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A Winter Rose (early afternoon 25th)- Xmas 1677

Guest John Bramston

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#43 The Townhouse of Lady Kendishall

The town house was commissioned many years ago - and boasts a sweeping crushed drive way to expedite the arrival of carriages with guests. And what parties have been had in this house, it's libertine reputation remains to this day.


Ivy has grown up the walls of the tall building, and a glorious display of flowers bring brightness to its sober lines. Within its grounds are intermittently placed sculptures of frolicsome scenes of nymphs at play.


John smiled as he walked up the fine driveway that led itself to a frolicking sort of scene. John appreciated that. With a few touches, he thought, it could be the perfect picture of whimsy that it was meant to be.


John himself was dressed rather heavily for winter. He had a small satchel of gardening supplies and a few books, some things for the Lady Kendishall and some to help Lady Toledo with her Spanish plants. But for the moment his mind was only on the lady whose house he was approaching. He had not truthfully spent much time with Caroline but she'd left a very positive impression. John regarded her as a friend, one of his first friends at court, and was eager to speak to her again.


Coming up the drive, on foot for he lived only a few doors down from her, he knocked. He fidgeted slightly and blew into his hands. He'd been outdoors a fair deal and it was a particularly cold day. A small coat of wetness implied he'd been out for more than just the brief jaunt over.

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It was not long before a servant opened the door, was appraised of the individual standing there and his purpose too. The lackey bade him entry then took John's coat from him while explaining Lady Caroline was indeed present. He led the man into the study at the end of the hall.


Caroline was at the desk in the far corner, a fireplace crackled and provided welcome warmth for the room. She apparently had been writing for she looked up from a parchment page, quill in hand. Before the servant could even say a word the look on her pert features went from puzzlement to recognition then obvious joy. She rose to her feet, dropping the quill as if it was suddenly a hot coal as she greeted John.


"Lord Maldon! What a pleasant surprise!"


It wasn't completely though for they had exchanged letters about him coming to see her residence and even more importantly check on the rose bushes he had gifted her. No matter they were now face to face and she was delighted.


Moving around the desk she approached with her eyes on him though her words were for the servant.


"Andrew, would you kindly have the cook make some hot tea. Or....wait.....Lord Maldon, would you perhaps prefer hot cider?"

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John was glad to get rid of the dampness on his shoulders. John smiled widely at Caroline’s genuine joy at seeing him. There was a sparkling in his eyes. “It’s g-g-good to see you again.” It felt like longer than it’d been. And it’d been a long time. He hoped that she had not found the countryside too dull but she seemed like the sort of person who preferred the court season.


“Cider, please.” John asked. He liked sweet things. He surveyed the room for a moment and, seeing some chairs before the fireplace, gestured his intent and walked over. He sat down in one with a palpable sense of unburdening himself with a pleased little sigh.


He leaned forward, warming himself by the fire. The cold and snow flurries had taken their toll. “How are you? How w-w-was recess?” John asked with the eagerness of catching up.

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Her servant was then dismissed to take care of the matter of refreshments and it was just the two of them then. Caroline eyed the man carefully, he looked well enough. At least his condition did not seem to have gotten worse. Maybe it wasn't like that but she knew of some who did deteriorate with the passing of time, especially when it came to shakes. She truly did worry for him.


They settled into chairs next to the fireplace, a wise strategic choice the soldier's daughter silently approved. He began with a question.


"I am good, in fine health. Like so many others, I joined the hurried retreat from London at the rumors of the outbreak. Besides I did need to get back to Glandon and check on my household to make sure the staff was not making a mess of things. Fortunately all was in order," Caroline answered.


"It was frightfully boring there though especially after having spent time at court. I did manage to go visit Nicci at her cousin's estate and we had a good time. She too though yearned for a return to London. We are drawn here like moths to the flame, eh?" she grinned.


"And what of you? You had traveled to Europe, right? How did you fare there?" she certainly was curious.

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Some doctors told John that he would get better with age. Some told him he would get worse. Most told him of new treatments. John, for his part, would have given up entirely-had given up entirely, except now Nicolette and perhaps Sophia.


John listened as he tried to sip his cider, determined it was a tad too hot, and put it aside to cool. She said she was irresistibly drawn to court, “Ah, yes.” John said, smiling back a bit hesitantly. John had almost not returned.


