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
Chapter 6: Of Diamonds and Disappointment
I suppose it was true, as Alexander had said. I had had
an unconventional upbringing. In fact, in comparison to my husband,
one might say I had been brought up in a veritable hotbed of
Republicanism! Certainly my mother and father made no pretense of
adhering to the strictures which governed " polite" society, and our
household most assuredly was run in a far more egalitarian manner
than those of other folk of our means. The people who lived and
worked at Chopping Bottom were an extension of my family. That this
would be so seemed natural and right to me as a child, and it was not
until I was much older that I began to understand that this was in any
In addition to the works of such as Mr. Paine ( who ridiculed
notion of monarchy and aristocracy, saying that there were no titles in
the Garden of Eden and " through all the vocabulary of Adam, there is
not such an animal as a Duke or a Count." ) my mother was a great
admirer of Mrs. Wollstonecraft , and was much influenced by her "
Thoughts on the Education of Daughters" and " A Vindication of the
Rights of Women". Also, the philosopher and novelist, Rouseau , who
encouraged that children be educated with practical lessons from the
outdoor and everyday world and that discipline be taught by example
instead of by punishment.The open expression of feeling and emotion
was of utmost importance. Like the heroine of Monsieur Rousseau's "
Emilie" , I grew up very much " a child of nature", loving and loved, and
above all, a girl who knew no other way but to follow her own heart. So
why, when I fell in love, would I ever think to guard myself? It would not
have occurred to me to play the coquette, or to expect my love to keep to
the etiquette of formal courtship. In short, dear Sarah, I was a complete
innocent, and ripe for a revelation!
Two days after Portia's masked ball, Alexander was gone.
been called to inspect the garrisons in Sussex , where, if the advent of
peace led to the further reduction of the standing army, he was
considering accepting a posting to oversee the training of the local
I did not see him before he left, but through Paulette
I received the
most amusing note, along with a gift. I still have the letter, Sarah. Go
and look there, in the gallery of my
secretary - yes, that little drawer there - bring me that bundle of
letters - Oh, this old black ribbon. I do think it a pity that young men no
longer wear their hair long - Here it is. I will read it to you.
Dispatch to Cmdr. Of Forces, Fortress Electra, from Lt. Col.
Edrington, Cmdr,HBM 95th Regiment of Foot ,With regard to Recent
27th November, 1801
I write to inform you that in light of the outcome of our most recent
engagement, you would do well to consider the abandonment of all
attempts to resist, prolong, or delay the inevitable outcome of this
campaign. The only acceptable terms for resolution are to be complete
and unconditional surrender. I must warn you that should you endeavor
to mount a defense, I am prepared to use every means at my disposal,
up to and including bribery , to secure my objective. I further suggest,
that while you have shown yourself in the past to be a resourceful and
worthy combatant, I can assure you that ultimately you cannot prevail. I
look forward , upon my return, to your acceptance of my terms as
stated here, as well as to a lasting and mutually rewarding peace. I
remain your ardent and determined,
Addendum: Your aide de camp, Mlle. Paulette Jones, has been
entrusted with a peremptory bribe to be disclosed upon your request.
Addendum II: Jones is a most unusual name for a Frenchwoman,
It was early morning, and I had been dressing to go to
lesson. Paulette stood watching me as I read the note. I began to
laugh as I read, and Paulette could not contain herself.
" Qu'est-ce que c'est, Mademoiselle? Tell me what he says!"
" He says he does not believe that you are French." I teased.
She made a grab for the letter . Laughing, I spun to keep it
out of her
" Mademoiselle!" she protested. " Very well.
If you will not tell me, then I
will not give you this!" Out of the folds of her skirts she drew a little blue
velvet pouch, and dangled it in front of me by its drawstring. I reached
for it, but she snatched it away.
" Non! Read!" she commanded.
Her eyes grew wide as I read, and she gasped and clapped her
over her mouth. Then, " Oh! C'est etonnant! How wonderful! He
proposes to you, yes?"
I felt I was blushing. " Well - I don't think so - not as such."
" Bah!" Paulette dismissed my qualifications with
a wave of her hand. "
What do I tell you, Mademoiselle? You do as Paulette says and
Monsieur is yours, toute de suite!"
