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The Christmas Ball (25/12 Evening)- Xmas 1677


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It was a grand Saturday evening in London. As merrymaking filled the streets of the city, Whitehall was radiant in the darkness that had descended early. A light snow had coated the city and rooftops, giving off a muted glow in the moonlight. Inside Whitehall, thousands of candles burned so that light could help the revelers admire the finery and jewelry on display this evening. It would be safe to assume that everyone had arrived in their finest. Debutantes were awash in jewelry to catch that all important eye, while lords and ladies were sumptuously attired to shout to the world of their wealth and power.


The Banquet House, as opposed to the Great Hall, was selected to host the ball, given the increase in the number of lords and ladies present.


Near the throne, a row of tables were laid out in a straight line, with strict seating arrangements for the royal family and guests. A buffet of desserts was laid out at the back of the hall, to allow courtiers to pick and choose what they desired, though wine and other drinks were supplied by the multitude of servants scurrying about.


Mistletoe hung from every chandelier and pillar. Any lord and lady finding themselves underneath such a garland were supposed to kiss if they were friendly. Centered on one wall of the hall was a life sized ice sculpture of King Charles. Centered in the other was a life sized ice sculpture of Queen Caroline.


The back tables were full of every pie and cake that could be imagined. There were sugared nuts in bowls and bite-sized pieces of dark chocolate, by the thousand. Although there were servants carrying drinks to every guest, there were several tables that had servants ready to dispense drinks. There were wines, ales, and punches. The punch, as one might expect, was laced with flavored brandies or other alcoholic spirits. Each table of spirits had mistletoe hanging above -- an enticement for young couples to find themselves sharing spirits conveniently beneath the mistletoe.


Should a visitor be new to the Banquet Hall, the view would be splendid. The ceiling was painted by Rubens on orders of King James I, grandfather to King Charles II.


The subject of the middle panel is the Apotheosis of James I. Justice is raising the King, who is shown holding a sceptre, with one foot on a globe and the other on the wing of a flying eagle, which is grasping a thunderbolt in its talons. In attendance are figures representing Zeal, Religion, Honour and Victory. Above the King are cherubs with the crown and orb, and others are blowing trumpets.


The large south panel represents the King, seated on a throne within an architectural composition, and pointing to Peace and Plenty embracing on his right. Angels support a laurel wreath over his head and a cherub behind him carries the crown. On his left Minerva, holding a thunderbolt in her right hand and a shield in her left, is driving Rebellion; who holds a flaring torch, down to Hell, where Satan, attended by monsters, awaits him. Mercury is pointing with his caduceus to his downfall.


The large north panel is an allegorical representation of the birth and crowning of Prince Charles I. The King is seated on his throne, holding the orb, and pointing with his sceptre to Prince Charles (a nude infant figure), who is attended by two draped females, of whom one, who is crowned, may be intended for the Queen. Behind is Minerva, who is holding a crown over the prince. The background shows an architectural composition, with a domed coffered ceiling. In the upper part of the picture two cherubs support a crowned cartouche, bearing the Stuart arms, with garlands of roses.


The two oval panels at the south end of the ceiling represent Royal Bounty, pouring, from a cornucopia, crowns, emblems and medals, and trampling on Avarice; and Government, holding a bridle, and trampling on Rebellion.


Two similar panels at the north end represent Hercules (Heroic Virtues) clubbing Envy; and Minerva (Heroic Chastity) with a spear destroying Lust. Above her is a flying owl holding a wreath.


On each side of the large central panel are long oblong panels. That on the east side shows a procession of cherubs, with a chariot laden with fruit and drawn by a ram and a wolf, the former ridden by an infant Bacchus. In front is a cherub riding a tiger, preceded by other cherubs carrying a huge cornucopia of fruit, the whole representing the Peace and Plenty of King James's reign. The other panel is supposed to represent the Harmony and Happiness of the reign, and contains gambolling cherubs on a rope of fruit which issues from a chariot drawn by a lion and a bear. Cherubs are loading up the chariot with a huge cornucopia of fruit. The lion has a cherub on his back tickling his ear, while another in front is drawing his teeth.


The scale of the figures in the whole composition is extraordinary, the cherubs being more than 9 feet high.


The royal family had yet to arrive, but most anyone who was anyone was already there, arriving early to get a glimpse of the festive scenery. Thomas Killigrew was speaking with Nicholas Staggins over in the corner where the musicians sat. Some were fine tuning their instruments.


Over by the statue of the King was the Howard clan. The Duke of Norfolk was there with his wife, Jane. In their company was Henry Mordaunt, Earl of Peterborough and his daughter Mary, who was said to be seeking a betrothal with the Duke's son Henry. The Earl of Arundel was there, but was not standing near his father. Instead, he was speaking with William Howard, his great uncle, Viscount Stafford, and his daughter Isabel Paulet, dowager Marchesse of Winchester.


By the Queen's Statue was the Cavendish clan. The Duke and Duchess of Newcastle on Tyne were standing together, along with their eldest daughter Elizabeth (Duchess of Albemarle), her second daughter Frances, and their son Henry, Lord Ogle, who was said to be matched with Elizabeth Percy now that she was of legal age. With them was the elderly William Cavendish, Earl of Devonshire and his son William, Lord Cavendish and his wife.


