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Food For The Body, Music For The Soul [26/12, after church]- Xmas 1677

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The Spanish Ambassador's Residence


A small table had been set up in the drawing room for Sophia's lunch with Lady Kendishall. The dining room was too large and formal … and quite dismal. The drawing room was decorated in dark colors as well, but at least the winter sun streamed through the windows, brightening it up a bit. She had picked a few exotic blooms from her orangery and placed them in a vase. A white tablecloth covered the table and the young Baroness had embroidered the hem herself in a floral pattern in the Toledo colors of aubergine, deep blue, and gold. By the fireplace, the two sick plants that Lord Maldon had helped her care for sat upon a smaller table between two chairs.


Sophia did hope that Lady Kendishall brought her cello so that they could entertain each other in her music room after lunch. Her harpsichord was set up there and she had all kinds of sheet music from several countries. They would only have a couple of hours because she was to meet Lord Arundel afterward, but that should be plenty of time for a pleasant visit. The servants had been told to begin serving lunch as soon as her guest arrived.


The petite blonde had changed into a less fancy gown than the one she worn to church. Made of rose-colored moire silk over an underdress of light gold velvet, it was trimmed in lace and pearls. The skirt was pulled back to reveal the underdress and the golden fabric had been pulled through slits in the sleeves of her gown. Pearls encircled her neck and the cameo that Juan had commissioned for her hung from its center. Her hair was arranged casually in a tumble of platinum curls. While she waited, she sat in a chair upholstered in dark red leather, embroidering pink flowers on a lace-edged handkerchief.

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The coach pulled out in front of the Spanish embassy and Caroline alighted, assisted by her Irish bodyguard. Both of them paused to study the place.


"I fought these Spaniards so many times and now here you are visiting one," the Irishman remarked without a hint of properly addressing his social superior and employer.


Caroline was used to him though and in private did not mind. She lived around soldiers since she was a young child, her father was one.


"Oh hush, I came to visit an Englishwoman....well, make that a German but no matter, she is not a Spaniard. And it's not like you have to storm the place, just stand out here and look ...look.."


"Bored?" the Irishman smiled.


"Yes, fine! Do not get into mischief, you Irish beggar or I will have you lashed within an inch of your miserable life," Caroline declared but they both knew she would not do any such thing.


Caroline then waited until the coachman handed over her beloved cello case before marching on up to the main door and using the knocker. The girl rolled her eyes, whatever possessed Sophia to marry a Spaniard anyhow? She had her answer immediately though, the union was no doubt an arranged one between the families, probably for some sort of political gain.

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A liveried servant opened the door and led Caroline to the drawing room where Sophia was waiting. The petite Baroness immediately looked up when she heard two sets of footsteps approaching the door.


Placing her embroidery hoop on the table, she stood and smiled as her friend entered the room, pleased to see that she had brought her cello. “Welcome to my home, Lady Kendishall,” she said, walking over to her. “And please excuse the drabness of the décor. It belonged to my lord husband's predecessor, and he had appalling taste. I hope to start redecorating soon.”


Sophia beckoned toward the table. “Do you mind having lunch here? The dining room is even darker and there are no windows to let in the sun.”

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A servant greeted her then led her to her friend who rose from her place upon Caroline's approach. She had apparently been embroidering. Caroline had never much cared for that sort o thing even though she well knew women were expected to be familiar with such a skill. Give her cello playing any day.


"Why thank you, Lady Toledo, and thank you for inviting me also," Caroline nodded to her greeting, "The décor is fine. Besides it is not the house but the people who truly matter. I came to see you, not a room."


Sophia wondered if she would mind having lunch in that room, seemingly other parts of the embassy weren't much better, least in Sophia's estimation. Caroline shrugged.


"This is certainly as good a place as any. Oh, I brought my cello...just in case we might wish to be a bit musical for some of the visit. I know how much you like music and singing of course."

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“I am glad you could come. And of course, you are right. It is the company that truly matters.” Sophia glanced about the room. “I confess I do not feel comfortable here. I feel as if I am living in the former Ambassador's home, not my own. I was perfectly content in the house we lived in last season and it was rented. Even the furniture belonged to the owners. Its style suited me much better than this one. Once I have redecorated, maybe I will feel at home. My lord husband and I hope to remain here for a very long time.”


She was pleased that Caroline agreed to have lunch in the drawing room. The young Baroness glanced over at one of the servants standing by the door and he left to tell the cook that lunch could be served. “I had hoped you would bring it. After we have eaten, we can go to my music room upstairs. My harpsichord is there. I do not play nearly as well as you do, but perhaps we can play a duet.”