He was surprised too at the casual use of a nickname for Nicolette. It was a nearly shocking display of intimacy to John. He didn’t mind it, but it was surprising. His mind tried to search for meaning but nothing came.


“Oh, there were some things to take care of back… home.” John said, “But then I went d-d-down the Rhine. P-p-pleasant enough countries with m-m-many interesting... sights. I stuh-stayed with the Nassau who…” This was John hesitating rather than his issues speaking, “who were v-v-variously kind.” Which was to say Dillenburg had insulted him. He’d been kinder at times but first impressions were hard to overcome. Weilburg had been busy but John felt no ire at that.

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He talked a bit about his time in Europe since she had inquired but was rather vague about it all. Caroline decided she would not pry further even if she did have a few other questions about it.


"Ahh, the Rhine. I have heard from my father that has always been one of the most fought over parts of the continent. I was in Denmark for a couple of years but I was too young to remember anything much about it. I do recall there were walls and cannon, you see my father was a commander of a garrison. Then we left for England. Ever since I have not left this country," Caroline informed him.


"Did you travel alone?" she asked, of course she did not include servants but people of import, say relatives, friends.

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John was trying to avoid complaining about Dillenburg. Mostly because he was a connection of Lady Cavendish’s and so he considered it something of a family matter. Besides, he had no interest in getting into a spat with the man. There was no profit in it and even when upset John didn’t generally turn to revenge. At least not for its own sake.


“The F-f-french were pushed over it a while ago but were pushed back… two years ago, I think? Now they’re slowly p-p-pushing towards it… again.” John said. He had seen a great deal of the damage and seen the results of combat but not combat itself. He’d stayed far away from that.


John nodded. He realized he knew very little about her background or family. Well, it didn’t matter too much. “I hear the D-d-danes are doing well in the… war.” John shared. Their German allies had driven the Swedes out of northwestern Europe. There had been other, vaguer positive news from fronts further east too.


“My sister w-w-went to the Netherlands and my b-b-brother and eldest sister to Germany. I t-t-travelled to see them in p-p-part.” So he hadn’t strictly been with them but they’d been there. “I’m hoping to muh-make them ladies in waiting, you see, and since one is German and the other… is m-m-marrying a Dutchman.” The advantages seemed obvious.


“I w-w-was hoping too that my sister m-m-might get the chance to meet some Dutch nobles. If she’s going to be serving the Princess abroad that... sort of muh-match might be helpful.” And the Netherlands was not really so distant, “Instead they w-w-wanted me to marry some minor German l-l-lord’s daughter.” John’s tone was a bit bitter.

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He told her what he knew about the war going on over there, the French fortunes seemed to vary and Caroline was secretly hoping they would triumph in the end. For some reason she still considered herself French even though it was only her father's place of birth and she had indeed spent most of her life in England. Her fervent wish was that England and France would not go to war.


"Yes, the Rhine is such a contested river," she nodded sticking with a neutral comment.


John did mention the Danes, probably because she had stated her father once commanded a garrison there. She shook her head.


"Oh well, a pox on them. My father did not like serving for the Danes. On the other hand he told me of a great victory he once had a role in whilst serving with the Swedes in Poland," she smiled.


He then talked of his family and that usual topic amongst nobility, marrying people off to advantage. Dutch and Germans? Frightfully dull people in her opinion. She paused in sipping her tea when he even revealed there had an attempt to marry him to some German?


"Good heavens! Fortunate for you, that fell through. You don't want to marry a caterpillar," she declared, using the common French derogative term for Germans, "You are far too good for them."


She shrugged, "If I have learned anything from my disaster of a marriage is that you must try your very best to have a matchup which takes into account the compatibility of both people. I know...I know, it is about politics and property too of course. I am not naïve."

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John was a bit surprised at Caroline’s dismissive stance on the Danes. He had no stake in their success or failure though. John didn’t know as much about how the Swedes were faring, though he believed it was relatively poorly. “Really?” John was curious to hear more of her father’s exploits.


John had been referring to the royals. The Queen was German, Princess Mary was marrying a Dutchman. And a great deal of court might have agreed with her assessment they were dull but none doubted there was influence in their trains. He hoped the promise of that influence would help make up for the fact John wasn’t exactly a man to inspire confidence as a brother in law.