In another cluster was the Merry Gang; Rochester, Sedley, Dorset, Roos, and Merriweather. They seemed already well in their cups and eyeing each lady and gentleman that passed, with rude whispers about their appearance.


Another cluster found George Digby, Earl of Bristol, in conversation with his daughter Anne Spencer and her husband Robert, Earl of Sunderland and Northern Secretary. They were conversing with Diego de Silva, Ambassador from Portugal.


Nearby, the Earl of Arlington and the Duke of Lauderdale were conversing while watching Sunderland. The Duchess of Lauderdale had separated herself from her husband in search of refreshment in the company of Frances Stuart, Duchess of Richmond.


There were many more in the crowd. Most anyone could be found if one looked hard enough.

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As each couple approached the herald to be announced, they were told that this night's festivities were to be unique. The ladies were to forget their dance cards and take the initiative to ask which gentlemen they preferred to dance. Moreover, there would also be expectations that the tradition of couples under mistletoe would be followed, and that the Lord or Lady of Misrule would be determined by who found the brass ring in a piece of cake or pie. The winner should seek out the Master of Revels, Thomas Killigrew, or so each entrant was informed.

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"The Earl of Langdon and Miss Catherine Sedley," came the booming voice of the herald as the couple was announced. Charles had stubbornly stuck with his decision to wear his brushed officer's tunic. Catherine had stuck with her decision to wear green. They were certain to stick out in a crowd, which might be a good thing at court.


"Grand, it is to be the ladies who must ask the gentlemen to dance," Charles exclaimed with muted excitement. His mind could not help but wonder who might approach him. "No, you may not ask me to dance every dance," he chided. "You must control this infatuation you have with me," he insisted playfully. "Let us find something merry to drink." The young lord steered her towards the nearest beverage table mindful of the mistletoe above it. "No French kissing either," he whispered as he signaled the servant to bring some spiked punch. His eyes wandered the room as they stood awaiting their punch.

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Charles and Catherine


Catherine entered the ballroom on Charles' arm, wearing a lavishly beaded green and gold brocade gown and a diamond and emerald necklace around her neck which accented the modest cleavage peeking from the plunging neckline of her bodice. Charles was dressed in his scarlet uniform and she imagined that they made a colorful pair. They would not go unnoticed tonight, and hopefully, York's eyes would be drawn to them … and particularly to her.


Her lover seemed a bit too pleased that the ladies were to ask the gentlemen to dance. She would pay careful attention to his dance partners. Even though they had a casual relationship, she didn't want another woman to supplant her in his affections the way Lady O'Roarke had done with York. “My last dance is yours, as we agreed last night, so please do not stare at me longingly all evening,” she shot back, “even though you're so smitten with me, you won't be able to help it.”


As he led her toward one of the beverage tables, her eyes scanned the room for the Duke's familiar form. He didn't seem to be among the courtiers milling about the room. Perhaps he would be with the King and Queen, considering that a special tables had been set up for the royal family. He would probably expect her to ask him to dance, but that would be akin to begging. Let him see her dance, laugh, and flirt with other gentlemen. She wanted him to think that she had moved on and no longer wished to be his mistress A gentleman always craved what he couldn't have. She did, however, still want to speak to him about Caroline.


Catherine did not stand directly under the mistletoe. “No French kissing?” she teased him. “You can't control your tongue whenever your lips meet mine.” She knew exactly when she wanted to kiss him, but that moment had not yet arrived. “And you'll have to catch me under the mistletoe first.”

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Embedded amongst the palace servants was none other than Diego Estrada. What better way to spy upon the conversations between courtiers than when dressed as a servant? The aristocracy mostly acted as if servants were invisible, so it made the effort so much more rewarding.


Only two ladies might recognize him. The first was his lover Jane Digby, who was absent from court. The other was Sophia, who had made quite the splash the other night. The Spanish Ambassador, of course, would recognize him; but, would appear otherwise. Sophia had hoped to gain some intelligence at the ball; but, a professional was present and had a much better chance to overhear something important.

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Nicolette put on her best smile. Whatever happened with her life, this moment of arriving at the Christmas Ball with her handsome Cousin, would surely make a lovely memory. She had already described her gown in detail in her journal, the full description had absorbed one and a half pages. Abridged, it was a gown of a soft trio of shimmering gauze, pale blue, lavender and mauve, layered like petals over her skirt and peppered with glass beads that caught the light. Her bodice was snuggling fitting in the square-cut style, with trim of lavender velvet, which then carried down as the main of her sleeves.


Nicolette had nearly frozen in the carriage ride to the palace, and had discreetly mooched warmth from Louis by sitting as close as she could. That was the problem with beauty, it was so difficult to present oneself in winter without piling on so many layers! Nicolette had opted to freeze a little in the interests of appearances, and prayed that there would be a crowd and dancing to warm up with once they got to the Ball room.


About her neck, and sparkling at her ears, were the pearl and diamond chip set of jewelry that had been a gift to her from a certain Scottish Lifeguard -- not that she expected him to attend. He'd not given her the jewelry to impress himself any how.


The helpful people at the cloakroom saw to her cape. Nicolette noticed how the others hanging there were marvelously luxurious - and fleetingly imagined that someone might give her the wrong cloak when they left and she would bite her tongue and accept it. Hopefully the white fur one, white fur was what she truly wanted.


