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Your Stories Await Telling

Young at Heart | 27th December, morning- Xmas 1677

Guest Cèilidh

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Octagon Porch & North Front


The octagon supports the Royal Hospital’s distinctive cupola and lantern. This rises to a height of 130 ft. Over the north entrance is the Royal coat of arms. The ceiling is a marvel of modern architecture, rising in a high dome with windows to let in the light, making the entire space glow.


The floor is decorated with a mosaic of an elderly soldier, worn by time but still proud and strong in his bearing. Around the edge are set the words of the soldiers’ prayer, based on that said by Sir Jacob Astley before the Battle of Edgehill (1642) – “O Lord you know how occupied I shall be this day. If I forget thee do not forget me”.


"Ee by gum burrum cawd." Trooper Rowbottomson complained, hunching his shoulders to draw his uniform coat about him as he rested both hands on his stick, scowling at the falling snow.


"You're always cold Jack." Trooper Postlethwaite commented mildly as he stared, unfocused at the white blur through eyes going milky. Liver spots marked his skin and his cap was all that kept his old head warm.


"Pardon?" Said the third, whose sleeve bore corporal's stripes. Thick, wavy white hair was combed neatly back. Pickerton cocked his head slightly, as though that would help him hear better.


"I said, Jack's always cold!" Bill raised his voice.


"I ent!" Jack protested indignantly.


"You are." Bill replied. "You're always complaining about summat."


Nate listened to them bicker for a moment, whilst he considered the falling snow. "Chaps, there is nothing to stop us going back inside and sitting by the fire." He observed.


The three were standing in the entryway cupola, looking over the front lawn with it's dusting of snow. In the warmer months the three were regularly found wandering the grounds or playing bowls on the lawn. The cold, snowy winter months had them itching with cabin fever.


"Nay." Said Jack after a while. "Too many old folks."

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A carriage pulled by four prancing horses stopped in front of the building, and the coachman hopped down from his perch and opened the door. A beautiful young woman stepped out, covered in a white fur cloak with a matching hat sitting atop her platinum curls. Unaware of the old soldiers sitting on the porch, she tilted her head back and stuck out her pink tongue, playfully catching a flake of falling snow.


Sophia had planned to visit the veterans hospital in with Lady Alyth but her friend had never given her a time for the two of them to meet. Since she had plans for the afternoon, she decided to visit by herself this morning and see if she could bring some Christmas cheer to the residents. She did hope they rose early and that she would not be disturbing them.


After catching the snowflake on her tongue, she took in her surroundings. Her eyes came to rest on the three elderly gentleman in the entryway, blushing as she realized they had probably seen her child-like behavior. Perhaps they would not hold it against her. Compared to them, she was a child.


The petite singer strolled up to them and curtsied politely. “Good morning, good sirs, and Happy Christmas. I am Sophia de la Cerda, the Baroness of Toledo and wife of the Spanish Ambassador. Could you point me in the direction of whomever is in charge here?”

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“Ee, we’m a visitor.” Jack observed, taking one hand off the top of his wooden cane to point at the carriage pulling up on the drive in the midst of the lightly falling snow. The Chelsea Veteran’s Hospital was a popular and fashionable charity, and the irascible old men were becoming quite accustomed to having the wives and mistresses of nobility wandering through their halls.


“Is it Countess Atherstone?” Bill asked, unable to see more than a blur. “Collecting more stories perhaps?”


“Nay lad, e’en ye’d see her hair.” Jack replied with a smirk.


“Countess Alyth then?” Another of their usual visitors. “Or Mrs Gwynn?” The King’s Mistresses had founded the place, and Alyth at least had not forgotten them.


“Nay, none so tall.” Indeed, their visitor appeared to be rather diminutive. And playful, as she stuck out her tongue to catch the snow. Jack was enjoying keeping Bill guessing.


Nate on the other hand preferred not to lightly torture people. “I do not believe that we have seen this lady before.” He said quietly, watching as she approached the cupola that covered the entryway. “On parade lads, atten-ha!” As Sophia joined them the old men straightened themselves up as much as possible.