I laughed. " Yes, allright. I am very grateful. But as
God is my witness,
once I am safely married I am going to wear what I want and be
She shook her head at me and shrugged, " Oh, certainement.
you like. If you wish your husband to sleep in someone else's bed."
" Paulette! My God, you are shameless! I begin to believe
you may be
French after all!"
She tittered, " Pardonez moi! Now, do you want to see?"
She held up
the little velvet bag.
I bit my lip. " Did you already peek?" I asked.
She smiled slyly," Hold out your hand. And close your eyes."
I did as she bade me. I felt something falling over my hand,
cool and a
little weighty. I opened my eyes, and it was as if I held a handful of
sparkling raindrops that pooled in my palm and dripped between my
" Oh, my!" I exclaimed.
Paulette took the necklace from me and held it out before
me in her
" Is it not exquisite, Mademoiselle?"
The most delicate strand of perfect, tiny diamonds, set in
linked with silver wire, just long enough to reach the collarbones, with a
single large stone, shaped like a teardrop, to rest in the hollow of the
throat.Well, you know it, Sarah, you have seen it many times, for I
passed it to your mother on her wedding day. Poor Phaedra! Your
father had given her pearls! No pearls on your wedding day, my dear.
Pearls are for tears! Oh, but it was - exquisite, and extravagant, and
unlike the Arabian horse fittings, not delivered under pretense of
thanks or payment.
" Can I accept this, Paulette? His Lordship and I - we
are not yet - " I
was not at all sure what to think!
" I know what you say, Mademoiselle, and it is allright, I think." Paulette
said with authority, " You will not wear it, naturellement, until the
engagement is announced." She moved behind me and lifted the
necklace over my head, " But there is no harm to try on, no? Oh, see,
Mademoiselle! Oh, tres belle! "
I stood with Portia in the wide, arched doorway of the manege.
liked to accompany me to my riding lessons from time to time. We
arrived late, and Captain Kennedy was already at work, schooling a
young horse at canter. It was a pure pleasure and an inspiration to
watch the man ride. He was a centaur! He sat as straight and as still
as a statue, never seeming to do anything to influence the animals,
and yet they danced beneath him like the performers of the ballet!
As we watched, he cantered across the short side of the
that was the arena, and coming to the corner, took out across the
diagonal, performing flying changes of leg, une tempe. That is to say,
the horse changed his leading leg with every stride of the canter,
producing a prolonged moment of suspension and giving the
impression that he was skipping! It was an extremely difficult
movement. I myself had not yet mastered the exacting timing and
coordination of aids required to make the changes every stride. Threes
and twos had been my best efforts to date.
" Marvelous!" I whispered to Portia not taking my
eyes off the horse.
She said nothing, but after a moment I heard a loud sniff. I glanced
over to see a single fat tear rolling down over her round little cheek.
Alarmed, I said, " Why, Portia, my dear, what is it?"
She sniffed again and hurriedly wiped the tear with the back
hand. She took a sharp breath and blurted, " He's s-so b-beautiful!"
I laughed and gave her shoulders a little squeeze, " Aren't
you silly! I
agree, Captain Kennedy can make any horse look splendid!"
Sniff. " N-not the h-horse!" she blubbered, the tears
beginning to flow in
" Oh!" I said. Oh dear! I took her by the arm and
led her out into the
courtyard. I handed her my handkerchief.
" Are you allright?" I asked.
She had her face buried in my handkerchief and was nodding
head, but when she raised her moist eyes she said, " Nooo! I just love
him so m-much!" and launched into a wave of fresh tears.
" Portia - " I began.
" He doesn't even know I'm alive!" she wailed.
" Oh, of course he does!" I tried to soothe her,
" Captain Kennedy is very
fond of you!"
" Oh, Electra!"She was twisting the handkerchief
in her hands, " I don't
want him to be fond of me! He looks at me like I'm a little girl!" She
lowered her eyes and spoke so softly that I almost could not hear. " I
want him to look at me the way he looks at you."
I sighed. It was true, I suppose.In spite of my best efforts,
Kennedy was not easily discouraged. Only last week he had asked me
would I not call him "Allistair", and it was most awkward having to
" Dearest," I began, taking her cold little hand,
" I give you my word,
Captain Kennedy is my teacher and a friend, nothing more."