She had never heard Caroline play her cello, but she had to be good or she wouldn't have been chosen to play in the opera orchestra. Sophia was proficient at playing the harpsichord. Unfortunately, she was currently unable to play and sing at the same time. Concentrating on both was too distracting. Eventually, she hoped to be able to accompany herself on both a harpsichord and a piano.


“What would you like to drink?” she asked. “Tea? I have several spicy exotic varieties that I bought from Lady Alyth. Or would you prefer something stronger?” Sophia grinned mischievously. “Or a mixture of both?”

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Sophia expressed her obvious discontent with the entire house, Caroline nodded slowly in sympathy. A bit dreary yes, but she did not think it so bad.


"Perhaps Spaniards like it this way? I would not know, having never been to Spain nor having a desire to go either," she smiled. At times, Caroline seemed to have almost inherited her father's rather vehement xenophobia.


The conversation moved on to happier things and something Caroline knew much more about also, music. Sophia had a surprise announcement too.


"You play the harpsichord? And here I thought your musical talent only extended to your beautiful singing. But yes! An enthusiastic yes, I would enjoy a duet. Truth of the matter is I need no excuse whatsoever to play," she was delighted.


Being the proper hostess Sophia offered her something to drink, mentioning tea including some exotic kinds. Well, she would if she had to but then the other girl sweetened the offer with something more her style.


"Oh yes, something alcoholic would be wonderful. Wine if that's all these Spaniards have but anything stronger would be much appreciated," she quickly accepted.

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“They do favor dark colors,” she admitted, “but some of the places I visited in Madrid were bright and colorful. I will decorate this house to my own tastes. I love pastel colors. Hopefully, my lord husband will allow me to decorate the Embassy too. Some of the paintings and sculptures I bought in Spain have been moved there already.”


Caroline seemed surprised that she played the harpsichord. “I have been taking lessons for several years and I have also been learning to play the piano. Unfortunately, I do not have a piano of my own and last season, I practiced on the one that had been left in our rented house. Now I guess I will have to practice in the palace's music room. There is not much difference in playing a piano and a harpsichord.”


Sophia beamed when she agreed to a duet. “Then our plans are made.”


Her friend preferred something alcoholic and she instructed the other servant to bring a tray filled with various liquors as well as wine. “I must commend the opera's orchestra. You played neither too fast nor too slow. Sometimes when I am accompanied by instruments, I must alter my pace, but everything was absolutely perfect. I hope you enjoyed the experience as much as I did.”

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"He would allow you to decorate the embassy?" Caroline was surprised to hear that, imagining it state property. But then what did she know about Spaniards anyhow. Well, other than they were usually enemies of the French and the English and thus no favorites of hers.


Sophia talked some more about her musical talents.


"Oh the piano also, how remarkable! You truly have a gift. Though with your voice, I needn't think you have to concern yourself much with playing instruments," she offered.


The decision was made to attempt a duet once lunch was over. It would be fun. Once Caroline expressed a preference for an alcoholic beverage, Sophia obliged, instructing her servant to bring a selection for choice. As they waited for his return the other girl brought up the opera performance, a pleasant memory for the both of them.


"Why thank you, we owe the caliber of our performance to Master Cole who worked us tirelessly on timing. You are right though, it is one thing to play by one's self but calls for more concentration to blend with others. Well worth it though," Caroline declared.


"I enjoyed myself thoroughly, thank you. You certainly seemed in your element up there...not just the singing but being so composed in the costumes too. I guess I am just too shy."

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Sophia shrugged. “I hope he will. I have not asked him yet, but I am adding little personal touches already. He has not said anything against it so far. Maybe he has not noticed. I think the Embassy should have more of an international flair, so that all visitors will feel comfortable there. But that is ultimately up to him. The Embassy is his domain. This house is mine.”


The young Baroness smiled wryly. “Once you hear me play, you may change your mind. I would never pass an audition to join an orchestra. Playing is just a hobby, while singing is my life. I cannot play my harpshichord and sing at the same time. Playing takes too much concentration. I have to think about everything I do. If it ever becomes natural to me, I would love to accompany myself when I give concerts. Yet I love singing a capella as well. I have more freedom when I sing without accompaniment.”


She chuckled as she remembered the rehearsals. “Master Cole worked us all tirelessly. It is because of him that the opera was such a success. He was a very demanding director, but the end result was perfection.”


As to her performance: “I watched so many operas in Venice that I longed sing in one myself, although that, of course, is forbidden for the nobility. I did practice with professional singers backstage, but I never performed publicly.” This was a lie. No one but Lord Kingston and Lord Maldon knew of her double life of the Venetian stage. If she and Caroline became good friends, it was possible that she might share the secret with her too. At least she understood the irresistible lure of music.