“Good morning, Your Excellency.” Nate replied, saluting as Sophia curtseyed. “Corporal Nathaniel Pickering at your service, and this disreputable pair are Troopers John Rowbottomson and William Postlethwaite.” Bill saluted and Jack tugged his forlock.


“You be wantin’ the Governor then?” Jack observed, his voice raised slightly so that Nate would hear him and take the hint.


“Ah. That would be Governor Trenchton. He is probably in his offices, if you’d like us to take you there?” He offered.

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Sophia noted the way the gentlemen straightened up as she approached and she grinned as one of them called her 'Your Excellency.' She didn't think she would ever become accustomed to that form of address. It sounded so important, and she was not important at all. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Corporal Pickering.” She had no clue if Corporal was a high rank or a low one, but the white-haired man seemed to be in charge.


“Disreputable?” Her lyrical voice was tinted by amusement. “They look quite respectable to me. It is a delight to meet the two of you as well.” The petite blonde leaned toward them conspiratorially and gave them a blithe little wink. “There is certainly nothing wrong with getting into a bit of mischief now and then.”


Trooper Rowbottomson asked if she wished to see the Governor, but before she could reply, Corporal Pickering offered to take her to him. Sophia remembered that Anne Scott had referred to the warden of Bedlam as the governor before she knew what to call him. Did she visit the Veteran's Hospital too?


“Thank you. I would appreciate that very much,” she replied.

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If such was possible, the old men straightened up further. She thought they looked respectable. The Ambassador’s wife was delighted to meet them. Then, as though prescient, she indicated that she approved of a little light mischief. Bill at least had the good grace to blush slightly under his liver spots. How did she know? But then Ambassadors had to be able to read people, didn’t they?


“Not a problem Your Excellency, we’d be delighted.” Pickering assured the charming young woman with a fatherly smile. He indicated that she should preceed him through the entryway, crossing over the mosaic with it’s picture of the old soldier and rendition of the Soldier’s Prayer, and in through the door to the relative warmth of the Hospital’s halls.


The old men were bored, so that meant that Sophia gained something of an entourage. Nate walked beside her whilst Jack and Bill followed on behind, occasionally bickering between them whilst Nate pointed out the modern niceties of the Hospital’s construction.


They came to a set of stairs which the old men negotiated slowly but with a steady determination, and came at last to a landing. Nate knocked on the oak door, and when a voice called from inside, pushed it open. “The wife of the Spanish Ambassador to see you sir. Sopha de la Cerda, Baroness Toledo.” He relayed, testing his memory. “Your Excellency, this is Governor Trenchton.”


The man rising from his seat behind the old but elegant wooden desk was past his middle years, with silver sideburns and salt in his hair. He gave her a tired smile. “Good morning Your Excellency.” He said. “How can the Veteran’s Hospital be of service today?” His glance flicked to the three old Troopers behind her. “Thank you gentlemen. If you would wait outside please?”


With much shuffling the terrible trio made it outside the door, which closed quietly behind Sophia.

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The elderly gentlemen seemed to straighten as much as possible when she complimented them. And was that a hint of color on Trooper Postlethwaite's cheeks? Sophia would never have believed that a sixteen-year-old girl could make an old man blush. He must be mischievous indeed. They all seemed quite spry. They probably kept their attendants on their toes. She liked the three of them already.


The petite blonde nodded when Corporal Pickering indicated that she should enter the building first. The other two followed behind her, talking among themselves. She commented politely on the amenities the Corporal pointed out to her. It was a fine hospital and they seemed to be proud of it. It bore a stark contrast to the forlorn and run-down appearance of Bedlam.


She supposed she could understand why the English cared more for their soldiers than for the mentally unstable. The soldiers had fought for their country and deserved to live out the rest of their lives in comfort. The insane were an embarrassment even to their own families. Maybe she would be able to help change that perception.


When they came to the staircase, she bounded up in front of them with her usual youthful exhuberance, waiting for them to join her on the landing. They were slow and careful, and Sophia felt a bit sorry for them. Would she have trouble climbing stairs too when she was old? She had never given advanced age much thought before. To her, it seemed like an eternity away.


Corporal Pickering knocked n the door and pushed it open when it's occupant answered. She walked in and smiled at the old gentlemen behind the desk. This office looked much more appropriate for the director of a hospital than the warden's opulent chambers at Bedlam. As they were the only two hospitals she had visited so far, she could not help comparing the two of them.