But enough dawdling.


Turning to give a smile to Louis, she placed her hand on his arm and walked with him through the ballroom doors - pausing for the announcement.

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Louis and Nicolette


Only too happy to share bodily heat in the coach, the Earl hoped that the ball would advance both of their agendas. If not, then a merry time was good enough.


Dressed in his golden silk coat, Louis had yielded to his cousin's request to wear white breeches. Gold would catch the eye and white would be fitting for the thin layer of snow that blanketed the London rooftops. As usual, his cravat pin was the flaming ruby. Other stones flashed from other rings upon his fingers. This was the sort of ball to display one's wealth.


As they moved into through the queue, the herald announced them.


The Earl of Basildon and his cousin Mademoiselle Vauquelin.


"So, it seems that it shall be the lady's choice for dance partners," Louis observed as quietly as he could amongst all of the commotion. "Who shall you target this evening, I wonder? Best get to them early in the evening." As for himself, he doubted many ladies would ask him to dance, even though he was the most handsome lord in all of England, or so he believed, and was a fine dancer. When one was married, it was a more difficult thing to do for a lady to request a dance. Yet, there was one who would be so bold.

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Charles and Catherine


"It shall be you that will be trying the catching," he declared when it came to mistletoe. He took a glass of holiday punch for himself and then made sure that Catherine had her drink of choice.


"Shall we split up now? You shall be wanting to corner your prey for the first dances," he laughed. It would be a good excuse to separate himself and seek out either Heather or Susan Herbert. He needed to do so before Davina arrived. "I shall need to go an attract a lady's eye or two or I shall have no dances," he jested. "And I shall seek out Countess O'Roarke," he added quietly, acknowledging the plan formulated the previous evening.

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Charles and Catherine


“We shall see.” When the time was right, Catherine would pull him under the mistletoe if she had to, even though it would give him an advantage in their game. She would just have to think of a witty way to explain it beforehand. Her plan was too perfect to give up.


She laughed when he said she would have to corner her prey. “It will be all I can do to avoid being bruised when the gentlemen bump into me hoping I will ask them to dance.” Her smile turned playful as she took the drink the servant handed her. “If you do want to dance, then you will have to tear your eyes away from me or the ladies won't think you're interested.


“But yes, I think we should split up.” For a moment, the game was forgotten. “If you see Lady O'Roarke with York, come and get me before you approach them. Distracting her attention away from him will be my best opportunity to speak to him about Caroline.”

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Douglas quirked one dark brow as the herald quietly explained the nature of the evening's festivities, full lips curving in an amused smile as he was told that the ladies would take the initiative in finding their dance partners this evening. There was a little fun waiting to happen. And a brass ring in the cakes? One had best eat with care for their teeth then. Master Killigrew had been busy.


Baron Dundarg


Stepping forward as he was announced, Douglas mused that it was eminently preferable to have a title now, if not least for the benefit of being announced by it rather than his surname. Many of his friends had observed the change in his demeanor since he was granted the Barony, but then it could be said that the title made the man.


Perhaps it was for that reason that, in a move that would likely have shocked those who knew him well, he wasn't wearing his Lifeguard's uniform. This was something by way of an event of note, since he usually lived in it. Still, one couldn't correctly state that what we was wearing was not a uniform, for it was obviously styled on what the Life Guards wore, but where that was red and gold, this was black and silver, and rather more ornate. Black satin brocade was accentuated with silver thread and the occasional silver ribbon, white lace at his collar and cuffs, including a lace cravat through which a pin in the shape of a long-stemmed rose had been thrust, it's just unfurling bud carved from a flawed ruby the colour of burgundy wine.


Over his own dull black hair he wore a long, black periwig, expertly styled and not unlike that worn by a rather more highly-ranked, excessively tall gentleman. Atop it sat a black tricorn with a profusion of fluffy white feathers, and the the uniform style meant that he could get away with wearing jackboots, their black leather polished to a high gleam. Douglas couldn't stand court shoes; he liked his ankles intact.


A glance around the hall noted several people he was interested in speaking with tonight, particularly the Cavendish crowd over by the Queen's ice statue. First things first however, the lure of food and drink called to him and would not be ignored.


Approaching Lauderdale and Richmond


He was not the only one seeking some refreshment. A piece of fruit cake in hand, Douglas approached one of the tables serving drinks just as a pair of ladies did, and he paused and gestured that they should precede him.


"A merry Christmas tae ye, Yer Graces." He said with a bow. "Ye both luik lovey this e'en." He flattered shamelessly. "I trust this season finds ye both weel?"*


Elizabeth Maitland he could not recall ever having met before, though he'd seen her about court a few times. Reputation held her a match for her husband in intelligence and cunning, which made Douglas curious. He had, of course, spoken with her husband on a few occasions with regards to matters of Scottish interest; he wondered whether the man had mentioned him.


The other lady was better known to him than he had initially recalled, which put him in a slightly awkward situation. It was only after he'd made a point of introducing himself to her last season - whilst in the company of a quietly fuming Francis Kirke, much to his entertainment - that he had unearthed a vague recollection of Prince Rupert introducing him to both Frances and Peg Hughes on the last night at Brighton. Frances had asked about the safety of the Rupertino canons. But he'd forgotten, and even now the details were rather hazy, like so much of that night. There had been more than alcohol in the punch.