“My lord husband didn't approve of my costumes. He thought they were too skimpy. I thought they fit my role well and I was able to move more freely than if I was stifled by corsets and petticoats. It was also hot with all the candles needed to properly light the stage.” She grinned mischievously. “Maybe you would have forgotten your shyness if you were in my place.” Caroline was probably just being modest. She did not strike Sophia as particularly shy.


The servant arrived with a tray containing a variety of liquors and set it on the table between them before disappearing back into the hall. Two goblets sat upon the tray as well. “Please help yourself to whatever you want. I like to be informal when I can.”

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Sophia declared the house was her domain. Interesting, Caroline wondered how her proper Spanish husband would feel about that should he have heard her statement. No matter, that was between them, she just was glad she wasn't the one married to, of all things, a Spaniard.


When it came to discussion about musical instruments, Sophia fully admitted that voice was her strength rather than playing her harpsichord. Still, it was good she was making the effort, Caroline heartily approved, music being a major part of her life too.


"Oh don't worry, our playing will just be between the two of us. I will not be critical...besides you could make me sing then and then you would hear me make an utter fool of myself," Caroline grinned.


Talking about the opera they easily agreed that Master Cole had been the one most responsible for it's success. A taskmaster yes, but Caroline had not minded. The end product had been worth it.


"Well for your first public performance, you were amazing," Caroline complimented her.

The subject moved to the opera costumes or rather lack of for Sophia. She claimed she had actually been more comfortable that way. Perhaps. Caroline smiled.


"Ahh, I see. Well, given your pair...certainly you are more well endowed than some of us ladies," Caroline knew she in no way compared physically to the German girl.


And then alcohol was served, even a variety so Caroline could make her choice. She looked over the options and ended up pour herself some brandy.


"Thank you," she nodded then sipped it, pleased with the quality of it.

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“Maybe you can give me some tips on how to play better.” A cello was much different than a harpsichord, but there must be techniques common to all instruments that would help her improve her skills. Caroline would certainly know more about those. Sophia chuckled when her friend demeaned her own singing. “I promise I will not ask you to sing.” She grinned. “Unless you would like a few lessons. If you can carry a tune, you can learn how to sing well.”


The blonde Baroness could not tell Caroline that she had worked under many other directors, and that Master Cole was no more tyrannical than the others had been. He had not been easy on them, and a couple of the nymphs had burst into tears during rehearsals, unaccustomed to being worked so hard. Sophia had followed every command without complaint or comment, for she understood that he was only trying to bring out the best in all of them.


“Thank you.” Sophia blushed prettily. “I wish the opera could have had a longer run. That was probably my first and last time on stage. It satisfied my longing to sing in a full-scale opera, but I can't help hoping that the King will commission another one.”


She rolled her eyes when Caroline mentioned her huge bosom. “I do not know whether to be embarrassed by them or proud of them. In truth, I wish they were smaller, but I must make the best of what God has given me. I think that was part of the reason my lord husband was displeased. I cannot help that they heave when I sing. He insisted that I wear a modestly cut gown to the ball last night. Even then, I showed some cleavage. I would have to wear a frumpy gown that goes all the way up to my neck to hide it completely.” That was perhaps an exaggeration, but not by much.


Sophia poured herself a glass of brandy too. “This brandy is from Spain. We brought some liquors and wines back with us. What do you think of it? How does it compare to English brandies?”


The food began to arrive, brought in on the trays of servants. She had kept the menu simple …. dried Italian and Spanish meats, cheese from both countries, crusty bread, and a bowl of mixed fruit. Some of the meats were hot and spicy, and some of them were mild.

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"Tips? Well....we shall see. I could do a much better job of that had you chosen to play a cello but since you settled for a mere harpsichord," Caroline teased her, the big grin showing she did not mean insult.


Sophia made a kind offer but Caroline waved it off, "Oh so you say but you trying to teach me how to sing would be like trying to teach a dog how to bake. No matter how much we both might want good to come out of such an effort...in the end, I simply do not have the voice for it. It really doesn't bother me to know my weaknesses. But thank you for offering."


As for the opera topic, Caroline offered, "You never know, His Majesty certainly seemed to enjoy the performance so mayhaps he shall engage Master Cole in a second effort? Give it some time, yes?"


Caroline laughed a little, "It's ironic, you sit here wishing for a smaller pair and I for larger. Pity one couldn't just shop for them like a ball gown?"


Since drinks had arrived, Caroline tried the brandy, "It has a smooth taste. Yes, I like it. Perhaps not as good as a French brandy but then I am a bit biased there. As for English ones, it certainly compares I suppose."


Next came the food, there was quite the variety to choose from. Caroline sampled a little from each of the choices. She bit into a rather spicy slice of meat and slowly nodded approval as she chewed until she swallowed.


"Oh now I like the taste of that. Very spicy. What is that?"

