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Arriving for Christmastide- Xmas 1677


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Inside of a small, thoroughly modern theatre in Whitefriars, beneath the great, grey weight of a leaden sky, the opera company suffered.


Not that there were many indications of suffering from the outside of the building. On the contrary: the music that emanated from the theatre was of the most rare and wonderful sort. Filigree runs executed at impossible speeds; great layered textural strings lit by broken chords; the surge and swell of its spectral subtleties, eddies of exquisite harmonies seeping through the walls. If the music was occasionally punctuated by abrupt silences, placed at odd intervals and of no discernible length, that did not prevent the occasional passerby from lingering, for a time, to wonder at it.


At some time after seven in the evening, the music at last died down. And after a short period of silence, voices might be heard from beyond the Dorset Theatre's deep, regal portico, deadened by the thick oak of the building's doubled doors.


No words could be made out, until the doors swung open.


"There will be braziers tomorrow evening, Master Akers," insisted a Welsh-accented voice, testily; its owner, one Lucas Cole, stood aside to allow several female members of the chorus to pass. "I do not wish to hear one more word on the subject of your being cold. If you find your hands grow numb, I advise you do the sensible thing, and wear gloves. And kindly refrain from blaming your shortcomings upon it!"


Lucas was obliged to raise his voice just a little toward the end, for Mr Akers (a small bespectacled man carrying a music-case very much larger than he) had made his escape, almost as though he had something better to do than be told. The composer watched his flight for a spare moment; at his elbow, a small, mousy girl of perhaps twenty years hovered, clutching a sheaf of manuscript to her (modest) bosom, and lifting her chin shyly.


"Have faith, Master Cole. I am certain nothing shall-"


"Do not placate me, Mistress Osbourne," Lucas interrupted without so much as glancing at her, his tone implying there were nothing more trying in the world. He rolled his eyes skyward impatiently, "You know I have no appetite for condescension; resist the urge, I beg. Master Collins!" He hailed a passing violinist, "Sleep, for the love of God, sleep! If you arrive drunk tomorrow, I shall throw you out of the theatre myself!"


And in this fashion the rest of the company departed, one by one; it was not long before they were all gone, til even the muffled crunch of their boots and the subdued murmur of their voices faded. The winter's first snow had fallen, and continued to fall; every street and roof and chimney-pot veiled in white as though God rather hoped by this ruse he might conceal all trace of wickedness and make the neighbourhood of Whitefriars seem respectable... if only for a time. The snow swallowed sin and sound alike; even the clocktower's jagged guts had frozen fast, and no longer told the hours.


Lucas lingered in the portico a moment longer, thrusting his hands deep into the pockets of his thick, wool greatcoat, watching his breath mist in the frozen air. A moment of snow-dampened silence to savor. His thoughts, as they often had of late, turned to the comfort of the opiate pipe; and as he so often had, he gently turned them away once more.


There was no room for such a vice any longer. Music had consumed all others.

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That the door of the servant's entrance to the large Piccadilly house of Constance Mercer, merchantess publisher, had been left slightly ajar at this particular hour was something of an irregularity. So too, James supposed, would most have considered his own presence, as a young nobleman with little in common with either servants nor their mistress.


Granted, irregularity itself had never been a qualifier James had been overly afraid of. Such concerns were petty, truly. The domain of men who were quite clearly not on the make, men like the esteemed Lord Iveagh. It was certainly not for one who knew the rising of his own star as he knew the soaring rhythm of his heart and the occasional unbidden twitch of his hands against the fabric of his cloak.


Things were on the up. This was a natural fact, certain as the snowfall he observed with restless green eyes, and as easily apparent as the sun's rise on the morrow. All that was needed was a little more time.


That in getting to this stage, irregularity had played as large of a role as his own gift was a fact for another moment, one in which James O'Neill wasn't about to gaze upon the irregularity's aging grace -the sky-pale blue of her eyes, the hook of her Cleopatra nose, the severe expression that wore away only in private- for an evening or longer.