“It is a pleasure to meet you, Governor.” Sophia didn't know why he asked her charming escorts to leave, but she said nothing. Their slow shuffling amused her. It was as if they were attempting to stall as long as possible. She hoped she would see them again before she left.


“I am here to offer my services to you,” she told the governor. “Lady Alyth told me about this hospital and suggested that I might visit the residents here. In fact, she was supposed to come with me today, but something must have come up to prevent it. So how can I be of assistance?”

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Indeed, the Governor’s offices did not appear particularly opulent, though there was a certain level of comfort, as one would expect for such an official. A nice carpet covered the floor, there were a couple of medium-sized paintings of military scenes on the walls and the mantelpiece over the roaring fire held a pair of fine brass candlesticks. But it was clearly a room where work was done and management happened, it didn’t ape the sitting rooms of the rich and decadent.


“Please, do make yourself comfortable Lady Toledo.” Trenchton indicated a seat across the desk from him. “Can I get you something to drink? Tea? Port?” It might be a little early in the morning for the latter, though he never thought so. Lady Toledo was another seeking to do charity, it appeared. The Veteran’s Hospital was a popular place for it. Countesses Atherstone and Alyth were regulars of course, both Mistresses of royalty along with Mrs Gwynn who still visited occasionally. Buckingham’s mistress had also been a feature for a while, though that had more to do with the presence of Doctor Winchester than anything else, he felt. He still wondered if they were sleeping together; somehow he couldn’t picture it.


It begged the question of what sin Lady Toledo was seeking to atone for, but that wasn’t Trenchton’s business. “You are, of course, most welcome to visit. Mornings and early afternoons are generally when the gentlemen are at their best. It’s best to restrict visits to the Infirmary to the latter.” Mornings were when the doctors did their rounds and administered treatments.


“Did you have any particular activities in mind? I know that Countess Atherstone was collecting the old soldiers’ stories, and Mistress Gwendoline showed an unexpected enthusiasm for nursing the less able gentlemen, though I wouldn’t suggest that for yourself, Your Excellency.” It wasn’t really proper, but Gwen had worked as hard as any of the women hired to nurse the old men, and he’d simply turned a blind eye.

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“Thank you,” she replied when he told her to make herself comfortable. She removed her coat and hat and sat down in the chair in front of his desk, smoothing down her skirts. Sophia was dressed simply today in a light teal-colored silk gown embroidered in pink and amber adorned with lace and pink and amber beards. Her underskirt and the chemise peeking out of the slits in her sleeves was the color of amber and the underskirt was hemmed with a border of pink silk. It was more business-like than the usual frivolous confections she wore.


“Tea would be divine,” she told him. Perhaps the hot liquid would warm her up a bit. Yesterday, she had wondered if she was finally becoming accustomed to English winters, for she had not been cold at all on her excursion with Lord Arundel. Now she knew that it was the desire running through her veins that had allowed her to tolerate the cold.


Would the Governor be surprised if he knew she had no sins to atone for? Sophia was here simply because she wanted to help. Like some of the others who visited the hospital, she was a royal mistress, although her Prince was Spanish instead of English. She did not consider their love to be a sin, since her husband approved of it. And yesterday, she had done nothing more than kiss Henry Howard.


Actually, nursing the injured soldiers did appeal to her, but as Governor Trenchton did not believe it was appropriate for an Ambassador's wife, she said nothing about it. Anyone could fluff pillows and pull up blankets. Surely, he wouldn't object to that. “I would not mind hearing their stories,” she said. “They must be fascinating. I could also accompany them on walks outside when the weather is good and perhaps organize some games for them.”


She leaned forward slightly. “Perhaps the residents who are ill or in pain would like to hear me sing? Music is calming and soothing and can help the healing process.” She smiled confidently. “I assure you that I am not one of those ladies who claim they can sing but can't even carry a tune. I was trained by the best opera singers in Italy and I recently played in the lead in an opera the King commissioned for me right after he first heard me sing.”