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Sophia could tell that Caroline was teasing her, but she offered an explanation anyway. “I chose the harpsichord because my mother played it. My father told me that she was very talented, and the instrument I learned on belonged to her. Now I have a newer one. I left hers in Germany and I played it a few times when I took my lord husband to see my estate.” She grinned impishly. “Be happy that her instrument of choice was not the cello or I might have given you competition.” She doubted that she would ever equal her friend's prowess on any instrument. Improving her still-developing voice took up most of her time.


“Very well,” she conceded when Caroline turned down her offer of voice lessons. As to the opera: “I hope you are right. I am trying to inspire interest in having an opera house built in London. I would not be able to perform there, but I love to attend operas as well. One of my goals is to make it as popular in England as it is in Italy. I will be content to sing at court events and at private concerts even if I never get the chance to sing onstage again.” At least she hoped she would.


Sophia's laughter joined her friend's when she spoke of shopping for bosoms. “It would make life easier. I think if ladies could try on large breasts for a few days, they would be happy that theirs are smaller. Sometimes holding them up causes pain in my back. If I could give you some of mine, I would.”


The topic turned to brandy and the young Baroness was pleased that Caroline liked the Spanish variety. “I have yet to taste French brandy. I think I should like to try it. Maybe I will be able to visit France one day.” She leaned forward conspiratorially. “Just do not tell my lord husband. You know how the Spanish and French feel about each other.”


The young Baroness took a large sampling of the dishes that had been set out for them. “That is fuet,” she explained. “It is from Spain. You might like to try chorizo as well.” She slid the plate of spicy sausage toward Caroline and then pushed another one closer to her. “And this is sopressa. It is one of my favorite Italian meats.”


She picked up a slice of bread and placed a piece of gorgonzola on top of it. “You must also try this cheese. It is also quite spicy.”


After washing it down with a gulp of brandy, she asked: “Did you hire a French cook when you moved into your house? Or have you become accustomed to English food?”

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ooc: I had a long post almost finished and I lost it when my comp had a power hiccup...ugh. This one is shorter and not as good...sigh.


Caroline listened to Sophia talk about her experience with her mother's harpsichord. She sympathized, "Oh yes, it was much like that for me also. My mother started me on her own cello and though I now own a better quality instrument, I shall always fondly remember it and the times she and I spent together. My mother and I were very close you see. I know that is a bit...strange. But they never could send me to other relatives, we traveled about the continent in various postings...a soldier's life." She ended with a shrug.


They had some laughs over womens' breasts and their quite opposite situations regarding sizes. It was silly fun. That's when the food was brought by the servants. Sophia had a wide variety of choices for her to sample and Caroline indulged in each and every one as the other girl explained their names and origins.


"Chorizo? Oh....dear me...that does have a bit of a kick to it. I like it though, very much!" she beamed as she finished the whole slice then and washed it down with brandy.


"I am not much of a lover of cheese to be honest....well, actually I do enjoy mild cheeses but most decidedly not the strong ones," she admitted as she considered Sophia's offer of the gorgonzola but the news it was spicy made her decision for her.


"Oh very well then, just a bite....." Caroline tried it and nodded, "No, that is good. Thank you for convincing me....I must confess there are some who know me who say I am stubborn."


She grinned.

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“You are so lucky to have known your mother.” Sophia sighed. “I would have given up all my musical talents just to spend one hour in the company of my own.” She couldn't remember if she had told Caroline that her mother had passed away when she was only three years old. “Playing the harpsichord makes me feel close to her for some reason, like she is looking down from heaven and smiling at me.


“I often wonder if she would proud of what I have accomplished. I do not even know what her goals for me were where marriage was concerned. My father told me she had never spoken of it.” Because all of her siblings had died by the age of two, Sophia could understand why her mother had not started planning a future for her.


Caroline was as adventurous as she was when it came to trying new foods. Sophia would try anything at least once, and had found very few foods that she abhorred. Chocolate, that delicacy had had most ladies swooning, was one of them. Even the scent of it made her nauseous.


Cheese, though, she could eat all day. One thing she had loved about Amsterdam was the quality and variety of cheeses. Her favorite had been nagelkaas, which was made with cloves. She had brought a wheel of it back with her, but it was long since gone.


Her friend seemed to enjoy spicy fare as well, and Sophia beamed when she complimented the gorgonzola. “Maybe I was able to convince you because I am stubborn as well. Most Germans are, so I come by it honest. What traits do the majority of French people possess? I have not met many of them since I moved to London. I do know Mistress Vauquelin and she is very sweet. We had a lot of fun comparing gentlemen at the House of Lords last season.”


Sophia had not spoken to Nicolette yet this season, but she hoped that she was still her friend.

