, " Oh,
no!" I gasped, " Oh, my dear! You're not wearing any trousers!"

 

" Oh for God's sake, Electra!" he stood up abruptly, snatching up his
trousers, and pulling them on with an angry jerking motion. I watched,
helpless, as he put on his shirt and waistcoat and hopped about the
stall, yanking on his boots.

 

" Stop that laughing, right now!"

 

I sat up, willing myself to stop. I gave my head a shake. " Aaaaaaah!" A
final sigh. I sat there grinning. " I love you." I said.

 

He stood looking at me, hands on his hips. The handsomest man in
the world. Mad hair and all. My love.

 

He shook his head and smiled a slow, wry smile. " God, what have I
done?" he said.

 

*****

 

I have an image in my mind's eye, a memory of Alexander, in which it
seems to me, that all is whiteness. It is of the morning when Hector
was born. Yes, only hours after, and I was in our bed at Edrington, and
the room was filled with this whiteness of morning sunlight, that white
winter sun coming in through the tall windows, and Alexander standing
there, before the windows. White shirt, white trousers, white waistcoat
and a brightness of white lighting his pale hair, shining through the
linen of his shirtsleeves, the sleeping baby in his arms, swaddled in
white. And I, exhausted and drowsing after that night of sweat and
blood and astonishing, bone-grinding pain, saw him, rather than heard
him say the words, " I love you".

 

I tell you this now , Sarah, to tell you that it did take time, and that it
was only then, more than a year after the events that I relate to you
here, that I began to know that he was truly my husband, bound to me
by trust and love, and now by this child. What I am saying, my child, is
that, when I have finished my tale you may think, ah, yes, so there is a
happy ending, but in truth, my happy ending had just begun to unfold.
My happy ending is unfolding still"

 

*****

Epilogue

 

My grandmother, Electra Eleanora, Countess of Edrington, died
peacefully at Edrington in the year 1855. She was seventy-four years
old, and she had been out hunting that very morning. My grandfather,
Alexander, Eighth Earl of Edrington, followed her just six days later,
having attained the remarkable age of eighty-two. He told his son, my
Uncle Hector, now the Ninth Earl, that he could not have gone before
Electra, for he would not have wanted to miss seeing what ever she
would do next!

 

Readers may be interested to know that my aunt, Lady Portia
Edrington, did finally win the heart of her Captain Kennedy,marrying
him and going to live on his estate in Ireland. She become a great lady
in her own right, famous for her devotion to the causes of the poor and
unfortunate.

 

I confess I do not know what ultimately became of my grandmother's
good friend, August Fitzgibbon, but I do know that he did inherit the
estate at Ladyfair, and the Baronetcy fom his father. He and Electra did
remain close, even though after the war he lived mostly in France along
with his dear companion, Le Compte de Pinque-Petit-Belle-Fluere,
when at last Le Compte was permitted to return from exile and reclaim
some of his lands.

 

One more interesting note: It would seem that Captain Kennedy's
younger brother, Archibald , was discovered not to have died of his
wounds in Jamaica all those years ago after all. Instead he had
recovered and had been taken into the Secret Service as agent of the
King. After the war he received a knighthood and an estate in Scotland
in recognition of his sacrifices to king and country. He married a lovely,
much younger woman, and raised a large family. I visited his home a
number of times as a young girl along with my Aunt Portia and her
husband and found him to be an extraordinarily amusing, charming
and still very handsome man.

Ended this 11th day of May, 1870
S. T. H