Portia smiled through her tears, " Oh I know. I don't
blame you, Electra.
Please do not think it. I suppose its just - you're so lovely. They all look
at you like that. Even Sandy!"
I surpressed my smile. It was ever so difficult to resist the
urge to tell
her my secret, not only to set her mind at ease about the Captain, but
because I did love her, and already felt her to be like my own sister.
I squeezed her hand. " I don't know what to say. I don't
like to see you
so sad. I know it is not what you wish to hear, dearest, but I am afraid
you may have to be patient. You're only just sixteen! You must know that
even if the Captain were to return your affections tomorrow, Al" your
brother would not allow him to court you for a few more years. Am I not
She sighed, nodding sadly, " But I don't like to feel
this way!" she said. "
Oh, why can I not be twenty and beautiful?"
I laughed. " There is nothing to be done about your age,
I'm afraid, but I
will tell you one thing, Lady Portia Edrington, you are more than pretty
enough for the likes of Captain Allistair Kennedy. Or any other young
gentleman you might prefer after you tire of him!" I was teasing her, but
she did not smile as she gazed back at the doorway through which we
" Its no good, Electra," she said with another little
sigh," I just know
already that I will love him forever. I cannot explain it, but I feel it is for
certain. Do you think you can understand?"
Well, naturally, I could.Hunt: Or,
Over the next fortnight, I found myself actually beginning
London. The theatre season was in full swing, and I saw more plays
and operas than I thought even existed. I went out to the clubs with
Gussy and even improved a little on my game of whist. Gussy thought I
was a good luck talisman, because he was actually winning for a
change. I know I said, Sarah, dear, that card playing was one of
Gussy's three, or rather four, great loves, but the truth of the matter was,
he was really rather bad at it. It was fortunate for him that his father the
Baronet, and later, his beloved Monsieur le Compte, were both deep-
pocketed and indulgent! I'm sure part of the reason for Gussy's recent
success was the absence of Lord Edrington., to whom he had been
steadily losing since we first arrived in London. In that respect, my loss
was darling Guss's gain!
It looked as if I might be spending Christmas in the town
after all. I
was shocked to learn that the Edrington's had always left the
decoration of their home to their servants. I convinced Portia that it
would be great fun to do it ourselves, and so we set about scouring the
garden and the orangerie for herbs, fruits and greenery, even making
a few clandestined forays into St. James's park.
We did ourselves proud, I will say. Loop after loop of dark
christened with shining bunches of berries cascaded down each
balustrade of the great double staircase at Pantops. Fat, white candles
were set on every surface, their bases circled with wreaths of holly and
rosemary. Every picture, every door frame had its garland of green. Ivy
and rosemary and holly peeked from the cupboards, the mantels and
around china bowls. We made necklaces of mistletoe for the busts of
the great men in the parlor! Kitchen maids helped to pierce oranges
and lemons with cloves, which we used to fill bowls, mixing in crushed
cinnamon and more rosemary. The coming of the season did give me
a little pang of homesickness for my parents and Chopping Bottom,
but I was busy, and so happy anticipating Alexander's return ( any day
now, surely!) that I did not suffer from it overmuch.
As I said, Alexander was gone a little more than a fortnight,
from his silly note, there had been no word from him. Truly, I felt no
anxiety about this at all, for I knew that while he was on the King's
business, he was not off to war, and he would be returned safely to
me very soon. I was quite content to wait, and in the meantime I did
have the most enjoyable imaginings, thinking of our reunion.
I was sitting at my dressing table one evening, preparing to go out to
the opera with the Fitzgibbons and Guss. The business of changing
clothes every few hours had lost none of it's tedium. In that very day
alone I had gone from riding clothes to a morning gown to a visiting
costume ( The Duchess of Devonshire, yet again. Apparently one did
not refuse her invitations. Ever.) to a different dress for the afternoon at
home, and now here I was in my dressing gown once more, bathed
and scented, waiting for Paulette to do something with my hair. She
had gone off to find a flatiron which had been purloined from her room
and which she needed because the ribbons she had selected for this
evening's coiffure were most dreadfully creased. Needless to say, they
looked fine to me, and weren't they going to be creased once she tied
them anyway? Well, naturellement, what Mademoiselle did not know
about the business of being a lady's maid would fill volumes!