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"I was fortunate indeed. We were so very close. I took her passing very hard," Caroline still remembered it very clearly, the shock of her mother's sudden demise, drowning in that pond on their property. Both she and her father knew the reason why too, the woman had been drunk.


"Yes! I feel the same way," Caroline enthusiastically agreed, "Whenever I play the cello."

Though Caroline was not as certain as Sophia about her own mother looking down from heaven. Well, perhaps if God was truly merciful.


"Oh I would certainly think she would be proud of you. You were the hit of the opera and even the King enthusiastically applauded you. You have married the Ambassador of Spain to England, a powerful position," Caroline encouraged her. Well, even if she had married a Spaniard, Caroline tried to put a good face upon it. Besides Sophia was not English but a German, or a caterpillar as the French called them. No matter, Caroline liked Sophia, background be damned.

As they snacked from the bountiful choices provided for lunch, Sophia asked about the French.


"Well, while I am of French parentage, the truth is I have barely spent any time at all in France. Most of my life I have lived here in England. So I may not be the best person to ask. But if I use my father as a gauge of the French....well, then....let me think," Caroline paused.


"I would say the French are extremely confident of themselves, definitely fine soldiers, and tend to look down on anyone not French," she grinned, "My father despises the Hapsburgs, the Danish, the Russians, the Spanish..."


She stopped, then finished, "Oh it would be easier for me to simply say who he DOES like - that's easy, the French!"

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Sophia had been too young to grasp the concept of death when her mother had passed away, but her father's demise had devastated her. Not wanting either of them to dwell on sorrow during their lunch, she said no more on the subject and just nodded in understanding.


“Sometimes I wonder if she would have approved of my singing. If she had lived, I doubt I would have learned to sing opera. It was my stepmother who began training my voice. She also taught me to speak Italian. My mother might have preferred that I marry a German nobleman rather than a Spanish Ambassador. Whenever I imagine her looking down from heaven, she is smiling at me. Most of all, she would have wanted me to be happy with the choices I have made, and so far, I am.”


Sophia had thought that Caroline had grown up in France, or at least visited often, but she had spent most of her time in England. Her assessment of the French was similar to the petite Baroness' own, although instead of 'extremely confident,' she would have used the word 'arrogant.'


She would never forget Monsieur Lully's reply to her letter when she had asked to sing for him. He had probably refused her invitation because he thought Germans were incapable of singing well. It had been his loss, though. He had missed the chance to hear a rare soprano acuto sfogato sing his arias. Maybe the news of the success of Friday's opera and her part in it would reach France and he would regret turning her down.


“You are not like that and neither is Mistress Vauquelin. As for myself, I am afraid I am a typical German … diligent, blunt, and stubborn to a fault.” With a reluctant sigh, Sophia pushed aside her plate. “I do not think that I can eat another bite. Shall we go to the music room now?”

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"If you mother loved you then I am confident she approves of your choices for do you not think that a loving mother wants her child to be happy in life? My mother certainly did," Caroline tried to assure Sophia that her assessment was a correct one. Besides if she could be happy with a Spaniard for a husband, more power to her.


Better you than me. she thought.


Since she was asked her opinion, Caroline then gave a rather blunt take on what the French were like. There was some exaggeration for certain for all people are individuals but there was a grain of truth in it too. Sophia took it well enough then described Germans and herself.


"I did not think you stubborn? Interesting. Well....there are far worse vices than stubbornness, do you not agree?" Caroline grinned.


The lunch had been filling and most pleasant what with such a surfeit of choices to sample. But Sophia declared she was done and that was fine with Caroline, who had definitely eaten her share too.


"Yes, on to the music room, but of course," she nodded, "A little stimulation is needed now lest I nod off with a nap. The lunch was most satisfying, thank you."

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“To Germans, stubbornness is a virtue, not a vice.” Sophia grinned. “Lord Kingston can tell you how obstinate I am. I gave him quite a bit of grief when he was my guardian. I regret it now. I think I mentioned before that I was not a very obedient ward.” Now she was trying to be an obedient and proper wife, and felt that she was failing at that too.


It seemed that Caroline was finished eating as well. “I am glad you liked the meal.” Standing up, she picked up the bottle of brandy and her goblet. “Bring your glass. When you hear me play, you might want another drink.”


She led her friend up to the second floor and through one of the doors in the hall. After the darkness of the rest of the house, walking into the music room was like stepping from winter into spring. This was her room and she had already redecorated it to her own tastes. The walls were a light shade of lavender and the furniture was painted in cream and upholstered in lavender, blue, and pink with golden accents. A large window on the far wall looked out upon the garden and its semi-sheer curtains, which were pulled back by lavender rosettes, were cream shot through with golden threads.


