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In the Corridors Outside the Privy Chamber (Late Morning 24- Xmas 1677

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ooc~ Continuation from the Privy Chamber thread with everyone.


Charles had to get out of the Privy Chamber. He had tried to send Davina every subtle signal he could. Now he had to rely on the fact that she would take her leave of the others in a few minutes. If she was smart, she would not follow immediately. That would seem too suspicious.


Thus, the Earl of Langdon was compelled to walk in the corridors outside, as if he were awaiting an audience with the King, or sought to protect the King by patrolling the halls.


Nods were reserved for any passing servant or courtier while he paced. There was one lady he awaited and two ladies he wished to avoid at all costs for the next half hour -- Catherine Sedley and Susan Herbert. Catherine would be unlikely to roam the royal apartments, he thought, given the fallout with York. Susan Herbert would frequent the corridors in the service of the Queen, and he was not inclined to chat with her just yet about their next steps to solve the mystery of the Lion and the Swan. What would Davina think if she exited only to find Charles in a private conversation with Susan? Who could predict the minds of women? I'll just send her on her way, Charles told himself in case Susan Herbert happened upon him and wanted to talk. They had their own reasons to keep their conversations private.


The only other person to avoid would be the Duke of York. He knew a conversation would be required; but, he could only hope it was outside the presence of Davina.


It seemed like many long minutes had passed; but, in truth it had been but one. Time never moved quickly when one wanted it.

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The timely entrance of several pages into the Privy Chamber had made it an easy thing to take her leave. She had quietly whispered to her cousin and then rose her eye catching one of them and the boy, no doubt thinking he was needed, began to thread his way towards her.


She stood without fanfare and took a step or two to her left and when the boy found her she smiled, made a gesture as if to listen to something, gave a small nod and sent him away.


"I am afraid I must be the first to leave ....." She said quietly to them. "I hope to have a change to offer my Congratulations to you both after the performance this eve!" To Sophia and Caroline.


She leaned over placing a quick kiss to her cousin and then offered a curtsey that would suffice for them all in its depth.


She made her way in the opposite direction she had seen Charles leave on purpose and it was some five minutes afore he might catch sight of her as she exited through a side doorway.

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Several of the minutes had been passed staring out a window upon Thames. Seeing the movement of boats upon the water had a certain calming effect as he listened for the sound of opening doors. More than once he turned to see nothing but a random courtier or servant enter or exit the Privy Chamber.


It was perhaps five minutes later that Charles was rewarded with the glimpse of Davina entering the halls through a side door. The delay and choice of doors had been a wise one. So far, there was no sign of Catherine Sedley or Susan Herbert in the hallways.


The Earl's first move was to survey the corridors in all directions to insure that he was unseen. Only then did he look at her with an obvious request that she join him at the window, away from the doors into the Privy Chamber. They could pretend to be peering out the window as they talked, or so he told himself. Their conversation would need to be short to avoid suspicion.


With an outwardly relaxed demeanor and another inviting glance, Charles hoped that Davina would join him at the window. If she did not move in his direction, he would be compelled to give chase. He hoped it had not come to that.

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She came thru the set of doors as if it had been her intention all along and once she took a quick look gave an inward sigh that the corridor was not being heavily traveled at that time.


She wasn't so foolish as to imagine that either of them would not be 'seen' however.


He was by the windows but she had caught him as he too appeared to survey the surroundings and so she was able to meet his look with one of her own.


She took from the pocket of her skirt a folded piece of paper that had scribblings on it with some lines crossed thru - a useful prop if needed - and after consulting it for a moment or two gave a look as if searching - and then allowed her smile to appear as if she had indeed found out a person she sought ....


"Ah Lord Langdon." She said aloud and walked unhurriedly to where he stood. She wanted desperately to throw herself into his arms but restrained.


"Are you steadfor?" She asked him. "I have been looking for you if you might have a look at this ...." She held out the paper in her hand.