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Knowing the three Veterans would be hanging around outside the door, Trenchton crossed his office and opened it briefly, sending them down to the kitchens to ask for a tray of tea for their visitor. Closing the door again the Governor of the Hospital gave the Ambassador’s wife an apologetic smile. “If your visits to the Hospital should happened to include keeping those three out of trouble, I’m certain the entire staff would be grateful.” He said good-humouredly as he resumed his seat.


Adultery – sexual liaisons with someone other than one’s husband or wife, regardless of permission – was considered a sin by the Church. Trenchton would likely have been unsurprised to learn that that Sophia was yet another mistress, but he didn’t care. He didn’t ask, the volunteers didn’t tell, and thus the whole messy issue was avoided. Noble ladies visited his Hospital to do charity, and that was a good thing.


Still, he had heard a few things about the Opera, including the fact that the lead had been extremely good, and that the performance had been a little risqué. Certainly the Ambassador’s wife was both young and beautiful.


“I heard very good things about the opera.” Trenchton revealed. “If you were inclined to sing for the Veterans I’m certain that they would be delighted. They’d probably talk about it for weeks.” Certainly gossip found its way into the Hospital. “The invalids in the infirmary would likely appreciate something soothing, but perhaps you might like to give a more fulsome performance to the Veterans one afternoon? I daresay it would be the highlight of their week.” He suggested. With a little organisation it could be quite the event for the old fellows.


But really, he had no intention of restricting Sophia’s activities, so long as they benefitted the Hospital. “You are more than welcome to go anywhere in the public areas, including the infirmary. I will ask that you follow any directives from the staff, for your own wellbeing.” Some of the older residents were a bit confused, and not all the areas were fit for a Lady.


As the two spoke a maid arrived with a tray of tea and biscuits. Trenchton poured the cups himself before inviting Sophia to add sugar and milt as she pleased. He took his milky, with a biscuit to dunk.

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Sophia smiled brightly when the door opened, hoping that her three erstwhile escorts would catch a glimpse of her. “Oh, I think I can manage that,” she promised. “I sensed a mischievous streak in them as soon as I met them. I will talk to them, find out what their interests are, and go from there.” It seemed to her that they would be less prone to mischief if they felt useful. Once she found out what they enjoyed, she could ask them to help her with tasks related to those interests and join them in completing them.


That would be a good way to get to know them, and perhaps they would volunteer to tell her their stories. She knew very little about the wars her father had fought in. They had occurred before she was born and he wouldn't speak of them even when she had asked. Sophia understood that he thought the subject of war unsuitable for a little girl's ears, but she was a little girl no longer. Learning about those wars would teach her more about politics and perhaps fill the blanks in her knowledge of recent English history.


So the Governor had heard about the opera. Maybe it was not so far-fetched to hope that opera would become popular among commoners and nobility alike. “I can hold a concert for them. I just need a few days to select some songs and practice them together. Do any of the Veterans speak languages other than English? I can sing in English, German, Italian, French, and Spanish. I also know one Welsh song, which was written especially for my voice by the opera's composer. Let me know what day would be best and I will be ready. If it goes over well, perhaps it can become a regular event.”


Sophia would act out the songs while singing them. It would almost be like watching a one-woman play.


The tea arrived and she took the cup he handed her, adding a bit of sugar but no milk. Milk was her favorite beverage, but she didn't think it went well with tea. It watered it down, and Sophia preferred her tea strong.


“Of course,” she agreed when he asked that she follow the staff's instructions. “May I sing for the Veterans in the Infirmary today or is it not a good time? And is there anything that particularly needs a lady's touch?”

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Trenchton took Sophia’s easy agreement to occupying the Terrible Trio very well, smiling warmly in response. “No doubt they will appreciate your company Your Excellency.” He assured her. “They’re good men, they served their country well, but they get a touch of cabin fever in the winter.” And when they did they mooched around the halls causing trouble.


That Sophia – who by all accounts was an Operatic genius – would be willing to sing for the residents was something that had really been entirely unexpected, but hardly unwelcome. Trenchton wondered whether perhaps he might invite along a few guests as well, potential patrons of the Hospital. He would have to see.