The marriage hadn’t fallen through precisely. John would keep her in mind but, frankly, he still thought the match ill-conceived. He’d been too politic to actually close the door though. He chuckled when Caroline said she was too good for them. That was, perhaps, the first time anyone had said he was too good for someone.


It made him swell a bit with joy. Hearing it from her made him feel that what Dillenburg had told him was wrong. He smiled widely. He also tucked away the term caterpillar. He didn’t have a reason to insult Germans but it was good to know how to do so.


John nodded to her advice, “No, you’re r-r-right. A c-c-couple needn’t love each other b-b-but they must get along and… care for each other. And they ought to be… of luh-like b-b-blood, like r-r-rank, and so on. But that’s… a hundred p-p-people at least l-l-like that in England alone. In choosing b-b-between them c-c-comes consideration of personality, politics, and wealth.”


Love was, as he understood it, a mixed blessing. It was wonderful but strong emotions could turn to disgust. When caught in its grips, though, it seemed only like the most wonderful thing in the world. Especially for John, who had thought he would pass through life unloved.


“You d-d-don’t need to talk about it…” John said hesitantly, “B-b-but were there signs?”

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The man seemed surprised when Caroline mentioned the Swedes, the Dane's mortal enemies , and how her father had served in their army too.


"Oh yes, in fact he left France for the east and joined the Swedish army where he fought for them in the Baltic and in Poland. He regaled my mother and I with many stories of fierce battles and glorious charges. He said his time with the Swedes was when he fought the most. Indeed he was wounded three times, luckily none serious," Caroline amplified. Actually she did not know of course how much all of that was true or if he embellished or even invented some of his martial glory. But as a little girl, those stories had been so exciting.


They moved on then to John's matchmaking adventures amongst the Dutch and the Germans, trying to improve - as a good noble should - his family's standing. He even had a close call with being married himself to some German, Caroline openly expressed her relief the marriage had not come off. She also expressed her own strongly held views on marriages and their arrangements, influenced by her unorthodox mother's views but more importantly by her disaster of a marriage. He asked a question then, with some hesitance and also worded in such a way it was not easy to discern if he meant her marriage. But it had to mean that. Besides she had brought it up first and openly admitted her unhappiness with what had occurred.


She studied him intently for perhaps an uncomfortable moment, wrestling with how much could she tell him about it all. It was one thing to share with Nicci but quite another to do so with a man though Francis knew at least some of it too. But Francis and John were as different as night and day. Her decision though was easy enough, John was a kindly man, a good person, and she believed (hoped) a trustworthy friend.


"Signs? In my marriage? Well.....you see everything was arranged in such a rush by our fathers I only met my future husband twice for short visits before we were whisked off to a church wedding. We exchanged simple pleasantries. He seemed nervous, shy. I am never shy but I will admit to some nervousness back then too. His father was in such a hurry, he did not even care about a dowry. So - yes, that would be a clear sign ...looking back on now, no?" she started her story.


If he was to react badly to her tale, she could always shut it down quickly. He was not the sort to press her then, she figured.

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“You’re French?” John interrupted, surprise rising in his voice. At least it sounded like her father had been a Frenchman who’d gone to serve as a mercenary. John imagined foreigners as fundamentally different and he hadn’t noticed anything like that about Caroline. “Oh, I m-m-mean,” John added quickly, “Not that it w-w-would change anything if you were.”


“Hmm.” John replied. “My f-f-father fought in the war but never… had much of an opinion of it.” Then again, his father hadn’t been a career soldier. “And Lord C-c-cavendish has told me stories a few times. But I’ve mostly stayed away from… that s-s-sort of thing. I have wondered at it though.” There was obviously something about glory that appealed.


John smiled a bit awkwardly as she examined him. He almost told her she didn’t have to say anything if she didn’t want to but then she started.


John nodded. He knew rushing was bad and that, ideally, the couple met first. For the moment, his sympathies were with her husband. John would be nervous and shy too. And it was easy to imagine a world where his father hastily married him off in order to make up for his deficiencies.


He didn’t interrupt but he smiled slightly, waiting for her to continue.

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The look on his face and his question showed he had not, until this moment, realized she was French. Caroline hardly made a point of telling people of her origins and even when she did, some of that was a lie. Her father was French, who had spent more of his adult life trapsing around Europe in various campaigns than in France and her mother had actually been Polish, perhaps even of common heritage, though always presented as an exiled French noblewoman. Caroline herself spoke English without an accent, not unusual given she'd been in England since a very young girl.