She had been gone an age, though, and I was growing impatient.
brushed my hair again. Then I picked up a pot of something Paulette
called "L'Huile de Ninon" a beauty cream which had been invented by,
and named for, a famous French courtesan reputed to have retained
her youthful looks far past the age when they should have faded. It is
wonderful stuff, I still have the recipe for it, and look at my face, Sarah.
You must admit I am well preserved for a woman of my age. Do remind
me later and I shall give it to you. It is never too early, my dear. The
saying " A woman's face is her fortune" is still too true, unfortunately!
So, I dipped my fingers into L'Huile de Ninon and began
to slather it
on, as per Paulette's instructions. The idea was to work in a good deal
of the stuff with the fingers and then wipe off the excess with a towel. It
smells quite lovely, like almonds, but it is thick and white and very
greasy. I was working away at this, and at last I heard Paulette's step
on the servant's stair. " Finally!" I called, " Where on earth have you
" Sussex, " an amused voice replied, " Thought
you knew. Missed me,
Oh my! He positively should not have been there! Oh, and he
so oddly large and mannish standing there in my pretty little dressing
room with its Chinese papered walls and dainty furnishings, still
wearing his hat and a long, heavy, black greatcoat, the shoulders of
which were dusted with snow. In my room! He should NOT be there,
and yet that did not stop me from flying into his arms.
" Oh! You're so cold!" I exclaimed. My cheek was
pressed against the
icy metal of his gorget and I could feel the cold wetness of the melting
snow through the fabric of my dressing gown. I pulled away and looked
" Yeuch! What have you got on your face?" he asked.
" Oh no! And now its all over your coat!" Great gobs
of L'Huile de Ninon
were smeared on his lapel and stuck to the shiny silver gorget. I
grabbed a towel off the dressing table and began to dab at him.
" Do your face first, please!" he said, " Good God, what a fright!"
I buried my face in the towel, rubbing furiously, " You
surprised me." I
said in a muffled voice.
I looked up. " Better?"
I moved close to him once more, reached up to wipe the last
cream from his gorget," My goodness, this makes a fine polish as
well!" I remarked. I felt his arms closing round me. I dropped the towel
and looked up into his face. " What are you doing here?" I whispered.
" Have I told you how much I like your maid? She brought
me up the
back stair and now she has discreetly buggered off."
" Alexander - " I said a little nervously.
" She is a treasure. Where ever did you find her? Certainly
He studied my face. " Do you want me to leave, Electra?"
I looked into his serious dark eyes. I felt the flush of heat
on my neck
and in my face. Slowly I shook my head. Put my hand up to remove his
hat. Drops of melted snow glistened on the ribbon cockade. " No." My
hand smoothed the crown of his hair, feeling its rippling texture," I don't
ever want you to leave again."
His mouth was close to mine, " God, I reek of horse,"
he said," I'm
sorry. I've been riding since before dawn."
Our foreheads touched. " The best smell in the world," I breathed.
" You would think that."
I pressed my nose into the thick wool of his coat. " Mm.
smoke. And - beer?" I inhaled again, " - and snow."
I felt his hand come up to my throat, his thumb tracing the
line of my
jaw. I raised my head and his mouth came down on mine. His fingers
wound themselves in my hair, pulling my head back just a little
forcefully. Warm tongue flicking over my top lip. Opening, breathing his
breath. A little moan, deep in my throat as his mouth slid over my
cheek, down to my ear, my neck. Shifting his arms. With a soft " plop"
the greatcoat dropped into a heap on the floor.
Kissing me again.Dressing gown untied, ice cold silver buttons
the front of his red coat, pressing against my flesh with just the thin
cambric of my chemise between us. My hands slid under his coat and
his were inside my gown. Opening my eyes for a moment, I glimpsed
the open door of my bedchamber. Big, high bed with its soft feather
tick. Oh, God. Damn me to hell for a sinner, then, I thought, for I have
not the will to stop him!