Gloved hand resting upon the frame of the open door, he looked out idly upon the snow-dusted cityscape that was London, wan smile hiding a tightness that seemed to stem up from his very bones. Not quite three weeks ago, he had been preoccupied with the affairs of the prodigious Butlers, and the thoughts running -no, galloping- through his mind had been a fantasy worthy of Spenser or Malory: fertile and rich, but purely an exercise of the imagination. Now, however... James' eyes fell upon a nearby hanging basket, decorated in a limp attempt at Christmas festivity with holly, and he recalled an old line of the greats. ...When June is past, the fading rose...


It was not so awful to be obligated thus. It had the air of a good drama, to be the flower of youth to her faded rose, nor could he fault her for the persistent attentions to his charms. “We all suffer for our art, is that not so?” He let out a quiet, stifled chuckle and addressed nobody in particular. Though low, the words came out with a rapidity that, had anybody but the basket been around to witness, would have belied an almost insensate lack of control on their deliverer's part. “Why, then, should I be faulted for such an easy torment?”


Smirking, James turned about face, pushed the door the rest of the way open, and sauntered off to his duty.

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Her breath blew wisps of white as she exited the Royal Chapel and she was grateful for the furs that shielded her person and gave some warmth from the coldness of the morning. It had become her routine of sorts since returning from Windsor and she supposed that God would notice and thereby be Forgiving.


Two days until Christmas. London was full of decorations and the Spirit of Merriment abounded on every corner or so it seemed. Her delivery of candles and several boughs of evergreens to the smaller Lady Chapel had brought her out and she had lingered glad for the solace and quietness. She had much to atone for and so it was natural for her to slip to her knees heedless of the cold stone head bowed and hands clasped.


Now once again out into the daylight she begins her trek back to the Queen's Apartments ready to take up her Job. It was clear to those that surrounded Karoline that the rumors of a phantom pregnancy were untrue. She was indeed with child but no announcement of it had been forthcoming and so they all must keep silent and hold their tongues - even to their own Families.


As she walked Greetings and Salutations were tossed back and forth from Courtiers to Gentry to Plain Folk and soon her hands were taken up by the Petitions that were headily pressed upon her, a word softly said, a Blessing for the Queen, herself even.


She was a Queen's Lady and as such everyone knew her eager to advance a Cause or Family member or Play or Anything in actuality. Her pocket was soon weighty with the coins that had been passed to her as well but she would see those to the box in Church the next morning.


Unhooking her furred cape for she was warmed through by the exercise she stopped to talk to several Grooms she had taken up - for they were swift of foot and able to deliver messages anywhere in Whitehall - and it was also how she herself oft times received messages as well.


Her smile was warm for each and soon her pocket of coins was gone but she did not mind. Hunger was a familiar look even at Court and they were always starved or so it seemed.


Reaching her destination the doors were opened by a guard and she slipped past

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Not everyone left the theatre after the rehearsal.


The sound of heels clicking on the wooden floorboards echoed through the empty auditorium as Sophia paced across the stage to stand in the center. Tomorrow, the boxes and seats would be occupied for the premiere performance of Diana and Actaeon. Courtiers would be laughing and talking as they waited for the curtain to rise, and the little orange sellers would be hawking their wares.


Tonight, however, there was only silence and a note of expectancy lingered in the air. There was something magical about a theatre the evening before a production. During her illicit and brief opera career in Venice, the young singer had developed the habit of traipsing across the stage on such nights with only her thoughts and her dreams for company.


She could still hear voices outside and one of them sounded as if it could be Master Cole's. A soft smile turned up the corners of her lips as she recalled the last few weeks of practice. The composer had been a harsh taskmaster, but she had expected no less of him. It was his opera … his and Master Greyson's … and he wanted it to be perfect. Sophia knew her place. Her voice was only an instrument that would help bring the opera to life and she had obeyed his every command without question or complaint. When it came to music, she was as much of a perfectionist as he.