Backing herself against the wooded window enclosure allowing some space between them her eyes on him she whispered softly saying


"I have missed you! I could not take my leave afore now ... You are well...."

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It was with great relief that Charles saw Davina approach. He struggled to maintain a serious demeanor.


"Ah Mistress Wellsley," he uttered a but too loud, as if wanting others to overhear his formal greeting. Taking the paper from her hand, he was not sure that she really wished him to read it. He suspected it was a ruse to speak with him. If anyone would come by, he would open the letter and attempt to read it.


"I have missed you terribly," he whispered urgently. "It takes all my power to not whisk you away into my coach so that we might be alone together. Tell me how soon you can come to Somerset Palace. I must speak with you and I have a present for you. All has been arranged. Wear a veil and approach the backstair. Discreet servants will escort you to my private quarters without anyone seeing you." They had spoken in the summer about arranging clandestine meetings at Somerset Palace. Now he wanted to demonstrate to her that he had made good on plans to assure their privacy and her anonymity. There was more to explain about the ruse; but, in doing so, he would have to admit the truth of the Sedley affair. He was ready to explain it to her that it had been done, in part, to provide cover for a dark haired lady to pay him secret visits at his palace. All would assume it was Catherine coming to visit him, or so he imagined.

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It would seem that he had took her meaning for he reached out for the paper and then addressed her in the same fashion speaking the words she had so longed to hear.


"How soon?" She parroted back. "I would say now this very minute such as I yearn for you! I am to attend this 'Opera' this eve as promised but shall I leave early - or mayhap tomorrow would be better .... Or better still to wait until after Christmas Day?"


Her words were like the wings of a tiny bird beating fast and breathless across to where he stood so close and yet out of reach.


"Ah so then none shall know me or will I be seen as someone else who has made frequent use of those stairs? A gift? Not fair Charles to tempt me so and then make me wait for it."


She whispered then looked over his right shoulder to make it seem as if this were some normal converse.

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The paper remained unread as he thought he heard her say that she was ready to leave with him now. As he thought over the logistics of that possibility, she spoke as if waiting for another time might be better. "As soon as you can," he whispered softly as he then looked over her shoulder to ensure that no one was approaching them from behind her.


Charles was not much of a man to attend the opera. The singing and music were fine enough, but he was less a man of the arts than a man of martial activities. If he went to the opera, Catherine would wish to accompany him. That might be awkward. The thought of leaving the opera early with Davina had a special appeal, but there were many ways that such plans could go awry.


Christmas day was proposed, which held a certain appeal; but, then Davina uttered something that sent ice through his veins. ... or will I be seen as someone else who has made frequent use of those stairs? It had to signal that she knew of Catherine, or merely suspected he might have another lover. There was an awkward moment for Charles as she moved on quickly to the present, as if she had no care about his secret visitors.


"They shall assume you are another," he said flatly. "I have seen to it that I am connected with another lady at court so that tongue-waggers will assume that it is she that visits me when it is really you. It is a perfect protection for you," he added in a voice intended to sell her on the merits of his other diversion. He had been planning to discuss such things later, at Somerset Palace, but he did not wish to be accused of hiding anything, even for a day.


"This other person has received no gifts from me. Only you, for you are the one that graces my thoughts and ensnares my heart," he whispered reverently, hoping it would distract her from his other lover. It was true that Davina was his sweetheart. Catherine was not. Catherine was his lover and his friend, but they would be nothing more. It might be that he and Davina experienced nothing more than a love affair; but, somehow, it seemed different ... somehow more innocent despite the lunacy of such thinking.


"Tomorrow morning?" he suggested. It would be nice to celebrate Christmas in her arms. "You shall receive a Christmas present," he tempted.

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Unprepared for his reply she flashed his a quelling 'look' from beneath her lashes.


So it was true then. He had indeed taken another Lover and now to claim it was for her own protection was much like rubbing salt into a wound.