With that memory came the decision to start the evening with some buttered beer.



* "A merry Christmas to you, Your Graces. You both look lovely this evening. I trust this season finds you both well?"

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The Duchesses and Doug


The two ladies were laughing together at some private jest. Perhaps it was related to the rules of the evening; or, perhaps it was merely a tasty bit of gossip which Richmond relished.


Le Belle Stuart had a look of wonderment as she regarded the tall Scot. "You are that Scottish Captain ..." it was clear that she was struggling with the name. Seeing him in black and silver had confused her, but his height and accent had reminded her.


The Duchess of Lauderdale recognized the accent easily. She had already guessed in her mind as to the identity of the gentleman in jet. Rather than say anything, she awaited a more formal introduction.

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The Earl of Basildon and his cousin Mademoiselle Vauquelin.


A pleasant shiver ran up her spine as her name was announced after her cousins, her hand tightened on Louis arm while with show of modestly she lowered her eyes. Look at me look at me look at me!


Louis was ever a man with his ear to the ground, and he revealed now the news that the dances were 'ladies choice'. "La, the English continue to surprise me." she admitted with a little laugh. "Is this to make it easier for the gentlemen? Now they can sit back and wait for expressions of interest." She teased Louis, who no doubt thought that 'Ladies Choice was a grand idea. It was plainly an egocentric mans idea!


"La, Cousin. Ought I teach you how to flirt for dances? We do not want you to be a wall flower after all. To begin you need perfect the 'I am interested' glance, and the 'oh my you are gorgeous' bat of lashes. You did not think it was going to be no work for you at all did you?" Likely enough the man who came up with this idea for the ball, thought that women did nothing while men did all the work! Au contraire. Ladies actually worked their little buts off to goad the gentleman they wanted to ask them to dance.


A scots accent rose above the surrounding chatter, tugging at Nicolette's attention. She turned, but there was no tell-tale red uniform there. She was not expecting him to be here anyhow... so did not investigate that thoroughly. Smiling back to Louis she supposed, "There is going to be a queue for the King. Mmm...would it raise many eyebrows if instead I asked Her Majesty?" she was joking of course.


"Ah, wine!" a passing tray was made a little lighter, and subsequently her lips a little wetter.

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Doug and the Duchesses


Everyone people-watched at these events, and Douglas was learning. There was the Earl of Basildon with, yes, Nicolette on his arm. The man would see to it that his cousin was a success, if only for his own pride. But he had the political means to do so, and that was what family was all about after all. Then again, given her winsome ways and ability to get along with practically everyone, Douglas wondered how much help she would need. Perhaps he would have the chance to speak with her a little later.


Further into the room Charles Whitehurst split from a lady... Catherine Sedley? York's old mistress. That was interesting, and he couldn't immediately intuit a reason for that particular alliance. Unless it was sex, which was a perfectly good reason in Douglas's books. But both were people who turned heads.


As were the two ladies in front of him. For different reasons perhaps, but Douglas found them intriguing. Weren't all powerful women?


La Belle Stuart didn't quite recall him, though clearly he was vaguely familiar to her. Something to build on. "Aye yer Grace. Cap'n FitzJames, Baron Dundarg." He gave another half-bow. "We didnae fall tae the canon at Brichton."* He observed with a smile.


"Alas but I haena haed the pleasure, tae my detriment."** He said as he focused his cornflower gaze on the Duchess of Lauderdale. His accent spoke of the vales of Invernesshire, at the eastern end of Loch Ness.



* "Yes your Grace. Captain FitzJames, Baron Dundarg. We didn't fall to the canon at Brighton."

** "Alas but I haven't had the pleasure, to my detriment."

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At the further end of the hall (that is to say furtherest from the music) a pair matrons sat on the chairs that lined the walls, their hands engaged with knitting needles, eyes looking outward and tongues wagging.


The items they were knitting were precious small.


"She shall probably arrive late, as befits one in her condition."


"And leave early too, no doubt, I do hope we shall have a good view of her from here. Ought we move down a bit closer?


"I would not want any of the buffoon's tripping over us though, you remember what happened in '68."


"Lordly lordy, how could I forget, my toes are still bruised of it."


"He never did apologist properly."


"The manners of youths today."


"Would a blue trim jinx it?" the woman looked down at her knitted garment critically.


"Green is more prudent." the other agreed.


All the while with each announced entrance the pairs needles stopped clicking, and they craned necks to study the new arrival/s.


Next to Mrs Trentmont and Lady Campden, sat a fidgety trio of Dwight girls.

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Louis and Nicolette


A ladies choice for dancing did spark the imagination of gentlemen; but, despite the Earl's healthy ego, he did not expect anyone to ask him to dance. It would be scandalous to do so, except for his old patron Lucinda Hawthorne. He glanced about to see if she was present. Barbara Palmer might chance it as well, given her rebellious spirit. Perhaps Shrewsbury. Older women were more liberated about such things.


"Yes, shall you teach me to flirt cousin?" Louis laughed. "How is this for a come hither look?" Being a rake in his early years, Louis had practiced seductive glances at his prey. He offered one towards Nicci, just for practice. "Shall I drop my handkerchief by accident in front of one?" he laughed.