Sophia's harpsichord sat in front of the window. It was a simple instrument of light polished wood with carved legs, and it was painted with pastel-colored flowers and swirls of gold. There were a few tables scattered about that held vases brimming with flowers from her orangery, several chairs, and a cupboard against the wall that held her sheet music. Paintings of landscapes hung on the wall and complemented the décor. There was also a music stand that she used when she practiced new songs.


“It is really unfortunate that Master Staggins had to cancel his concert,” she said as she set the bottle of brandy on the table. “I was looking forward to singing in it.”

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Caroline giggled at Sophia's revelation about her giving Lord Kingston a difficult time when she was younger. She could imagine the look on his face. Caroline adored the man but couldn't help herself being amused at what would have been his frustration, normally he seemed so calm, in control, pleasant.


"Oh the poor thing!" she grinned, "Well, at least you both regret it."


It was time then to go up and play some music, Sophia took the brandy bottle with her and also warned Caroline to bring her glass, saying she might want another drink once she heard the German girl play. Now at that Caroline burst out into a real laugh.


"Please, it isn't going to be that bad. We will have a good time," she was optimistic, besides only those two would be the audience.


Caroline got a bit of an unintentional tour of the house as Sophia led the way. She liked it overall and Sophia's quite spacious music room looked very comfortable, appropriate for a locale to engage in musical endeavors.


"It's nice...the room....oh and there is your harpsichord, splendid!"


As Sophia set down the brandy bottle she rued that Master Staggins was not putting on his show, she had so wanted to sing in it. No surprise there, Caroline could almost imagine Sophia breaking out into song in a common marketplace if the mood took her.


"Yes, unfortunate but I will confide in you something. I don't know...what it was but I just did not like him even though that was my first and only encounter with the man. Eh...plus I have since heard he is a rival mayhaps even an enemy of Luc....Master Cole. And I count him as a good friend and my mentor who secured me a slot in the opera orchestra."

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They both regretted it? Had Lord Kingston discussed his former guardianship with Caroline? What exactly did he regret? Becoming her guardian in the first place or blowing up at her a few times? Sophia had deserved every punishment that he had doled out to her, even the spankings. Now that she was married, he was always pleasant to her and had even helped her toward overcoming her fear of water by letting her walk around his yacht.


“I have never played for anyone but my instructor,” Sophia confessed. “And although I took lessons when I was a child, I didn't practice at all when I lived in Venice. I've only been practicing regularly for a little over a year.” She didn't want to admit that she was nervous, but she was. The only musical talent in which she had supreme confidence was her singing.


“Thank you. This room is my haven, and the only place I will feel at home until the redecorating is done.” She closed the door so that neither Aurora nor her cats could get in. Caroline had not seemed very fond of her monkey when she had rescued her from a tree. The golden lion tamarin was probably in the orangery, perched up on the branch of a tree, but the cats could be anywhere.


The petite Baroness looked up from pouring herself another glass of brandy when Caroline confided that she hadn't liked Master Staggins. “I also met him for the first time that day. He was a bit odd. I had no idea that he is a rival of Master Cole's. Perhaps it is fortunate that the show was canceled. I would not have performed in it if I had known.”


Lucas. Her first love. Even after the terrible things he had accused her of in the walled garden and the many times he had rebuffed her when she had tried to be friendly, she had never hated him. And then there was the incident at the gazebo, when he had remained with her after she had fainted and poured out his heart to her. Now all was well between them, or at least it seemed that way to her. They had shared an adventure together … coming upon two men shagging in the empty theatre … and had then laughed about it at her party.


“He is a dear friend of mine as well. Did I tell you he played the piano for me when I sang for the King last spring? He is nearly as talented on the piano as he is on the violin.”


Sophia gestured to the brandy in case Caroline would like another drink. “Please make yourself at home and set up your cello wherever you wish."


She sighed as she walked over to her harpsichord. "Just as you were not fond of Master Staggins, I was wary of Ambassador Rinaldi. Remember him? He ignored me completely and he practically leered at you and Mistress Wellsley. I believe he is an enemy of my lord husband, but I guess I will have to learn to deal with him. It will be difficult being gracious to a man like that.”

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  • 2 weeks later...

"Well, my instructor was my mother and I only played for her and my father on the rare occasions he was actually home. Being a soldier, he was often on campaign of course," Caroline commented.


"But you worry too much, I shall not be a harsh critic. We are doing this for fun, are we not?" she then pointed out.


As both of them paused for another drink, the conversation moved to Master Staggins. Apparently she knew more about that man, at least regarding Master Cole, than Sophia, somewhat surprising to her.


"Anyhow that is what I heard and it did not come from either of the principals mind you," she wanted clarify.


"Oh no, you did not. Not that surprises me, anything regarding that man's musical talent, I would imagine His Majesty enjoyed that very much," Caroline replied.