Looking toward the royal box where the King would watch her perform the role of Diana, she remembered how it had all begun. It seemed so long ago that she had risked His Majesty's wrath by asking him if she could sing for him in a full-scale opera after the concert she had given for him and his guests.


If he had not agreed, she could have been disgraced and sent away from court, doomed to spend the rest of the season at the Doolittles' country estate. Sophia would have never met Juan, the love of her life, or married Esteban to be closer to her royal lover. The Queen would never have chosen her to sing for the King on his birthday, and she would not have made so many wonderful friends. Yet her chance had paid off and Master Cole had offered the opera he was working on with Master Greyson.


Nothing worth having came without risk.


Although she had wanted to be involved in every step of the opera's design, she was glad now that none of the responsibility had fallen upon her delicate shoulders. She wouldn't have been able to handle it after her long illness, assuming she had been able to visit Juan in Spain at all. Sophia was content just to sing, to breathe life into Diana, transforming herself into the goddess and becoming her for a few short but enjoyable hours.


Now her heart pounded with excitement and a bit of anxiety. This time alone helped her prepare herself and embrace the triumphs and troubles to come. No performance ever went according to plan, but that was part of the fun. The petite blonde was excellent at improvisation.


The exhilarating anticipation that now coursed through her veins was much like desire, beautiful and exhilarating and intense. And it would continue to escalate until the initial notes of her first aria burst from her lips, filling her with elation.


For Sophia, tomorrow could not come soon enough.

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She knelt on the floor grasping the rag rope of a toy with her spotted puppy attached at the other end. Queenie would give an austere growl and then shake her head making an attempt to jerk it from Diana’s hand. The poor puppy was appearing so earnest in her failed attempts incited a fit of giggles from Diana. Letting go of the rope, the pup fell backwards, pulling the rope with her as she attempted to hide her prize from her master with a superior glance before turning her attention back to the rope. In an easy fluid movement Diana stood up. Out of habit, she dusted her skirt off and glanced around the sitting room of the house on Piccadilly.


Despite being the first house she and John had shared, it still felt awkward, probably because they’d spent more time in Ireland together then they had in England. She’d got to the chapel that morning but the rest of the day had been filled with the examining her dresses that had arrived and hanging the decorative greenery in the house for the holidays. The house felt warm now. The smell of apples and cinnamon wafted their way in from the kitchens as cider was being prepared and candles were placed on the mantle sending warm waves of light throughout the room.


With a final glance at Queenie before she stepped over to a small end table next to the wall and poured a glass of cordial and stepped over to one of the windows. Snow flurries fell, sticking to the window panes in elaborate wintry pattern. Leaning forward she breathed on the window and lifted her finger to write her name in the fog. For that moment, everything seemed peaceful. Leaning her forehead against the cold window pane, Diana closed her eyes. She wouldn’t have admitted it out loud but she’d liked Ireland, but it was good to be back in England. Enjoying the moment of peace seemed to be too much to ask.


Crasssssh! Bang! Clatter! Diana whirled around, sloshing some of her untouched cordial onto the floor in her movement. She howled, “Merda!” The Italian curse slipped from her before she had a moment to realize what she’d said. Her eyes fell to the puckish puppy who was latched onto one of the decorative table cloths. “NO!” She growled, setting her glass on the the table as she lurched across the room after the puppy. “Spit that out, you little imp! John’s mother gave that to us…” She was on the floor wrestling with the puppy, making a poor attempt to dislodge Queenie’s mouth from the table cloth. “Queeeeeeenie!” Diana cried out, “Let go!”


Queenie took it as incentive to play all the more, jumping backwards with a fierce growl. A ceramic vase shattered to the floor sending water and the white snowdrop flowers all over the floor. She squealed and flailed backwards to keep from being hit with the falling debris. The spotted puppy saw her chance, yanked the table cloth free and was running out of the room with a gaudy table cloth flopping behind her.