"Oh...yes. You did not know? My parents are. So that makes me French then, no? But in truth I have spent barely more than a few months on French soil and that was when I was an unaware toddler. Why I spent more time in Denmark and not even a lot there. Ever since I have lived in England. There is no French accent in my voice, I'm sure you can tell," she explained herself.


"I am greatly relieved it is not an issue for you. Afterall a baby has no control to who and over where he or she is born," she added.


He admitted he had no experience in any wars and it was little wonder given his physical afflictions. She smiled.


"No doubt that is for the best. Besides, trust me, as my father would confirm, there is bloody little glory in a soldier's life and it's often a short one. My father bears the discomfort still of his former wounds. And he is a poor man...but do not feel too sorry for him. I would have to be honest and tell you it was his fault I found myself in that wretched union," she sighed.


However it was time to get back to that marriage and stop going on about her father, Caroline then continued, "The wedding was pleasant enough or at least civil. They put on a good front, father and son, it was, as I stated, a fairly rushed one so there was not a lot of folk in attendance. At the time I thought a few of their relatives gazed at me strangely but then thought no more of it. Now I think I know why."


"It all became clear quite soon once we began our so called life of wedded bliss, ha!" even now she could hardly keep from being angry about the memories of it all.


"He did his very best from the beginning to ignore me. He was not actually cruel, he simply acted almost as if I did not exist. I must tell this next part with some......well....hesitation. But I do so because I believe I can trust you to keep my secret," she paused to meet his eyes.


She wanted to hear him say it too, as if that would seal the bond.

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“No,” John agreed. Caroline seemed completely English. It was a bit easier for John to just think of her like that, especially since she’d moved to England at such a young age. John did believe nationality was important, though he also wasn’t overly xenophobic. And besides, he meant it, Caroline was his friend. So he just smiled.


“Yes.” John agreed it was for the best. He did have some experience of cannons and the like. He’d heard many tales of it. It sounded like an unpleasant business mostly. Necessary, but unpleasant. John fell slightly as she said her father wasn’t doing well but they’d grown apart over her marriage. The idea of family growing apart disturbed him greatly.


John listened. He wasn’t quite sure what to make of the story. He found it rather easy to imagine himself as her groom to be. A young man, nervous, whose father had rushed to marry him off and whose family looked at his bride a bit funny. He expected, apart from his father, that was to be his future. He now hoped his wife might not find him an embarrassment, but he still imagined she’d be pitied. And he wanted a small, undersubscribed wedding if possible, though in truth rank and duty would compel him in all probability.


But at the same time, Caroline did not seem frivolous. Libertine, perhaps, and light, but he doubted she would get angry at someone just for shyness or an embarrassed family. There was more to the story.


“Of c-c-course.” John said. He looked back at her and smiled. His assurance was easily given. He was glad she didn’t skirt around the issue.

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It was a simple assurance John gave her but that was enough, Caroline had long before already gauged the character of this lord and found him to be worthy of her trust. In truth he was a far better person than she was. Besides she felt almost compelled to reveal the rest (again up to a point for part of it must forever remain her secret).


"Thank you," she smiled just an instant but then grew solemn again as she went back to her recounting of it all.


"From the very beginning he informed me in that cold way of his that he had no intention of performing his marital duties with me...you know, in bed. He simply stated he did not care to have children, what did he care about heirs once he was gone. And he found no attraction to me whatsoever."


Caroline swallowed, "I was confused at first but also very very hurt. I know I am not beautiful but that cut me to the core. I could not understand why then he had even married me. It was all a sham. I did not realize until later the purpose of the marriage..."


She paused, eyes blinking up at him, they were moist. It still hurt.

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John blushed at her mentioning sex frankly. Yet there was no impropriety here. Caroline was a widow, sex within marriage was acceptable, and her husband was dead and had wronged her deeply. John could understand breaking that faith.


John realized that Caroline was hurt and his own fears were overwhelmed by sympathy. He smiled slightly and reached out, taking her hand in both of his gently. He squeezed it for comfort, though his hands shook. “You d-d-don’t have to say more… if you don’t want to.” John could guess the rest in a vague sense. He was some sort of deviant and had wanted to cover it up.