Sophia gestured toward the brandy but for now Caroline decided she would settle for two drinks, leastwise til they finished playing then most likely she would have built up a thirst for a third.


"That's alright .....for now," Caroline shook her head then opened her cello case and carefully almost lovingly took out her instrument and bow.


"So do you have some sheet music for us to follow?" she wondered aloud.

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“Your mother taught you well. I am fairly certain that only the best musicians at court were chosen for the orchestra. She would have been very proud of you if she could have seen you playing at the opera.” If someone held auditions for harpsichord players, Sophia knew that she would fail miserably. She still had a long way to go before she fully mastered the instrument. Coaxing pleasant tunes from the keys was not nearly as easy as singing.


The petite Baroness only sipped at her drink. She did not hold her liquor well and didn't want to be tipsy when she played. “Ja, just for fun. I will try not to be nervous.”


So it was possible that what Caroline had heard about the enmity between Master Cole and Master Staggins was only a rumor. Sophia suspected it was the truth, for the current Master of Music probably saw the composer as a threat, especially after the success of his opera. She would avoid Master Staggins from now on as she did not want to jeopardize her renewed friendship with Lucas.


“The King was very pleased with our performance,” she recollected. She wished she could tell her friend that the opera had not been his idea, but Lord Kingston had told her that it had to appear as if the King had come up with notion, not herself and Master Cole. “He commissioned the opera that very evening.” That much was safe to say.


Caroline said nothing about Ambassador Rinaldi. Perhaps she had no opinion of him. Or maybe she had enjoyed his attention. To each her own.


“Yes, of course.” Sophia veered toward the cupboard, opening it up and rifling through the sheet music, taking out a few pieces that she thought would be fun to play. She also picked up the lightweight music stand and brought it over to Caroline. “That is a beautiful instrument,” she said, genuine admiration in her voice. Holding out the music, she added: “Will any of these songs suit you? I only have one copy of each, but all of these I can play by heart.”

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"It wasn't just my mother who taught me by the way, when she saw how I took to it, she decided to hire a professional cello player to augment her start with me. Let me tell you at first the fellow was none to pleased to have to tutor a girl but he needed the money it seemed. He was stern with me but gradually grew to accept me. We eventually parted on good terms. Poor man, I later found out he was run over by a panicked wagon team and died," Caroline explained.


The pair agreed their playing would be just for fun, no judgment involved. Caroline only wanted to relax with the music, this was not a public performance. As long as Sophia did not completely butcher her instrument, all should be fine. But of course they did need some sheet music and Caroline ventured to ask what she had available to choose from. Sophia obliged and brought a few selections plus a stand to hold the music.


"Thank you....let me look....oh! I know this one by heart also. We must do this," Caroline waved one sheet then picked a second also, "I've practiced this one before too. That should give us something to work with then."


Sophia had complimented her fine instrument so Caroline duly replied, "Yes, I dearly love it. I have been told it was made in Italy. I would be as sorrowful of losing this as losing a member of my family I believe."


Especially her unmourned husband, the pervert.

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“I do not know why some men are opposed to teaching ladies. I once asked a gentleman to give me painting lessons, but he did not think it was appropriate for him to tutor me. Perhaps it was because I was unmarried at the time. Another gentleman agreed to teach me to paint, but I have not seen him since spring. I think he left court.


“Your tutor must have realized that you were gifted, but I doubt that was why he accepted you.” Sophia grinned. “You probably charmed him. It is sad that he suffered such a horrible end.”


It was fortunate that her harpsichord instructor taught her to play English songs. If she had taken lessons in Venice, she and Caroline might not have known the same ones. “Those are two of my favorites.” She pointed to the one they both knew by heart. “We play this one first then?”


Sophia studied the cello more closely. She knew better than to ask to hold it. In Venice, she had learned that musicians were very possessive of her instruments. “My harpsichord was also made in Italy.” Setting her glass down beside the bottle of brandy, she crossed to the instrument in question and sat down on the bench. “If something happened to this one, I would just buy another. If I lost my voice, though, I would be devastated."


Flexing her fingers, she held them over the keys. “Shall we begin on the count of three?”

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Sophia admitted she had no luck with male tutors either, at least when it came to painting. Caroline had heard instruction helped but she strongly believed you had to have the innate talent in you to be a fine painter.


"I cannot help you there, I am an awful artist...when it comes to drawing or painting. I do know my limitations and have not tried to pursue that hobby," she declared.


She smiled when Sophia surmised she must have charmed the cello tutor, "I doubt it, I was not always so nice to him...at least at first. But in the end we both loved the instrument and the music. It was our common ground."


They lucked out in that the two of them had no trouble agreeing on two songs to play. Sophia pointed to one of them suggesting they start with that.