Nicolette was correct that the King would be the primary target. Perhaps it was he that had ordered Killigrew to such a plan. "We shall approach the royal couple together and I shall intimate that I am available to the Queen and you can ask the King," he declared confidently. "Though I don't suppose she will be dancing since she is with child." That put a fly in the ointment of his plan. "Do you think you will ask Buckingham?" He was not sure whether to recommend it or not.

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Doug and the Duchesses


The Scottish Baron reminded Le Belle Stuart of his identity. "Of course," she replied in a friendly fashion. She remembered the man now. There had been Brighton, but also a scene when she was in the company of Francis Kirke. Where is that gentleman I wonder? No doubt he was in the King's company, following the royal around like one of the spaniels.


"Captain, I have the pleasure of presenting Elizabeth Maitland, the Duchess of Lauderdale, a fellow Scot I believe." Indeed she was. Elizabeth was a Murray and daughter of the Earl of Dysart. "A pleasure to meet you Baron," Elizabeth stated, knowing full well who he was. "An odd choice of colors," she noted of his black attire. It seemed somewhat out of place at a Christmas ball, but she held her tongue on it. "Perhaps he was worried that his scarlet uniform would clash with so many red decorations," Richmond offered.

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She had come ahead of the Queen not needed as a part of the entorouge and was standing some distance away from where those that arrived entered.


This was proving to be something very different


She knew the herald and so when she had learned that those attending were to be announced in and to that was added that women would ask men for a dance she immediately began to suspect that the Lord of Misrule had already been secretly choosen for this was the type of thing that "He" would proclaim!


It was so away from the usual way of things - where all gathered to await the arival of the King and Queen then the King would lead a chosen Lady in a dance then all might join if so allowed. And a Gentleman would do the same with the Queen. Then followed the usual dances of the Court with their exact steps and measures and the bowing and touching of hands being the only contact allowed between the dancers.


Liberties woud be permitted but Proprity and Respect for Rank - especially with the King and Queen present - would always be maintained. So there must be some type of County dances planned for that would be the only way in which it was possible.


Perhaps twas something already being done in other Courts - The Dutch or even the Muskovites might do such but Never the French who were even more strick with Ettiquete - but she was sure that whatever the insperation had been this night would be different and she intended to enjoy it!


She had dressed in cream silk on purpose. Having judged that most would be attired in the colors of the Season her simple single color would allow her to stand out in the sea of reds and greens. Her hair was copied from a style made famous by Madame de Montespan in France where she reigned as Louis XIV Mistress - much like Barbra Villiers had here in England with the King.


There was a new, sharper V cut to her gown at the waist - de Montespan again - and jeweled clasps holding back her overskirt of the same cream silk that matched the sapphire necklace she wore that was the gift from her lover the Earl of Langdon. She wore no other jewlery. Her bodice was scooped neck and low cut but tasteful in its composition. No lace anywhere. Her shoes were cream silk covered as well. Poppy had plucked her dark brows so that now they gave character to her face but she had not used an abundance of cosmetics nor did she patch.


It was all new, expensive, and what she needed to give her an edge over the other women.


What exactly was the statement she was making?


The decision to be so French at a time when feelings ran high was a gamble yet she felt a new sense of Confidence which she supposed had come from the fact she was no longer a virgin but much initiated in the shared pleasures of the flesh.


At twenty one she was a woman in all sense of that word and the girl who had a quiet nature and not standing out in a crowd had been replaced. It would not be hard for others' to mark if they had a practiced eye but with no actual proof it would be but speculation.


And she was to select the Gentleman to partner which would make for more interesting encounters.


'Herbert. The German. Cousin Henry. Charles. The King (possibly) hmmm ... married men as well ....'


So ran the list in her head as she observed not yet ready to enter. She would wait for her brother and enter on his arm she decided. Better to start that way.

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Heather let herself be announced as the Countess O'Roarke. The other courtesy title she could claim was after all something that was publically anulled and nobody wished to remember. Countess Dorset indeed.


With supreme confidence the Countess stood at the entrance. Her gathered up golden red hair was graced with a diamond tiara, while her neck graced a diamond tear surrounded by saphire chips. This was reflected by her tight hugging evening gown in sapphire silk, with silver lining and a see through silvery cape (echoing something she wore in Brighton six months ago). The crowning glory was the brooch of the Duke of York's coat of arms, perched on display on her neckline, in the middle of her breasts. It announced to all and sundry the lady was a deliberate part of the household of the Duke of York. It was a bit daring for the lady to wear her brooch, but she was counting on getting away with it due the spirit of the night.


Sliding in Heather's mind worked furiously. So, a lady's night. Who to ask then? Her green emerald eyes roamed the growing crowd. So many choices. A small smile played on her lips, mischief in her eyes.

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Davina and her Brother


As luck would have it, Richard Wellsley, 3rd Viscount Baintree followed right after his sister. He was in the company of two men who were well dressed.


"Ah there is my sister," Richard remarked as the trio grew closer. "Davina, may I present Marius DeVries, Ambassador from the United Provinces and this is Christian Sehested, newly arrived Danish Ambassador. I encountered them emerging from the coach outside. Gentlemen, this is my younger sister, Davina, who is a maid to Her Majesty, Queen Karoline."