On balance, she might be better alone.


“You were used p-p-poorly. It’s n-n-nothing to do with you. When a muh-man is… looking for an accessory rather than a wife, it’s nuh-not her beauty or wits that d-d-determine whether she’s neglected.” There was an ethos that a woman could win such a man by being overwhelmingly feminine, submissive and obedient. John thought it was rot. Some men wanted wives and other wanted breeders and others still wanted a hat to wear for respectabilities sake.


It was more her father’s fault, and John’s own fears he would lead the women of his house into similar problems still gnawed. Yet for the moment Caroline needed him here rather than in the realm of his fears for the future.

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John was not just a good listener but he knew how to use the right way to show his support for her, taking her hand in his. Caroline appreciated his gesture, ignoring the slight shake of his hands. She had gotten past his physical afflictions their first visit and was able to concentrate on the actual person. He was a kind man, a good person.


"Thank you," she sniffed, a tear rolling down one cheek as she fought to control her emotions. She was bound and determined though she was not going to start crying in front of him. She wasn't doing this for pity. She just wanted him to know the truth....well, most of it.


"But no, I would like to finish it. So you know the man I was forced to marry. You see he wasn't just repulsed by me, as I found out fairly soon after the marriage, he did not like women at all. He preferred men...no, to be more specific, he preyed upon boys. His father had known but was desperate to see him married, it was all a sham to present him as....normal...to the rest of the world. I was to be the wife he could point to should suspicions arise as to his nature," she rallied to the rest of the story.


She then forced a bitter smile, "So there you have it. And now mayhaps you understand why I cannot in good faith mourn his passing."


May he rot in hell!

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John didn’t really think much of strength in the stoic sense. He’d never really had a chance at dignity so he’d given up cultivating it by his teenage years. Emotions, especially strong or violent ones, were improper. But John was more proper in his aspect than his thought.


He nodded when she said she’d like to finish it but kept her hand in his. He liked to think it helped. He listened to the rest of the store and he turned melancholy himself. “There are such people in the world.” It was a lament, said with bitter disapproval.


John nodded to her ending. He did understand, though he had kept up appearances. “You d-d-don’t need to smile. And I w-w-won’t think less of you if you cry.” John said, his voice filled with warmth and a small smile on his lips.


“God has… d-d-delivered you from him. You’re free to f-f-find someone buh-better.” Even if she didn’t want to marry that better someone. John imagined the world as made up of relationships. A widow had slipped the bonds of marriage and the restriction of fidelity but the idea of wholly casual relations was still foreign to him.


“Merry widows d-d-do well at merry courts.” Even if people like me don’t. It was John’s turn to bury a sad thought, which he did ably.

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He was so consoling of her, assuring her if she did wish to have a good cry he would completely understand. She already knew that but shook her head.


"No, no, he is not going to bring me to tears. This is the holiday season, forget him. I feel better already that I was able to tell my story and I thank you for listening," Caroline wiped away the tear with a brush of her hand then sniffed.


It was ironic when he said God had delivered her, she highly doubted that one. She had handled that herself when she stove in his skull with the axe handle. It was freedom, yes, but mayhaps in the long run at the cost of her place in heaven. Still, she would do it all over again if she had to.


"Well, I could hardly find someone worse now, could I?" this time her smile was less forced and the twinkle in her eyes was back. Caroline was not normally a morose person but an outgoing cheerful sort.


"I've heard that too about merry widows, we shall see. And I hope this does not shock you, but I am not currently looking to be married, mayhaps in the future, certainly. For now I wish to have a good time, to enjoy this freedom, make lots of friends, and in that, I truly believe I am succeeding. You are perhaps my shining example of that!"


Though reluctant to pull her hand from his, she had liked the gesture, Caroline now did in a gentle way of course. She gave him one quick pat on the knee as she continued.


"But what a poor hostess I am. Burdening you with my tale of woe, how selfish of me. The least I can do is return the favor though, should you wish? How have you been, I mean.. really been? You know if you need to get something out, need someone nonjudgmental to listen to you, I am here for you. And of course anything you say will be kept by me in strictest confidence. You have my word on it," she made the sincere offer.


He disguised it well but Caroline just knew John was most likely a sad individual. He had his physical afflictions and was unmarried. While other nobles commanded units of soldiery or ships, hunted whilst mounted on horses, gambled, and whored away, not John, he puttered in the dirt with flowers. Honestly, she found him all the more endearing for it.