No longer a virgin in the technical sense she was, nevertheless, still unschooled enough to not know exactly how she was supposed to deal with this fact. Confront? Become angry? Weep?


She could do none of those or any other that came to mind in so public a place yet the need was great within her to say something


"How difficult that must be for you Charles." Hissed sweetly back. "I should not think it a great complement to me then - even with words such a protection used to justify. Yet I can hardly play fish-wife either."


"I have no claim over you so why that should upset I can not fathom can you?"


She closed her eyes briefly then took a small step away from him half turning away standing in silence for a few moments then said quietly but not meeting his gaze.


"Very well. I shall come to you upon the morrow Charles."

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Okay, that did not go well. Had he really thought it would? He had other tales to spin, such as taking on Catherine was doing a favor for York; but, this hardly seemed the place.


"It is not a compliment to you," he admitted quietly. "I apologize Davina, I really do. It was never my intention to hurt you. I was just trying to make the best out of a bad situation." Sometimes the best course was to apologize and move on. The most encouraging point was the fact that she claimed no hold over him. He might disagree, but he knew better than do so. That might help him on the morrow. Perhaps she might not insist that he end the relationship.


She stepped away and grew quiet. He expected the worst. It was clear that she was hurt. Fortunately, she agreed to come see him on the morrow. A hesitant smile formed on his lips. "What time? We can speak more of this then." It would give him more time to rethink his strategy.


He was left holding a piece of paper in his hand. He was not sure whether to hand it back, read it, or do neither.

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Her years at Court were not for nothing and even with her inexperience in the department of 'how one handles a Lovers' misdeeds' Davina saw thru the rouse and then his apology made her remain silent. Did he really think that she would be accommodating? Did she really think her grasp was tight enough to keep him?


Even now he seemed eager to get her to Somerset where he intended, no doubt, to see they bedded and she gifted. Yet such was the ways of being a Mistress she thinks. What had become of her private thoughts of them together wrapped in each others' embrace, sharing eager kisses and him instructing her more on ways to please?


The realization that one has been foolish will always cause some hurt and so it was for her as she understood just what her róle actually was to him.


Giving a small nod of her dark head she turned back to face him her hand held out to take back the prop of paper that had done its work.


She gave him then a small smile of her own that did not quite reach her eyes.


Her path was now decided - she would learn and Charles would be her Teacher - a Tutor of sorts in the finer points of Secrets and Apologies. Become skilled in the Art of Seductions, as well as learn to harden her too soft heart, to become as he, if possible, and be able to take a Lover or Lover's without the emotional attached.


And when the Time was right she would ever so gently, with apology and mayhap even a gift, cut him lose. If a man could do so why then not a woman?


"Let us arrange for mid morning - I shall be at Baintree's - but can manage Somerset easily enough with pretext of some Queen's Business - without suspicion. I can hardly go about veiled as you would have me but will contrive to conceal."


She would have added


lets us hope that those you employ know the difference for I should hate to intrude as you dally with another


"Will that suffice or have you some other plan?"


It would be clear to him that this little 'meeting' was concluding.

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Davina was not the only one with naivete. Charles was still learning how to handle difficult situations with ladies. Mostly things had gone swimmingly with him and ladies. Sometimes he had three lovers at a time. The young earl had been fond of all his lovers but Davina had been the first to have a special place in his heart. He had been fond of her before things had intensified greatly after the seduction. Had guilt played a subconscious role in that, or were her qualities so much more attractive than the others? There would be time to better discern an answer; but, for now, he needed to find a way past this crisis. He wanted things to return to the way they had been before, though he feared that such wishes were in jeopardy.


"Mid-morning is grand," he replied readily. "I have nothing else planned. I had been hoping to see you today." He intended to keep Catherine at a distance as long as Davina made herself available.


The paper was taken back from his hand as he pondered why she could not wear a veil. It was what women did to hide their face, was it not? He had thought it a clever way for Davina to be mistaken for Catherine. How was she planning to disguise herself on the morrow? Would she come in through the front door as the Queen's maid, or would she come up the backstairs? I shall find out soon enough.