Davina would recognize Marius. The man had be around Whitehall for several seasons. Christian, however, was unknown. He was in his late 20s, mid-height, dark hair and blue eyes. He was a pleasant looking man and had a quick smile. He was quick to utter "a distinct pleasure my lady," and seek to kiss her hand in greeting. His English was good, but there was a definite Nordic accent.

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Charles Departing from Catherine Sedley


The Earl of Langdon took stock of those in his view. Observing Mrs. Trentmont sitting along the wall with other ladies, young and old, Charles felt the necessity to pay his respects. Of course, there were many Dwight girls nearby and he did not want to be in a position of being asked by several to dance. Later, he easily convinced himself.


Douglas had entered and had moved towards two Duchesses. There was no urgency in speaking with the Scot. The idea of a Guard Masque would likely appeal to the lanky Scot. FitzJames was something of a ladies man, though Charles could not account for such female taste. There was also a small part of him that wanted to know if Catriona, and perhaps more importantly, whether Fiona had come to court. The key was discovering the latter fact as subtly as possible.

Heather arrived at last, and alone remarkably. "There is the Countess," he remarked to his own mistress. "She is not with York, so I will go to speak with her," he declared as he took his leave. Catherine had professed an interest in joining him if Heather was with York.

Approaching Heather


Not knowing that Davina had arrived yet, Charles was not distracted as he walked casually towards Heather. He and the redhead had been friends for years. "Countess," he called as he approached. "You are looking grand this evening." Folded into that was the fact that she did not look any different than before her pregnancy. "How are you and your son?" he asked politely with an easy smile.

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Louis and Nicolette


Nicolette broke into unabashed laughter, "That's an excellent idea!" Louis could be utterly hilarious when in the right mood, and he seemed to be in rather high spirits tonight. "But don't play 'too easy', you know it's all about the chase mon cher." Her eyes slid towards the seating for the royals, currently empty, though CR managed to cut a figurative presence none the less. "I thought to try secret my kerchief upon His Majesty this evening, so that when he disrobes tonight, he will find it with the initials NV. This is the game for him, you see. They call his secret Admirer Envy, he will wonder how it got there, and who she is." She revealed her modest plan.


"Do promise to seek some fun though cousin." she urged, not wanting his playful banter to end. "Let us make dares then..." that might prevent him from slipping to the groups of politicians, talking shop instead of making sport, "I dare you to get a dance from..." upon a pause she looked around who was already here, trying to see someone who'd be challenging for Louis. Louis needed a challenge she thought, for he had a penchant for making things seem to easy usually. He needed a challenge, but the challenge needed to have relevance. "Mall." Nicolette settled with a smile growing.


"Yes, I shall ask the Duke.' she agreed, the Duke's ego alone demanded as much. Besides, he was rather lovely. "And if I see Lord Ernle's son here, I shall ask him too." She was unaware of her error at the Opera that had the Captain peeved at her. She did not tell Louis that there was one man she truly wanted to ask to dance, namely a certain Irish Earl.

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The more official sort of events, no matter how gay, always gave Francis some slight bit of discomfort. It was yet still not his forte. Even after a full year and a few seasons, even after the beginnings of Buckingham's tutelage and months of being a gentleman of the bedchamber, court was still not an animal with which he felt masterful. Let alone a dance where the ladies would be asking the gentlemen, and being no grand dancer, though better now for practice, he was not looking forward to it.


Rather than escort any particular lady, which might give rise to all sorts of rumours, the young-looking Lord Kingston arrived escorting his lady mother.


He was wearing an ensemble of pale blue and silver, perhaps a play on snow and icicles, but hardly a play Francis himself would make. He was not the sort to agonize over his fashion, but Buckingham assaulted him with tailors. He did have an appreciation for his sapphire cravat pin, though. If one had to choke, one must choke in some style. The only rings he wore were his signet ring and one on his pinky finger. A homage to his days at sea, he wore a sapphire teardrop earring in his ear, though not a particular fashion of the time. He enjoyed it.


After being announced as Viscountess Kingston and Baron Kingston, they soon separated. The only thing worse to Francis at a dance where ladies did the asking, was being in the company of his lady mother while they did so.


Perhaps if I keep moving..... His blue eyes moved around the room to see if any were yet looking at him. Friends, yes... He continued scanning as he walked in as graceful a way he could manage, a bit wary of every female that came close.


There was probably little he could do to avoid any dances. The captive ear and attention of one of the king's gentlemen could be rather advantageous to a lady for a variety of reasons, much to his chagrin that evening!

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Ambrose did not yet know many, of those he had met one had provided him with a challenge, a challenge that had seen him spending some time contemplating as he donned his dress uniform and getting ready for the evenings entertainments. A dark cloaked fellow on one shoulder cheered him on with a rum flavored burp, while on the other shoulder a figure in white tutted and advised, 'She's Yorks old man, hands off!'



The Penitent Lieutenant approaches the Duke's Mistress & Major Langdon


At last, he saw her arrive. Collecting up an extra glass, Turnbull sauntered towards Lady O'Roarke as she paused in a little eddy just inside the ballroom doors - but Stone the Crows, another fellow got to her first. Undeterred, Ambrose approached none the less, and offering her the glass of sparkling wine he made a bow with a smile that was both apologetic and precocious at he same time.