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John nodded. He smiled and nodded a bit more eagerly when she thanked him for listening. He was glad to. As she wiped away the tear he almost unconsciously got out his handkerchief and handed it to her.


Yet Caroline seemed to return to good humor. “They say, you know, that the c-c-court of England is heaven for women.” And a purgatory for lords and a hell for servants. John smiled nevertheless.


John laughed as Caroline spoke of her desire for freedom and friends, “I’m m-m-most glad to be your friend, whether you w-w-wish to be wife or not.” Though he wouldn’t be able to do much about merriment unless Caroline had a deep desire for gardening and books. At least not himself.


John let go of her hand easily. He smiled a bit awkwardly, wondering if he’d held it overlong.


“Oh, d-d-don’t worry. I’m gluh-glad you shared.” John smiled, though awkwardness bled in as she asked him to share his real feelings. It’s obvious, I suppose. Some part of him wondered why it wasn’t more widely noticed.


He sighed, “This is m-m-my first season where I’m at c-c-court simply… for its society.” John shared. Last season he’d been at court for Parliament and so on. “I don’t think I… belong here. I’ve mostly been ignored or laughed at. My r-r-rank and b-b-blood have been disrespected. My family is… of c-c-country sentiments. I’m a terrible performer and not particularly clever. I d-d-doubt I’ll ever have a career or be… taken seriously. And my temperament is… different from court’s.”


“There just d-d-doesn’t seem to be any opportunity for me here.” He was, of course, offered the same opportunities as anyone else. But that was nothing to John. It was perfectly absurd to think that, because he had the chance to dance tonight, he truly had an opportunity. He was a cripple. It was the same at the Stroll, the same at most of the events he'd been to.


And the repeated refusals and delays he’d been subject to didn’t help matters. Five months for an introduction, John’s ire swelled, Ridiculous!

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"Oh thank you but I do not need it," Caroline waved away the offer, there would be no further tears, she'd had her emotional moment.


"Heaven? I am enjoying it so far but I am reserving my opinion as to whether it justifies comparing it to heaven. But then I know nothing of heaven, do I?" she shrugged. And being a murderer she was unlikely ever to.


John declared he was glad to be her friend, she was pleased to hear it. He then took up her offer to listen to any issues he might be going thru, if he wished to unburden himself she would quite willing to listen and to empathize. And he proceeded to lay out a list of woes. As she listened, she certainly believed him but wondered if he was being too hard on himself. She liked him, she knew others who did too. But perhaps it was different with the more powerful political figures, mayhaps they were the ones who did not respect him or take him seriously? She honestly did not know.


What she did know though was she felt terribly for the man. Instantly she decided she must try to cheer him up.


"Oh well if they do not see the person in you, then they are the fools, not you. Why, even I a silly girl, recognized the worth of your character and the kindness. Though I have no doubt for some of these people in court, they see such things as weaknesses," she pronounced the word 'people' with almost a sneer.


"You must not let them bring you down," she paused then the idea came to her.


" You say you are being ignored, well I will not ignore you. The Christmas ball tonight, it is supposed to be a marvel to behold. The royal couple will be in attendance or so I have heard. They say too everyone who is anyone shows up," she first set the table.


"So then, how about this? I would like to ask you to take me to the ball. I am going already but no one has asked me so I must turn the tables then. I would love to accompany you to the ball tonight, Lord Maldon, and I truly believe we can have a good time. What say you?"


She looked him right in the eye and batted her eye lashes in what she hoped was an enticing gesture encouraging him to accept.

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John nodded and retracted the handkerchief. He laughed at her knowing nothing of heaven. He supposed no one ever did.


John smiled wanly. He did like to think he was a good person but he also felt the need to provide for his house. That meant playing politics and politics meant he had to care about the opinions of such people, though John agreed with her tone. “It’s… difficult.” John said. His tone said he knew she was right and yet… it just wasn’t that simple to change his feelings.


John smiled as she promised not to ignore him. He appreciated his friends, those who helped and consoled him, who did pay him mind. He appreciated them all the more deeply because he felt generally neglected. He nodded as she spoke of the Christmas Ball. He was planning to try and bring his sisters to the attention of the female royals to be ladies in waiting.