“I am certain that the gentlemen would be delighted.” He enthused. “They’re common men, they only speak English,” though some could swear in a few other languages, “but I am certain that they would enjoy whatever you felt inclined to sing.” They weren’t the most culturally educated bunch, but he was certain he could impress upon the residents the treat for which they were in store. “We’re really at your disposal, the Hospital keeps a very routine schedule. Why don’t you pick a time, and I shall make the arrangements.”


The infirmary again? He’d always assumed that Ladies of breeding would prefer to avoid the messier implications of old age and soldiers’ wounds, yet they seemed to gravitate to that particular area. A woman’s caring instincts perhaps? “Morning is generally treatment time in the Infirmary, so perhaps if you were to visit in an afternoon?” He suggested gently. “Of course, if you’re determined… but those three aren’t to go in.” He nodded towards the door, although he knew for a fact that it would take chains and heavy horses to get Rowbottomson into the infirmary. He had a gamey leg from an old accident and knew Bones the surgeon had been sharpening his bone saw.

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“I understand that feeling well. I am much the same way. Having spent much of my life in Venice, I am not fond of the cold. Hopefully, I can find things for them to do indoors, although we might go on walks occasionally. I will try my best to keep them out of trouble.” With her own penchant for mischief, it was possible that Sophia might join in on their shenanigans, although at the moment, she was certain she would be able to keep them in line.


She would have thought that if they had fought abroad, the soldiers would have picked up other languages. They had probably never heard opera before either. When she was first learning to sing English, her voice master had taught her some typical English songs, as there were no arias available. She could start with those and ease them slowly into opera.


“I know I said I needed a few days, but in truth, tomorrow would be best for me.” She was going to be quite busy Wednesday afternoon with Lord Arundel, and she had to supervise last minute preparations for the banquet on Thursday. It was possible to spare a few hours in the afternoon, though. “Or Thursday, but I am hosting a banquet that evening and will not have a lot of time.”


If he chose Tuesday, she could select the songs and practice tonight. It wasn't as if Esteban ever wanted to spend the evening with her. It would give her something worthwhile to do, and it would be a welcome change over reading, embroidery, and practicing Spanish. She knew her husband expected her to stay home after dinner, and there was precious little to do. Sometimes, she contemplated asking him to play a game of chess with her, but she was almost certain that he would refuse.


Sophia didn't want to intrude while the doctors were treating the patients. It was better to give them privacy, for it might upset them to have a stranger visit them then. “I can sing for the soldiers in the Infirmary on the same afternoon I sing for the other Veterans, if that would be all right.”


She took a sip of tea. “As to what I can do today, do you think my three charming escorts would enjoy giving me a tour of the facility?”

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“I think they wouldn’t mind the cold, but for their joints.” He said with a gentle smile. Old age came to them all. “They enjoy walks, and they play bowls on the lawn in the warmer months.” He explained in case it might be of some help. Indeed, during the summer the Terrible Trio were found outside at all hours, the staff chasing them in for supper and bed. It was perhaps why they took winter so badly. “Postlethwaite’s daughter comes to visit sometimes.” He added. That was really all he knew about these three; the Hospital had a lot of Veterans. “I am certain that they – and the staff – would be grateful for the destraction.”


The Governor’s brows rose slightly. “Tomorrow?” That was very short notice, but really, why not? “I believe that we can do tomorrow. Perhaps in the Chapel? I think it has the best acoustics.” All things being relative. The Dining Hall was bigger of course, but it had a nasty echo. “Tomorrow then. Shall we say two o’clock? The gentlemen will have had their lunch and be restful.” In fact the probability of some of them falling asleep was pretty high in Trenchton’s judgement, but he wouldn’t tell Sophia that.


As she agreed to his gentle suggestion regarding timing in the Infirmary, Trenchton nodded. “Thank you. I am certain that the patients would enjoy a soothing song or two. I am sure that you understand the need to keep things peaceful.” And operating smoothly. Still, perhaps it would be a treat for the more fragile Veterans as well.


“I am certain that they would be delighted.” The man replied to her enquiry about a tour. “Corporal Pickering has rank and generally keeps the other two in line, but he is quite deaf so do speak loudly to him if you wish something; he does lip-read a little. Postlethwaite is somewhat blind, and Rowbottomson can I fear be a little ornery, but he’s harmless. If any of them are rude to you please let me know.” Nate wouldn’t be but he didn’t trust Jack.