But suddenly he did stop. " Are you not ashamed of
woman, inviting soldiers into your rooms?" he teased, holding me at
" Only one soldier, sir, and I fear he was not invited."
" A Bloodyback Redcoat Defiler. They call us that you know."
" Oh? Do tell." I moved in toward him again.
He pulled me roughly back into his arms. " By God, you're
" Not reckless?" I asked, remembering how he had
scolded me when I
tried to jump the hedge at Windsor.
" Allright! I'm sorry I said it. But you did nearly kill the King!"
I reached up and ran my finger along his upper lip. I loved
the way it
was a little crooked, the right side a little fuller than the left. I loved the
jut of his chin, the height of his brow. His face. " Kiss me again." I
" No. You know what will happen if I do."
" Then why else did you come here?"
He pushed me away again. " God, Electra, mind what you say!"
" What have I said?" I asked.
He walked away from me for a moment, went to the door of the
bedchamber and pulled it closed with a definite " thud". He went and
sat down on my little French settee, which was upholstered in gold silk
damask, and I must say it set him off very well!
" A moment ago I was very close to carrying you off to
that bed," he said,
running a hand over his hair, " And I think, too, on that night in my
garden, had we not remembered ourselves - "
" But we did - " I said.
" You were not about to stop me."
" Why am I the one to stop you?" I asked.
" This can't continue, Electra."
I wrapped my dressing gown around me and retied it, then went
beside him. " Then what do you suggest we do?"
He turned to face me. Took his hands and pushed the hair back
my face. " Look at me. I can't not touch you. I think it is time you and I
had an agreement."
I smiled. " An agreement, my lord? Then you should have
carried on as
you were. A moment ago I should think I would have agreed to most
He went on. " We need to have a proper arrangement. I
do want to keep
I frowned. " How oddly you phrase it. Keep me? Am I a lost puppy?"
He sighed, taking my hands in his. " You will have everything.
house, here, or in the country, if you wish - And if there are children,
they will have my name. I will provide - "
I stared at him. Shocked, I slowly pulled my hands away. "
asking me to be your mistress."
He looked genuinely surprised at my reaction! " Yes."
he said," Only
now I see I've got it very wrong, haven't I?"
I couldn't answer.
" Electra, you must know that I can't marry you."
I was just shaking my head a little, still saying nothing.
He said, " I
know that in your own family - you must see how it is different! I am the
head of my family. The sole heir. And my God, the way you pursued me!
The way you responded to me when we - I thought - . " He let out a
long breath. " I have got it wrong - "
" No, Alexander," I said at last, " It is I
who got it wrong, for I see now
that I am just the sort of woman you think I am. The sort of woman one
keeps. And believe me, it is not pride or honour that would give me to
refuse what you offer. No, nor shame, for clearly I have none where you
are concerned." I would not cry. Gussy would say (as if he were an
expert!) that the reason I would fail at cards was that I would always
show my hand too soon. Obviously this proved to be true in life as well
as cards, and yet here I was again, about to "lay my cards on the table"
one last time.
" Yes, I did pursue you, " I said, " And
yes, I would have given myself to
you that night, and probably a moment ago, and even now, if you were
to take me in your arms, I am not sure I could resist. Only I beg you, do
not." I took a breath, and looked into his eyes. He did not avoid my
" I love you. Alexander. I have loved you from the
first, and everything I
have done has been done only out of desperate love! I have never
wanted to be a Countess! And I don't need a husband! I am a woman
of independent means, as they say.
" That night, you asked me, over and over, to tell
you what I wanted,
and what I told you then is still true! I want only you! Alexander, I would
follow you to whatever Godforsaken place on this earth the King might
send you. I would live in your bloody tent and cook your food and wash
your clothes and raise our children far from my home if need be. (
Prophetic words were these, Sarah, my dear, for I did all of these
" So you see, it is not pride or shame at all. It is
You cannot marry me, presumably because I am unsuitable. You are
the Earl of Edrington, and you must have an heir. Therefore, you will
marry someone" suitable". All of those other things I would do for love,
but one thing I will not do is to share you!"
I was thinking then of the Countess dowager, gazing at the
the husband she had loved, saying, " He loved another - "
" Your wife - " I said quietly, " - should not
have to share you." I stood
up, and immediately regretted it, feeling rather lightheaded and
" Are you allright?" he asked. Clearly, it showed.