Whether that would work was anyone’s guess. He did, at least, have the Cavendishes’ and Sophia’s pledge of help, and their ties and time on the continent and in England. Plus his preparations for Christmas. But nothing seemed to be going right so John found it hard to be hopeful.


Then she asked him to ask her to a ball and for a moment John was dumbstruck. But after a moment he recovered, and let out a small chuckle of disbelief. Still, he was glad of it. “I have some obligations and d-d-duties to my family. If you would assist me in them, I should be delighted… to have you on my arm.”


There was a faint smile on his lips. She had managed to cheer him, which was no small feat. She would have to leave him for the dances. Staying with a man for more than the dances would be improper, a sign they were at least courting. Besides, she probably wanted to meet gentlemen and he didn’t begrudge her that.

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"I know, I know it is difficult but never become discouraged," she said softly with a nod.


After some more words of encouragement, she decided to back up her words with deeds and perhaps boldly asked him to the ball even if propriety dictated it should be the other way around. However this was John, he would never. She could see it by the look on his face, of course he was surprised. Then he seemed to find it amusing? But most importantly though, he accepted, which was what she was hoping for.


"Family obligations? But of course! I am happy to assist in any way I can. Though I confess I am not sure how, you will have to educate me on that," Caroline smiled.


Besides going together did not mean they had to spend the entire ball at each other's side. Neither of them were serious about each other, for a wide variety of reasons. She had meant it for what it was, a friendly gesture of support.


"But thank you for agreeing, I know I am beneath your social rank."

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John laughed for surprise and happiness. Caroline had pierced his mood so well that the emotion itself had some force and the laughing had relieved that tension. He hadn’t been laughing at her and would be horrified if she thought that.


“I’m not entirely sure… either.” John said, “But so long as you stand… r-r-ready, I’m not worried. I'm going to t-t-try and put my sister before the Queen.” Or at least that was the plan. That entire thing had been a bit of a fiasco so far. Regardless, John would bring along an extra gift or two so Caroline might have something to present if she ended up in front of the Queen. Even if she didn’t, she might be helpful in other ways.


“Oh, d-d-don’t mind that.” John said with a smile. “You m-m-more than make up for it with kindness and… charm.” Besides, she wasn’t far enough beneath him that there was any stigma to going with her. And while she was libertine sort, she wasn’t the sort of libertine that would embarrass him in public. Or at least John didn’t think she was.


“You’ll meet… my fuh-family, you know.” John said. Or at least he believed they would be there.

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Caroline did not mind his laughter for she realized it was more about John not even knowing yet just how she could be helpful to him with his family. It was not important now, she didn't care.

Once he figured it out, he could inform her and she would do her best to fulfill her promise.


"Very well, you have but to instruct me then and I am yours to obey, like an obedient little soldier....in a ball dress," she giggled a little.


Truth was though she might not be of any use when it came to the Queen for she herself had never met the illustrious woman. At least he wasn't considering their difference in social rank to be an issue to them arriving together then at the ball. She doubted he would be one to care but smiled at his nice compliment to her.


"You are easy to be both kind and charming to," she assured him.


He then pointed out the obvious, but it was no doubt an important point for him so she slowly nodded.


"Yes, I will. I am looking forward to it. And I promise I will be on my very best behavior too for them," the pledge came with a bright smile.

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John chuckled at her joke as well, Quite the regiment I’ve got. Yet he was grateful for her agreement. He was planning to make use of the night and he wanted Caroline to be an ally if needed. More importantly, he didn’t want her to be unprepared or feel neglected when he did so.


John smiled widely but awkwardly at her compliment. “Thank you.”


“I’m suh-sure.” John said with a smile. He really had few doubts about her behavior. “W-w-would you like me to introduce… you to someone particularly?” John gently implied what he was getting at. “Or p-p-perhaps I could p-p-prod one for a dance?”


There would be, at the very least, a duke, a duke’s heir, two earls, and a leading politician with a great deal of influence in Commons. Perhaps another duke and several more earls and their families. John’s blood was very blue and John didn’t mind her taking advantage.

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After assuring him of her good behavior when she accompanied him to the ball, John appeared to accept her statement then he changed topics, well slightly. It seemed he was eager to do her a favor this time.


"Oh? Well, to be honest, I have no idea right now. I had not thought about it. It is a ball however and I assume there will be many dances and hopefully varied partners? I mean....this is my first royal ball," she fully admitted.