"Thank you Mistress Wellsley," Langdon announced loud enough to be overheard. Their meeting was over. "A good day to you." He expected that it would seem like a normal friendly encounter to anyone that might observe the pair.

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Surrounded by a group of friends, Susan Herbert had been watching Lord Langdon for some time. She was eager to ask him when he wished to resume their investigation into the story of the Lion and the Swan. The tragic romance intrigued her and she wanted to discover who they were and if the Lion was the skeleton they had found in the secret room below the palace. She also wanted to explore that room again. They had planned to clean it up and see if they could find anything else of interest, but court had adjourned before they could put those plans into action.


He was presently conversing with a group that included Master Staggins, and she preferred to avoid the Master of Music. Susan had seen his fliers and didn't want to get roped into performing. If Lord Kingston had noticed how well she sang in Church, then others might have noticed too. She would prefer just to watch. The pretty blonde was not comfortable being the center of attention.


At last, she saw the handsome Earl leave the room. She headed toward the door herself, but was intercepted by one of the newer maids of honor. Susan remembered how lost she had felt during her first season as the Queen's attendant, and she answered the girl's questions and then excused herself. Lord Langdon would probably be long gone by now, but it was better to leave before Master Staggins saw her.


As she entered the corridor, she was surprised to see Lord Langdon conversing with Mistress Wellsley. Did the two of them fancy each other? She supposed it was possible, and she was startled at how much the notion dismayed her. Perhaps they were just talking politely. Not sure if she should join them or not, she decided to linger by the door a bit. Maybe they would part and she would be able to speak to him then.

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He had accepted her suggestion and so it was done.


She had taken her paper ploy back yet did not return it to her pocket for it was still useful even if not for the orginal intent. Searching his face she thought to add more but his sudden ending of their meeting had made that impossible. All that was required was her polite reverance as he turned away.


So she was to be a 'veiled woman visitor' led up the backstairs as if it were a common enough thing, which it obviously was, yet the question begged just who was the actual woman that visited there attired thusly?


The lone figure by the set of doors had been known to Davina since her emergence and the fact that she and Charles appeared to be her object of curiosity gave way to a suden thought


"was it possibe? could Herberts little siser be the writer? No. neither wit or brains enough to carry out such a feat yet what if she is employed by another?"


Her fellow Maid of Honor remained by the doors and with no other engaged in conversation Davina could only presume that it was Charles she was after and not herself for surely now free Susan would have made herself know and come to where she was.


Her eyes narrowed and her dark head tiltd slightly as she continued to watch. Had Charles already tasted of her delight or was it still a Hunt? Either way she was determined to find out. Lingering by the windows as if studying her 'list' she would be able to tell which was the Truth - if she made to follow her Lover than it was Him.


And that would not do at all.

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Charles found himself in the most awkward of positions. With his lover still beside him, he could see Susan Herbert in the hallway, just coming out of the Privy Chamber. She was looking his way and not going anywhere, it seemed. If he went towards her, would it show interest in Susan. If he moved away, would Susan give chase? Neither seemed very comfortable given that Davina seemed to wish to linger beside the window.


What to do? The Earl did not have a luxury of time in which to make a decision. It was unlikely that Susan was waiting for Davina, so it was likely that she wished to speak with him. That meant she would likely follow him.


Being a soldier, Charles preferred to attack rather than retreat. As such, he chose to approach Susan directly. As he approached Susan, his hand looked to adjust his tunic, but he used that opportunity to use his thumb to point back towards Davina, just in case the blond had missed her presence. His body would shield the signal, he expected, and it was but brief. Susan was more clever than most ladies Charles encountered, so he could only hope she caught the brief signal.


He called out "Happy Christmas Eve Lady Susan," as he approached. He paused his steps, hoping that he was not acting suspicious. "How are you this fine morning?" It was obvious that they would not be able to speak about their quest in such circumstances. He could only hope that she was clever enough not to whisper to him. Just a friendly encounter and then we part. That would be the best outcome, or so he imagined. Why was he feeling so nervous then?