On her feet in an instant, Diana was chasing her through the house. “Queenie, you get back here!” Darting around her footman who looked shocked at the display, she charged up the stairs on the heels of the puppy. “When I catch you I am going to sell you to someone who is going to make a fur coat out of you! Come back here…” Into her room the puppy ran as, Maud, Diana’s maid peeped out to see what the commotion was all about. Not even glancing at her maid she followed the puppy into her room. With hands on her hips she glanced around for the little imp.


A small section of table cloth stuck out from under her bed, taking a deep breath she walked over and knelt down and coming eye to eye with the little monster. The only problem was the little monster didn’t look like a monster. Queenie’s large dark eyes grabbed at Diana and she sighed, her anger dissipating. Grabbing Queenie by the collar, she drug the puppy out from underneath the bed, pulling her into her lap as she sat down on the floor and stroked her spotted fur. “I didn’t like that table cloth anyway.” Diana sniffed indignantly, “You get to be the one who tells John about this, this time…” Sniffing indignantly again, “I am still miffed about my flowers though… I just put those in the vase this morning.”


One final pat and she stood up, grabbing the shredded cloth quickly before Queenie could get any more ideas. Glancing at Maud, “You’d better tell the maids there is a mess in the sitting room.” Pausing, Diana sighed and handed the shredded table cloth to her maid, “I’ll be down shortly and I suppose we should make sure there aren’t any more things Queen can pinch.” Closing the door after Maud, she walked to her large looking glass and frowned. Blond hair was sticking in every direction, sitting down she started to pin it all back into place, occasionally glancing at the puppy, “This is your fault.” Finishing, Diana gave her cheeks a pinch out of habit and went to ensure there were no more table cloths for Queenie to do a repeat performance with.

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Her present state was as bleak as the day outside.


Sitting wrapped in flannel before a well built fire Lady Lucas kept her own Court. Seven days now she had suffered through the remedies prescribed by the Physician - each more foul tasting and harder to stomach than the last. He was a Charlatan she was sure.


The snow continued to fall outside her rooms at St Marks and Life went on all about making her temper far shorter that normal and her poor maid bearing several blows as a result until she had hid away in that small room that was hers.


Today marked a turning point.


Dressed in dark navy woolen with just the ruffle of her chemise for decoration she sat before the large window that looked out onto St James Park with an eagerness she had not felt in weeks. Court was once again to commence for the twelve days of Christmas and soon familiar faces would return and she would be amongst them all.


It had been a wise choice to remain in London when so many had fled - even the Queen had escaped to Windsor for fear of contagion - and Lady Lucas could well see the merit in that especially if she was indeed with child as was speculated. Risk when unnecessary was a thing well understood by those of her sex and it was imperative that the child not be exposed to dangers.


Her illness had been burdensome and so she had not been able to be a active as she had planed for the past couple of months. Even something so easy as penning a letter had used up energy and so the letters to Arlington, Lucas Cole, the Duchess, and her little French Friend, were not composed never mind sent.


But things had to be looking up right?


She Prayed for a New Year that would be a prosperous one for her and yes, she even Prayed for her still un-accounted for son John, allowing some Melancholy to invade her person and sadness to creep about her Heart. What was needed she deduced was the presence of Young People about her again!


And what better way then arranging for a match or even two over the Season!


That very thought had her rummaging thru her desk searching for the papers she had so painstakingly put together and so she passed the next few hours once again contemplating names best suited to match with others' .....

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It had been a good late summer and fall for Caroline once she had, like so many others, abandoned London in a rush to avoid falling victim to the dreaded plague. However compared to her first season in court, it had also been dreadfully dull back in rural Glendon. Fortunately she had been able to visit and spend a few weeks with her new friend, and fellow Frenchwoman, Nicci. So when she was informed that indeed she would be able to play her cello for Master Cole's opera, the girl had raced back to London to make it for the very first practice. Most exciting, most enjoyable being able to meld with other musicians, she loved it. However she did feel badly for Master Cole who did not seem to be getting much enjoyment out of it all. He was always upset or cross about one thing or another. Far from being disappointed in the man, Caroline sympathized for this was his creation and she understood how badly he wanted it to turn out ...well, perfect!