“Is there anything else that I can do for you this morning, Your Excellency?” He asked, aware of the esteem of having another noble charity worker about the Hospital, and an Ambassador’s wife at that!

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Sophia didn't understand how the cold could affect one's joints, but maybe it had something to do with old age. She had little experience with the elderly. Her father had never complained about his joints, and he was around sixty when he passed away. She also had no idea how to play bowls, but she could look into it. Maybe there was a similar game they would be able to play indoors. “Then I shall not take them outside unless they ask me to.”


The Governor appeared a bit surprised at the notion of her returning tomorrow, but eventually he agreed. She could test the acoustics before she left. It wasn't absolutely necessary because her voice had been so highly trained that she was usually able to utilize the acoustics of any room she sang in without conscious thought. “Two will be fine. Since I will be singing in the Chapel, do you think that they would enjoy a few hymns?” If the Veterans were pious, hymns might be a good place to start, and Sophia knew many of those in English. They would also be familiar with them.


He seemed grateful that she didn't insist on visiting the ill soldiers right away, which made her wonder if some visitors did demand to see them even while they were being treated. Why would they do that? What could most ladies do that would help when they were discouraged from nursing them? Not everyone had a useful gift to share. “Of course. I shall sing very quietly.” Singing loudly was natural to her; keeping her voice soft took effort.


So he believed that the three veterans whom she had first met would enjoy giving her a tour. If she raised her voice just slightly, she was certain that Corporal Pickering would be able to hear her. She would watch Trooper Postlethwaite to make certain he didn't run into anything. As for Trooper Rowbottomson's crankiness, she would deal with that by being charming.


“I will let you know if they are rude, but I do not think you have to worry about that. Germans view rudeness differently than the English.” Sophia hoped that they didn't complain later that she had been rude. Her bluntness was an integral part of her personality and had gotten her into trouble before.


"Yes, there is one more thing I would like to ask you. I heard that there was a doctor here who specializes in mental disorders. If there is, may I speak to him before I go?"

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  • 2 weeks later...

OOC: Apologies for the delay. I was sure I had replied to this.


“I am certain that the Veterans would appreciate some Hymns. Something they’re familiar with to get them started, then perhaps you could move on to something more exotic.” He suggested. Opera would be new to the old men, but familiar hymns that had meant much to them throughout their lives might well speak volumes to them. Still, they might well become connoisseurs of this new art form, if Lady Toledo kept up her visits.


If Germans were more forthright than the English then perhaps she would get along splendidly with the three old men, whose only real crime was being commoners who’d seen enough in life that they didn’t tend to beat about the bush. Rowbottomson swore a bit but the other two would be genteel enough. Time would tell. “I’m sure they’ll be delighted to show you around.” And that would keep both parties busy for a while.


Their tea and biscuits finished, Governor Trenchton rose from behind his desk to open the door for Sophia when she posed her final question, and he paused in thought. ‘Mental disorders’ was such a polite, genteel way of referring to the afflictions of the incurably insane. Alas but the real world wasn’t always so gentle. Whom could she mean? Not Winchester, he didn’t work at the Hospital these days, and hadn’t particularly been interested in crazy people. Ah. “I can only assume that you refer to Doctor Tutill.” He said at length. “He has quite an interest in the deranged mind, and has visited here on occasion.” And various other places. “I’ll see if I can find his details for you.” He promised.


Outside the Governor’s office the three old rogues were still waiting, standing to hasty attention because they hadn’t been listening at the door, oh no definitely not. Or at least Bill hadn’t been listening and relaying to Jack, who would fill Nate in later. No, they were simply upstanding old gents who waited on the lady’s pleasure.


“Gentlemen. Lady Toledo would like a tour of the Hospital.” Trenchton told them. “Do you think you could oblige her?”


There was a chorus on the subject of ‘yes sir’ in various accents, before Corporal Pickering tugged at his cap. “Where would Her Excellency like to see?” He asked.

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“Very well. I shall start with some well-known hymns.” Sophia thought it strange that he thought of opera as exotic, but every commoner in London probably shared that view. Once an opera house was built, it would become as commonplace as it was in Venice. She really needed to keep working on that goal. Lord Buckingham might be willing to spearhead the project if she could convince him of its merit. He was known as a generous patron of the arts.