"Introduce me to whomever you would wish to. I have complete confidence in you that you would not deliver me into the hands of someone either unworthy or ...well, despicable," she was quite sure he would understand what she meant, he was sharp.


"But say....you must tell me about these family members of yours that I shall be meeting. I am most curious. Prepare me for them, since it is tonight already, I would prefer not to go in completely unawares," she smiled.

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“There are usually… three d-d-dances.” John said, “It’s not much different from a normal… ball.” Except it was grander and had royals in it. But it was still a ball at the root, which was nothing but a pity in John’s mind. “And you shouldn’t stay with one p-p-partner for… more than one dance. It implies… improper c-c-closeness unless you’re married.”


John nodded, “Of c-c-course not.” There wasn’t anyone like that in his family, at least not in John’s mind. Truthfully John was a bit biased and, frankly, didn’t know she was Catholic. “Though there are some… seducers and libertines in there.” John’s family was not really a model of propriety.


John smiled, “I d-d-don’t know who’ll be there or who we’ll meet. There’s quite a few in... my extended f-f-family. P-p-probably the more famous ones these days are Lord Newcastle, his heir Lord Ogle, and his m-m-many daughters, one of whom is Lady Ablemarle.” However, they were a relatively newly risen family and technically a junior branch. Although once any family was headed by a duke how junior it was to an earl’s branch was debatable.


“Is there anything you w-w-want to know especially? Other than that… I’ll t-t-tell you when we’re there.” So that rather than going through his entire family he could provide information on who was there.

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"Oh, three? I see," Caroline had expected more, perhaps they would be quite lengthy affairs. But John had attended these sorts of things before so he should know.


She nodded, "Yes, I will try and have as many partners as possible. It is all about mingling of course."


"Eh, libertines do not worry me, not at all," Caroline dismissed his concern, she had meant someone forcing himself upon her, a helpless widow. One could never be too careful, or so she had been warned before ever setting foot in London her very first time.


She asked now about his family, hoping he would divulge more about them as she honestly was curious. He did name some of them, though she was never good for remembering names and would probably forget by the ball. He did volunteer to give her specifics if she could narrow down her questions. Fair enough.


"Yes, I am confident you will handle all the introductions when they are needed. But as long as you leave me opening...tell me a bit about your siblings? Forgive my curiousity," Caroline smiled.

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John nodded. Though it was possible it was different at court. And he nodded again as Caroline proclaimed her intention to mingle.


He smiled as she confessed libertines didn’t worry her, “Then you have n-n-nothing to worry about.” John’s family had its libertines, keepers of mistresses and debauchers, but the complaints usually came from their wives rather than their lovers. His family was dangerous, but it was a purposeful sort of threat. Caroline would have to anger them first or threaten them.


John smiled, “My siblings?” He was a bit surprised. Most people were more interested in his more august relations. “There’s Catherine, Isaac, and Abigail.” John said, “All younger. All…” John wasn’t quite sure how to say this, “I am alone in how I am.”


“Lady Catherine’s the eldest. She… runs my household and f-f-frankly is probably more proper and diligent than me. Certainly more… adult, I think. Lady Abigail’s the youngest and… I love her as much as the other two, but she gives me the most t-t-trouble sometimes. My brother…” John trailed off, “He’s b-b-been nothing but supportive but… he’s the sort of person who makes a good earl.” And the source of many prayers against John, even if Isaac had never uttered one himself.

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Caroline nodded to John's assertion she had nothing to worry about and really she hadn't thought so. Besides John would be there and she felt there was perhaps no more honorable man in court than this one. She continued her gentle interrogation though of his family, centering then on his siblings. He did not disappoint but described them in rather concise terms. He also had his way of telling her they did not share in his ...well, physical disadvantages. That was good she supposed but yet she felt all the worse for him that he had seemingly been singled out by capricious nature.


"More proper than you? That I find hard to believe," she lifted one eyebrow and grinned, "You are so very proper you must know."


"And the youngest is unruly? Ha, I have heard that is oft the way of the youngest in a family. Though I did not have any siblings. My mother told me she could not have any more children after me. She also joked I was already perfection and how could she ever top that? We both know that was patently untrue do we not?"


"You make a good earl too, do not sell yourself short," she wanted him to know.

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