Damn you, Alexander! I
" I think you should leave now." I said, struggling
to keep my voice
" Yes." He got up and went to pick up his hat and
coat off the floor. He
started for the door to the servant's stair. Turning to me, he said, " The
world is what it is, Electra. I did not make it so."
" That was spoken like a true aristocrat, my lord,"
I said, sounding very
bitter. Oh, suddenly I felt so angry and the urge to wound him as he had
wounded me was overpowering! He turned again to go.
" And what of the American woman, " I said, "
Did you want to marry
Let me share some wisdom with you Sarah. Always think twice
before you seek to hurt someone you love, for it cannot be done without
that you will do your own self some harm. The pain in his face was
naked and plain, and I did regret my words, not only because it
stabbed at my own heart to see him hurt, but also because I knew for
certain then that he had loved her.
Certainly he loved her. Did he love her more than me? After
night, we never had cause to speak of it again, and after more than forty
years, how little it matters! He is my husband. I am the mother of his
children. I am as certain as it is possible to be that he has never been
unfaithful to me, and our passion for eachother has never lost its fire.
How you do look at me, Sarah! You did not think that people as old as
we would still be up to such mischief? I only hope that you will be so
fortunate someday, my darling child! We have been blessed, yes, with
all these good long years, and to have had all of our children survive,
all but one little boy who was born too soon -
But you see, Sarah, at that moment, I did think that I had
lost my love
forever. And so I asked that question to hurt him. Was he wondering
how I knew? It was so quiet! Slowly he put on his hat and coat, and at
last his eyes met mine.
" No." he said, seemingly without emotion, " She was already married."
And then he was gone. I sank to my knees in the middle of the
wrapped my arms around myself, doubled over. It hurt! It hurt worse
than the time when I was ten and I had that horrid pony, Juniper, who
kicked me square in the chest one day, breaking my ribs. As a matter
of fact, though, the sensation of having all the air knocked out of me
was very similar.
In a matter of seconds, Paulette was kneeling beside me.
have been eavesdropping, and heard everything. She grasped the
gravity of the situation, clearly, because for once she was not
pretending to be French.
" Oh, no, Miss! Let me help you!" she cried, putting
her arms around
me, " Oh, I am so sorry! Tell me what I can do!"
" I want Gussy!!" I wailed.
I was still on the floor when Gussy came. " God, Electra,
happened?" He lifted me to look at my face, pushing away the damp,
tangled hair. " Is it Lord Edrington? What has he done?"
Oh, Gussy, my dearest friend! I told him what had happened.
" I'll kill him!" he said. He was truly angry. I
had never seen him so. " I
will call him out, Electra!"
I grabbed at his arms, " No! God, Guss, don't say such
things! I couldn't
Now, were there to have been such a duel, Sarah, I should have
at a loss to predict the outcome. You might think that Gussy, with his
fine manners and dandy ways would not have stood a chance against
the likes of Lord Edrington, but in fact, Gussy happened to be an expert
swordsman, as well as a very fine shot.
" Promise me you won't!" I cried. He gathered me
in his arms,
squeezing me tight and rocking me back and forth.
" I promise. Oh my poor little chicken. I love you. Tell
me what you want
me to do." He said.
" I - just - want - to go - hoooome!" I sobbed.
He stroked my hair. " Shhh. Of course. Of course I'll
take you home. I'll
come and stay with you for as long as you like."
I sat up finally, swiping at my face with my sleeves. "
No. You don't have
to come. The cats will make you sick, and I'll be rotten company," I
" Are you sure? I suppose it would be difficult to explain
to my parents."
" Can we just say I decided I wanted to be home for Christmas
all?" I said.
" Whatever you want, dearest," said Guss. He got
up and took me
hands, pulling me to my feet. " I know its awful, but you'll be allright,
Electra. I know you."
I nodded my head.
" I do wish you'd let me shoot him for you, though. I
owe him ever so
Trust Gussy to be able to make me laugh at the worst moment
life. He put his arms around me again.
" Don't worry, 'Lectra," he said, " Everything
will be fine. Lets just get you
End of Chapter 6. To be continued.