"Of course, good choice," Caroline nodded as Sophia sat before her harpsichord.


"Oh you worry too much, you will not lose your voice. But yes, that would be a loss to us all, not to be able to hear it any longer...oh enough of such foolishness....let us play!" she declared and readied herself into the proper position astride her cello, bow at the ready.


It was to begin at a count of three. Caroline agreed and began the count.


"One, two....three," and the pair commenced.

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What if the reason she had not been able to find a painting tutor was because she was a dreadful artist? Sophia had been told she had a natural talent for drawing, but the English were experts at telling one what one wanted to hear, whether or not it was true. Hurting someone's feelings could have serious repercussions if that person was insulted and was later raised in status. Last season, she had just been a Spaniard's new bride, but now she was the wife of an Ambassador. She would never use her new position to harm anyone, but other courtiers didn't have the same standards.


Unlike Caroline, the petite singer didn't know her limitations. She thought one could learn anything with practice. Maybe she was wrong. One certain way to find out was to show her paintings to another German. Germans were blunt and candid, especially with other Germans.


“I know that feeling well. It is quite rare to find someone who loves music as much as I do and I am willing to overlook our differences because we both share the same passion.” In fact, that statement summed up her relationship with Lucas in a nutshell. Had they ever truly been in love or had they projected their passion for music onto each other? Their affection had not survived their first argument, even though it had been based on malicious rumors without a single grain of truth to them. Sophia still loved him, but it was purely platonic now.


“Yes, let us not talk of such things.” Losing her voice was her greatest fear. You could buy a new instrument but you couldn't buy a new voice. Singing was her life and without her voice, she would be completely lost. She wasn't even certain that Juan would love her anymore. It was her singing that had initially attracted him. Sophia would never forget that day in the palace's music room, how he had closed his eyes and smiled serenely as she sang for him.


Pushing those thoughts to the back of her mind, she looked down at the keys. At the count of three, she began to play. Her skills were adequate but not perfect. She hit the wrong key a time or two, and her pace lagged a bit, but otherwise, she did rather well.

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Caroline noted that the other girl declared she was willing to overlook their differences, all due to their love of music? Well, it was true they did have different opinions and views but then was that not true of all individuals? She wasn't quite sure what Sophia was insinuating there though but no matter, to be fair the two were unlike in so many ways. Caroline did not mind in the slightest.


On to their shared passion then, the first piece agreed upon, the two young ladies began to play their duet. When Caroline knew a number like this one, she really did not make mistakes, that wasn't always true with a composition she was learning of course. Sophia made just a few but it was as Caroline had honestly stated before, this was for fun. No one was to be judged. Caroline had a feeling to someone unversed in the musical intricacies would never have even noticed while listening.


When they finished, Caroline grinned at her confederate, "Ahhh, that sounded wonderful. I think we did splendidly!"

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Sophia had been speaking generally when she said she was willing to overlook the differences between herself and someone else who shared her love of music. She thought that she and Caroline got on quite well and that the only differences between them was their nationalities and their marital status. Neither of those things mattered to the petite Baroness, and she saw many similarities in their personalities.


Caroline was a much better musician, though. She could hear the subtle nuances that separated 'brilliant' from 'mediocre' in the way the other woman played her cello. There was a depth to her artistry that Sophia lacked except when she was singing. Her performance seemed almost wooden in comparison. But it was most definitely fun, and she liked the way the cello and harpsichord sounded together.


“Yes, it was fantastic. I enjoyed it immensely.” She smiled over at her friend, but her voice was a bit hesitant when she spoke again. “Would you mind playing a solo for me? Just any song that takes your fancy. I do love the sound of a cello on its own and I have never heard a more highly skilled player, not even in Venice.”

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Sophia was emphatic in her agreement with Caroline's assessment of their little duet. It had indeed been genuinely fun, without any pressure on either of them unlike a public performance. Caroline could recall how nervous she was before the very first opera number and she could simply not comprehend how Sophia managed to face that huge crowd and sing such difficult songs. Natural talent or not, it still took confidence.


It seemed that Sophia now wished to hear her play solo, couching the request with such a wonderful compliment bringing a big smile to Caroline.


"Oh how kind of you to say that. And of course I can play you something. Let me think," she paused to run thru some pieces she knew without needing sheet music. One came to her.


"Ahh, I have it....it's rather short but there is a difficult part toward the end and one I spent much time practicing over and over again whilst I was learning to play. Hope you like it," Caroline introduced it by name then, poised her bow and with a little breath began.


It started out slow, serene but picked up speed and intensity by the close. The only place she worried about at all she managed to do perfectly. Yes, it was talent but it had also been a lot of long practice and hard work.


"Ta da!" she beamed.

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