"My Lady of the Fight," he smiled to Heather, "ah, but dont look now, for there are a further dozen or so gents just across the way that are considering wooing you with easy violence. Shame on them." he uttered referencing her challenge to him with a lopsided grin. "Aye, but not me... in fact I dare you to test my knowledge. I have read naught but penny romances and court wit since we last met, and think I am now qualified. Would that there was a puddle handy, for I'd whip off my coat to protect your slippers from it, with some witty repartee while at it!" he waggled eyebrows then. He was doing his best to make amends.


"And Major," he acknowledged Charles, the Majors rank was evident on his costume. Though Charles had not spoken to the Major personally, Turnbull recognized him as his senior officer, even if far younger in years. "We meet at last. Lt. Ambrose Turnbull, at your service."

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Douglas and the Duchesses


“The pleasure’s aw mine, Yer Grace.”* Douglas replied as Elizabeth was introduced, and he regarded her with interest. There was some of the power behind Lauderdale, by all accounts. There also was the connection to Stephen Murray and his tribe, from even further north than his own family.


He wondered how Cat and the girls were getting on, and could only assume that they’d had the same problems that he had, with the heavy snows closing the roads. They were probably less inclined to push through them as well, not to mention the difficulty of getting a coach through.


The big Scotsman chuckled as Richmond hit the mark on the subject of him not wearing his uniform. “Why wuid abody want tae blend intae the blackgroond?”** He agreed rhetorically. His outfit was being noticed which was entirely the point, and he felt there was enough white lace and silver thread that he didn’t look to be in mourning. Black was an expensive dye. He was rather enjoying the effect.


“A man shuid dress tae compliment a lairdy but nae outshine her, an’ black gies wi’ awthin.” He opined. Whether a lady wore bright, seasonal colours or snow-like pastels, he couldn’t clash. That, along with not looking like a Christmas decoration, had been part of his dastardly plan. “D’ye nae think ye wuid luik guid again’ black, Yer Grace?”*** He asked, eyebrows raised in faux-innocence.



* “The pleasure’s all mine, Your Grace.”

** “Why would anybody want to blend into the background?”

*** “A man should dress to compliment a lady but never outshine her, and black goes with everything. Don’t you think you would look good against black, Your Grace?”

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Heather besieged by officers (Charles, Ambrose)


"My lord Langdon" Heather smiled warmly at her old friend, who she thought looked so much more masculine than the young man that arrived at court some years ago. There was a trifle more ruthlessness in his appearance perhaps, less puppy more hardened wardog, yet with some of the soft edges still reassuringly in place. In contrast Heather, even after the birth of her second son, looked fresh and young at 22nd, though no longer a simpering court miss. At such a young age, and being a strong rider which kept her body in shape, recovering from childbirth was relatively easy. It had been more than 2 months now.


"Merry Christmas" the redhead declared and spied around for the mistletoe, thinking of Christmasses past.There was no shortage of them. She kissed the Major briefly, almost chastly. Their friendship had never progressed into something more physical, though some might disbelieve it. "Little James is well settled in at Chelsea together with his siblings. After so many months from court I'm delighted to return, even if it is to this cold weather."


There were more inquiries she would have made, but their polite conversation was interrupted, hardly leaving her any time to react. Heather arched an eyebrow, accepting the drink but leaning towards Charles and observing in humorous tone " The lieutenant here fought a duel over the right to kiss me yesterday morning in the Fencing Hall. He lost."

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Catherine spying on Charles, Heather, and Ambrose


Catherine sighed as Charles left her to speak to Lady O'Roarke. She would probably join York later and she would have rather him waited until they were together. There still might be other opportunities to speak to her former lover, either with or without her current lover's assistance. The night had just begun.


Although she supposed she should start lining up dances, she lingered by the drink table, sipping her punch and watching Charles and Heather. She was too far away to hear their conversation, and she wondered if he would tell her that Catherine wished to be friends with her and how she would react if he did.


Her eyes narrowed when the redhead kissed Charles under the mistletoe. At least the kiss had been brief. Maybe there truly was nothing between them but friendship. Still, she was a bit jealous. Another gentleman joined them whom she had never seen before. Charles won't be able to speak to her about me now, she thought. Things weren't going very well for her so far.

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Countess Alyth


It had taken some work, but Cat's staff had been able to get the Scot dressed, hair done and appropriate jewelry draped in enough time for the ball. The gown, a rich emerald green with golden embroidery on both the stomacher and gown, was cut to accentuate her form that was finally back to where it had been prior to Nessia's birth. It was paired with emeralds dropping from her ears and a tiered necklace of smaller emeralds and diamonds in gold. For the first time since it had been placed on her finger, her wedding ring did not grace her hand. Indeed, hair hands didn't sport a single ring, though a few bracelets graced her wrists.


Glancing around, she made note of several friends around the room, as well as her sibling, Douglas. Now, to decide. Greet family or friends first? Douglas seemed well settled in a conversation with the Duchess she had all but foisted him on the last time they went to church together. While very few people could claim she was a coward, discretion was the better part of valor. Besides, he had already started eating everything in her pantry. She noted her two oldest friends (Charles and Heather) standing together with someone she didn't believe she was acquainted with. Then there was that boil...er...Basildon bastard and that young lady she had met briefly. Something French. It would probably come to her. There was no way in hell she was approaching them. She barely held back a shudder.