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Susan was not aware that she had been seen, but she knew that dawdling outside the Privy Chamber might look a bit strange if they did notice her standing there. She was about to duck back inside when Lord Langdon and Mistress Wellsley finally parted. Davina remained beside a window, appearing to study something she held. She thought that Charles would continue down the corridor but he headed toward her instead. As he approached, she saw his cleverly cloaked signal and knew that he didn't want Davina to suspect that they had something more than trivialities to discuss with each other.


Whether it was because he cared for the other maid of honor or just wanted to keep their adventures secret, she did not know. She had not really expected him to come over to her, and she was quite pleased that he did. Susan had never forgotten that playful kiss they had shared in the passageway, but she had no claim on his affections, even if she wished that she did.


“Happy Christmas Eve to you too, Lord Langdon.” To let him know what she wished to speak to him about, she lifted her hand to brush back one of the curls that framed her face. On that hand, she wore the pearl ring they had found in the secret room, and when she lowered it, she brought her hands together in front of her to idly fiddle with it, as if she was a bit nervous.


“I am well. Just waiting for a friend to join me.” She spoke loudly enough that Mistress Wellsley would be able to hear. “She said she would be right out, but I guess she got sidetracked.” It was a rather flimsy excuse but it explained why she was loitering in the hall. “And how do you fare, my lord?” He certainly looked as if he was doing well, very well indeed.

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She shifted her stance to the other side of the enclosure which gave her a better view down the corridor yet also created the impression she was occupied.


She watched the two from beneath her lowered dark lashes


'he called out to her and now he stops .... and what move does she make .... how common that brushing back of her hair does she think that trick is successful .... and now she draws attention to her hands by that ring play .... is she perhpas more experienced .... I have heard no talk of her ... yet what could they have to speak about I wonder ... mayhap like us Charles wishes to keep off suspecion and so pretends ...'


Her thoughts tumbled over as she observed but did not leave her own place. If there was indeed some play between them then she wanted to gather it all in. Digest. Plan her own course of action. In all Truth Susan Herbert was nothing but a dalliance - as she herself might be - so twas no point in hurting her as she was too easy of a target.


Not Skilled in these types of things herself Davina knew that to wait and watch was far better than an outright assault. And Charles was a Soldier after all so more like his own mind would be what governed his own actions.




She would keep to the Plan. Go to him upon the morrow as arranged. Take her pleasure and try to see who else he runted after.

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Women must be more naturally attuned to the meaning of brushing back one's hair with a ringed finger, or perhaps Charles was dense; but, the Earl of Langdon gleaned nothing from Susan's hand movement, nor the twist of her ring. Perhaps that was colored by the fact that he already knew what she would like to discuss with him, so he needed no clues or code to divine it.


Susan professed to be waiting on a friend who was inside. Is that true I wonder? He supposed it might not hurt to pass a minute or two with her while she waited. "I am well, thank you. It promises to be a lovely Christmas season," he bantered politely. His voice was kept at normal levels as they talked, as if he had nothing to hide. In fact, he did not.


"And how are your brothers? Are Lords Pembrooke and Herbert here as well?" He wondered if Pembrooke had become a father yet. Perhaps that would calm the man's violent nature. As for Herbert, he was one of the more eligible bachelors at court. Charles was certain that many ladies were chasing him. Had not Davina sat next to him at Beverley's wedding? Perhaps he was betrothed by now. "Any news of either?"

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If he noticed the ring at all, he gave no sign of it. Susan could only hope that he knew what she wanted. They had spent quite a bit of time at Windsor searching for clues and had found a reference to an inn that the Lion and Swan had frequented. She was curious as to its whereabouts and if it was still standing. Maybe its name had just changed over the centuries and it still served as an inn. Or it could have been turned into a private residence or used for some other purpose. Lord Langdon knew London better than she did and would probably be better able to discover its location. If he was still interested. Maybe he was tired of the mystery and had moved on to other interests … such as Mistress Wellsley.