Time seemed to fly but now, on this snowy evening, they had just concluded the very last practice session before that much awaited and nerve wracking opening performance the next day. She thought it had gone quite well, the errors were down to a very minimum (not by her she proudly noted, she had played her part flawlessly) and the singers had definitely tightened up their roles. Sophia really did have a superb voice. Master Cole still detected flaws in the rehearsal far too often though and at final dismissal seemed in a most dour mood.


As Caroline left the theatre, carrying her cello case in hand, she paused before him and flashed one of her most charming smiles, "Have a good night's sleep, please. I have a very good feeling about the upcoming premiere. It will be wonderful. The audience will love it, you will see. I even dreamt it so."


Whether he believed any of it, she could not control but she did not dally for conversation but left him to his nerves and worries, poor fellow. Outside her coach and bodyguard awaited.



Once Caroline arrived back at her residence, she had her own worries to attend to. Encouraged by Nicci's enthusiastic approval of her stated plan to throw a holiday party, she had made up her mind to follow thru on that whim. Now that all the invitations had been sent out, she had begun organizing the party itself. Of course there would have to be refreshments. She had a decent stock already of various wines but was determined to buy even more including some whiskey, brandy, port, and scotch. Nothing loosened up a celebration like plenty of alcohol. She had hired a cook with assistants to put together a varied banquet, sparing no expense on ingredients. The man was rather difficult in personality but came highly recommended so she would just have to tolerate him for the short time of his employ.


In addition to the concerns about the party itself, she also fretted that how would it look if people did not show up? She wasn't so naïve to not realize the court would judge her on the success of this night....or failure. She just had to hope the acquaintances and even friends she had made upon her first arrival would find it a value to them to renew their relationships in this upcoming get together. Still even with that nagging worry, being back in London and in court was so much better than spending a dreary holiday season in her Glendon manor by herself. Caroline was nothing if not a social creature.

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Nicolette sat in front of her mirror brushing out her hair, a hundred strokes morning and night Maman always said. Excitement thrilled the blood through her veins; the great houses were filling in prepare for a Christmas season in London!


She’d arrived with her cousin some few weeks before, though not feeling like simply a tag-along girl. Instead with belief that Louis attention to laying the groundwork (ahead of others arrival) was prudent for them both. Louis had extended her use of his accounts for gifts for the King and Queen, which she extended to include Buckingham and Lord Kingston also. Though she’d halted her spree at that, and settled upon expressions of sentiment for her close friends and crafting them gifts by her own hand. All in all, when the dresses she’d ordered with Caroline finally arrived – Nicolette’s room was fairly teeming with new things! This was a novelty of itself, and greatly thrilled the Frenchwoman of humble origin.


Nicolette sat in front of the mirror brushing out her hair, a grin on her face and tapping her toe as she hummed ballroom music.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Christmastide was quite the busy time about court and especially close to His Majesty. The King would be receiving scores of people and even more gifts. Since Francis had never done this before, he was in doubt of his own capabilities. He had received a rushed and ongoing sort of training for his position in the King's bedchamber.


Tonight, though, after beaning Tommy soundly with snowballs, Kingston was enjoying some of his blood orange brandy by the hearth of Buckingham's house. He was growing more used to such surroundings although he still found the swarms of mostly invisible servants somewhat excessive. Buckingham's taste in wardrobe and the infliction of his tailors was something different from Francis', but that came with the territory.


The impending opera also had things quite a tizzy. The Duke's house was abuzz as he was patron to two of those involved and very invested in his two artists pleasing his friend, the King.


Tomorrow he hoped to be able to see a few friends before seeing if there was anything he could do to help his friends with their endeavor. For now he was going to warm himself and laze about reading one of the books he had received at the auction last season.

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One could become hypnotized by falling snowflakes if one wished to surrender to it. Was there a better feeling than being beside a warm crackling fire peering out a window to observe the snowfall? At the moment it seemed not.