Then she noted Francis with an older woman. Well, that was interesting. She tried to decide if that would be her best course of action. It had been a while since they talked and perhaps he had found an actual dancing instructor and wouldn't require saving. While deciding, she opted to get a drink first. She headed towards the punch table.

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Underneath the Ice Queen


Tonight was an unusual night. John was at a ball, which was a rare thing. Usually he just sent his siblings along and got up to his own devices. John was using a full cane, rather than his normal walking stick, which was rare too. It evened his gait but he had to lean on it to walk. Normally it was reserved for formal occasions but tonight it was meant to emphasize he would not be dancing. As was the sword on his side. Most gentlemen didn’t bring swords to dances since they got in the way of the complex steps.


He entered with Caroline on his arm and paused in front of the announcer. Telling John the rules only annoyed him. The idea of being obligated to kiss a lady actually appealed but with no dances there’d be no such thing. And John lacked the courage to go beneath the mistletoe. After all, what if a lady avoided him or cringed, or worse, refused?


So again John was to be excluded, left to the wayside while others ran farther than he could to have their fun. This issue, this exclusion, and this emblem of a deeper issue, is what Sophia had failed to understand when she’d told him he could just have conversations on the side.


I despise dances. John thought with a vitriol that many thought was probably entirely absent in the young lord. His exterior was just surly though.


The announcer continued on with the bit about the lord of misrule, which John took little account of. Then they were announced, “The Lord Maldon and the Lady Kendishall.” John thought little of the message of them being together. He’d heard nothing bad about Caroline’s reputation and there was little an unmarried lord and a widow could be accused of. John proceed directly down towards his family.


The news of the engagement was good. Lord Northumberland had been Devonshire’s nephew so Lady Percy was Devonshire’s grandniece. This move would ensure the two branches remained close as well as increase the duke’s lands and influence in Parliament.


There was some sadness at another heir and heiress going off the market. But it was a good move for the family and anything that benefitted the Cavendishes benefitted John.


Perhaps more importantly, with Lord Ogle off the market, John and his brother looked much more attractive. There were no other unmarried Cavendish men left, nor among any of their immediate connections, excepting young children. So John and Isaac were a woman’s only chances in that arena for the next decade at least, probably two.


Not to mention, John had a title, and Isaac had a sickly childless brother with a title.


John arrived, “I hear c-c-congratulations are in order.” John said to Lord Ogle with a small smile.


He gestured to Caroline in front of the Cavendishes, “M-m-might I introduce my friend, Lady Kendishall. I w-w-was going to ask one of you to stand in my p-p-place,” Since normally when someone was asked to a ball they got a dance with the asker, “B-b-but it seems I’ve provided her with the shooting gallery.” John smiled over at Caroline and let her off his arm to take her pick.

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Maitland had little to say. She preferred to listen. Frances Stuart, in contrast, was more talkative.


"Oh but blending into the background allows you to hear more interesting things," she insisted in good humor. She liked to think that some of her best gossip came from not-so-innocent eavesdropping.


Black did go with anything , but she replied "tis a sad color and I prefer something happier." She was wearing a gown of silver herself. "Far better for a soldier I think; but, I shall take your words as flattery, for so they must have been intended," she offered with a smile.




Most anyone she might want to meet was in sight. She might see Rochester setting about consuming small cakes at the dessert table if hopes of finding the brass ring. The Earl of Dorset was beside him, pretending not to know the other Earl. Dorset had another odd visitor ... the Duke of Ablemarle. He had been sent on instructions of his wife to see if Dorset would dance with Frances Cavendish if asked. Poor Frances was not feeling particularly bold this evening and could not bear another rejection. Dorset was quite the eligible bachelor and would be a good match for a Cavendish daughter.


Cat might also see John Burgoyne speaking with Lord Roos. They were obviously intent on lady watching.


The French Ambassador Ruvigny was standing beside another French gentleman, noting the comings and goings.


Was there someone she sought?




It was the worst kept secret at court, causing Ogle to act surprised at the congratulations. The cousin could mean most anything. "Thank you," he replied hastily before adding "what for?"


The introduction of Caroline was more interesting. Young Henry was expecting to be asked to dance. "A pleasure Lady Kendishall," he declared, already evidencing a liberal intake of alcohol. He had expected to had a hundred offers so far, but the ladies were still shy.

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Douglas and the Duchesses


It was an interesting thought, if Douglas ever had a chance of blending into the background. In fact he did that best in uniform, becoming just another Life Guard when it suited him; it didn’t suit him tonight. He certainly wasn’t given to subtle eavesdropping; perhaps it was a skill he could stand to learn but he’d long since decided that what other people thought of him was none of his business. What they thought of others might be useful.


Frances kept her tone light, but when she retreated behind implied offence he found himself disappointed. Her gown would have been well offset by his outfit with the silver accents, but it was more her response that her found lacklustre. “I wuid think ye'd luik good agin ony colour.”* He replied, surprised she'd missed the opportunity to say so herself. Yes, let it be a compliment.


Elizabeth hadn’t spoken, and Douglas began to suspect that she was the far more intelligent of the two. “Whit wuid ye say, Yer Grace? Is’t best tae blend in er stand oot?”** He asked, curious as to her view on the subject.



* “I would think you'd look good against any colour.”

** “What would you say, Your Grace? It is best to blend in or stand out?”

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