Susan wanted to ask the librarian if there were any old records of ladies-in-waiting archived somewhere, but so far she had not been able to come up with a good excuse for needing to know. Maybe Charles could help her invent one when they were able to speak privately together.


Now, however, they could only banter politely. “Yes, it is. I've always loved Christmas and I'm glad we're spending it at court this year.”


He asked about her brothers. “They are both well.” It was a rather vague answer but Susan preferred to keep family matters private and she deftly changed the subject. “Do you think there will be a ball tomorrow?” She grinned impishly. “There hasn't been one in so long that I think I have forgotten how to dance.”

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Davina had not moved, so the polite banter would need to continue. Susan seemed to wish to change the topic from her brothers. No doubt Pembrooke had assaulted another fellow in the off season. One could only hope that he had not murdered him.


"I think there is a ball tomorrow," he ventured without absolute certainty that it was true. It was a regular thing to have a ball on Saturdays during the season, especially on Christmas Day. "Perhaps I can help you remember how to dance if you will save me one on your dance card tomorrow," he offered with a polite grin. It was the only thing he could do when she hinted at it. Would it make Davina jealous? If it did, he was not sure whether that was a good thing or bad. Maybe I should not linger, just in case.


"I best be on my rounds of the palace. I will see you tomorrow night then, if not sooner." There was little else he could do that would not raise suspicion. Susan would recognize it surely. If nothing else, they could speak at the ball.

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She could hardly continue to 'linger' by the windows.


The two at the further end had not moved much either and Davina deduced that there was not going to be anything that could be deemed unordinary. Crumpling the slip of paper in her palm she silently counted up to twenty then moved away.


She delibertily chose her direction and without sparing either a glance walked directly past Charles and Susan Herbert .... well perhaps her gaze did for a moment catch His as she passed ....


Her manner was her usual and she smiled and gave a nod here and there as she walked on bound for the Queen's Apartments.


She didn't look back.

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Susan smirked inwardly when Lord Langdon asked her to dance at the next ball. Was she finally learning how to manipulate gentlemen or was he just being polite? She liked the idea of using subtle suggestions to influence others to do as she wished. Maybe he had intended on asking her anyway. Whatever the case, she did want to dance with him and was glad he had offered.


His grin sent a pleasant little shiver whispering down her spine. “Of course I will save a dance for you,” she replied with a shy smile. “My dance cards tend to fill up quickly.” And that was true. Susan would be an excellent match for any nobleman and she was quite pretty. There was no dearth of gentlemen who wanted to dance with her. As there had been no announcement of a ball, Charles was the first one to ask for a dance.


There was not much else that they could say in public, and she knew he had duties to attend to. A ball was the perfect place to converse informally, and perhaps they could speak more freely there. She wondered what he meant when he said he might see her much sooner. Would he find a way for them to be alone together before then? “Yes, I will see you there.”


Davina left her corner and walked past them. Had she been waiting until they planned to part before leaving her place by the window? Susan thought there was something a bit suspicious about her actions, but it was really none of her business.


“I think I need to go find my friend and make certain that she didn't get kidnapped,” she said with a chuckle. “It was a pleasure to speak to you again, my lord.” With another shy smile, she ducked back inside the privy chamber and was immediately beckoned over by the group of ladies she had left only a short time ago.

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A dance date was made and then there was nothing to do but take his leave. "Grand," he replied happily as he noted Davina pass. Why had she walked right by them as opposed to take another corridor? Had she looked back at him as she walked by? Was she trying to tell him something? If so, he did not understand. It was not the first, and it would not be the last, time Charles did not understand the feminine mind.


There was little else to do but give Susan a parting smile. He would see her at the ball the next day. There was little reason to risk talking to her further in such a heavily traveled corridor.



~ fin

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