Yet the tranquility of the outside scenery was in stark contrast to the young earl's inner thoughts. His life had become more complicated of late. His thoughts were of Davina but his time was spent with Catherine. One could prove to be the cover for the other, or so he told himself. Yet, he needed to convince Davina of that. What did the Duke of York really think about him? He would need to ask Heather later. He could assume his redheaded friend would be grateful for removing a rival, though it had not been his intention.


In the background he could hear his young ward singing. She had a lovely voice and her presence brought him both a measure of comfort and discomfort at the same time. Was that the way parents felt about their children, he wondered?


His period of grieving was at an end. Should he consider a new wife or remain a bachelor who cavorted with a mistress in public. Each held its own appeal. If Davina was Anglican, it would be harder to resist her allure. Could he be helpful nonetheless for her by pretending a betrothal so that she might be under less pressure herself? How could that work? It seemed an admirable scheme but he was not a master of subtleties and misdirection. He would ponder possibilities in his mind in the hours before bedtime.


A figure came racing by the window, making the soldier become alert. Had the Catholic priests come to seize his wife's relic again? It was well hidden. It turned out that the shadow belonged to a young servant boy scampering through the snow, being chased by a larger lad. Had the boy thought to deter his hunter by trespassing on the Earl's property? Most likely. Despite his zeal for action and making arrests, the Earl of Langdon determined to let the trespass go unpunished, unless this were a regular occurrence of course.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Charles ordinarily preferred more active pleasures, his natural manic energy both suiting and requiring such physical outlets. He would freely concede, however, that on a night such as this there was a great deal to be said for a warm fire, a pipe of good tobacco and a glass of good cognac. Particularly when one had spent the day travelling, as he had.


He had spent a fortnight in uncharacteristic indecision over whether or not to come to court. On one hand, the twin sirens of duty and ambition. On the other, the certainty that his stepmother would make all sorts of mischief for him in his absence. In the end, he had heeded the sirens' call but it had been a near-run thing.


Oh, come now, let us be honest with ourselves, if with no one else. We came to court because we could not stand another second of the soul-destroying tedium of Chatham, ambition and duty be damned. And 'twas no near run thing. We would have worked as a deckhand again if it meant escaping such. We only waited so long because we needed a suitable excuse and Christmas duly provided.

Charles snorted. It was true enough. It was a strange thing, perhaps, to leave one's birthplace and come to a place as dangerous as any battlefield, a place where one had many enemies and but a single friend, and think upon arrival "I'm home." He had thought it nonetheless. What did it say of his character, that he'd missed living on a knife edge?


Ah. I grow philosophical. Perhaps 'tis time for bed.

The young earl tapped out what remained in his pipe and swallowed the last of his cognac, savouring the sweet burn. He rose and strode to the mirror, examining himself, as had become his nightly custom.


His figure at least was somewhat pleasing. Five foot ten inches in stockinged feet and well-shaped, with long, lean limbs and broad shoulders tapering down to a narrow, supple waist. It was his face, however, that held Charles's attention.


Striking was the best that could honestly be said of it. It was a sharp, perhaps even cruel, face, with cheekbones like razors and the chin and jawline of a Hapsburg. His features were dominated by a hooked, distinctly overbold nose. His eyes might have saved it had he still possessed both but the scarred socket of the left was hidden beneath a black velvet patch. The overall effect was hawklike and thoroughly villainous. Charles had tried to soften it by wearing a beard and moustache and growing his hair long, but that at best was only partially successful.


Aye, not handsome but distinctive. And that is better, if anything. Now, let us be done with our vanity. There is much to be done on the morrow and we shan't accomplish any of it exhausted.


Charles searched his face carefully for any sign of the degeneration that had destroyed his father and grandfather and found none. His gaze remained clear, his hair lustrous, his jowls trim and his nose free of cracked veins. He gave a satisfied nod and moved to pour himself a draught of laudanum. With his mind so abuzz he'd need one if he meant to sleep at all.

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