She followed him over to the door as he told her the name of a doctor who fit the description of the one she was searching for. The petite Baroness was hoping that he was employed here, but it appeared that he just visited occasionally. He probably had his own practice somewhere in town, like that other doctor she had visited long ago in disguise. “Yes, please see what you can find. Before I leave, I will stop by here again in case you have some information for me.”


Sophia chuckled to herself when she saw the three old men stand to attention as soon as the door was opened. They had been obviously eavesdropping but she didn't blame them for that. If Esteban ever invited a friend over for conversation, she would most likely listen in. However, all of his business so far had been conducted at the Embassy. Perhaps he considered his home a place to relax. She had no idea what he did when he was there, since she rarely saw him except at dinner.


They seemed quite eager to give her a tour of the premises.When Corporal Pickering asked her what she would like to see, she grinned at him. “Show me the places that the three of you like best and we will go from there.”

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The office door closed softly behind Sophia as she turned her attention to the Terrible Trio. They were more than happy to oblige, and being soldiers were accustomed enough to taking orders; Sophia’s return of the question had them momentarily stumped.


“Weel.” Jack Rowbottomson began at last, leaning on his cane. “Wee’m usually like to be out of doors when the weather allows.” He said.


“Which it doesn’t at the moment.” Nate Pickering interrupted. It was snowing outside, the thick, fluffy flakes falling faster as time went on. “I’m sure Her Excellency doesn’t want to get cold and wet.” He observed, obviously unaware of Sophia’s playful nature and feeling the pressure to keep the lady happy.


“The lounge is always warm on a cold day.” Bill Postlethwaite observed quietly. “There’s nice of an evening, next to the fire.” He mused. “I’d say we could have some tea, but ye’ve had some tea.” He observed. The three men seemed a little at a loss.


“Well, perhaps the lounge is a good place to start. We could all do with warming up.” Nate decided, and led the way down the stairs and along the hall, moving at a gentle pace, mostly out of deference to Jack’s leg.


“Whit brings ye to the Hospital, Lady?” Jack asked suddenly, as they walked. “I mean, whit are ye looking to do?” Did she have any specific intentions?

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Her three gallant guides didn't appear accustomed to the company of a lady, which was a bit surprising to Sophia, considering that Governor Trenchton had named a few noblewomen besides Lady Alyth who seemed to visit frequently. Maybe these particular soldiers were too much for the other ladies to handle.


She listened politely as they talked among themselves. They didn't seem to know where to take her and finally decided to show her the lounge. They walked slowly enough that she didn't have to run to keep up with them. For once, her short stride was actually an advantage.


When Trooper Rowbottomson asked why she had come, she smiled engagingly. “A friend told me about this place, and that I might be able to help out. I plan to sing for all of you tomorrow, as well as the men in the infirmary, but today, I just want to have a look around and figure out where I am needed most.”


She looked at each of them in turn. “You really do not like to be out in the snow? It is not so cold if you are active. But if the three of you ever want to to take a walk with me outdoors, be warned.” She grinned playfully. “I like to make snowballs and throw them at people.”


Sophia lowered her voice conspiratorially. “Just don't tell the Governor. If he knows how prone I am to mischief, he might not let me return.”

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“Weel, that would be nice.” Bill Postlethwaite allowed, when Sophia said that she would sing for them. Any kind of distraction was welcome, though the old men might be in for a bit of a surprise, the following afternoon.


The Lounge was warm, with a roaring fire and several old men sitting and either dozing, pondering the middle distance or in one case playing checkers in the corner. Her guides automatically gravitated to the fire.


“It’s not that we’m dislike the snow as such Miss.” Rowbottomson said after a while, holding his hands out to the warmth.


“But we don’t move as fast as we once did.” Pickering allowed solemnly. “And Jack has trouble with the deeper drifts.” The man with the limp snorted at this. “When this lot melts it’ll be easier. There’s lovely walking in the grounds when the weather’s warmer.”


“If you’re visiting then, we can teach you how to play bowls.” Postlethwaite offered. It was one of their favourite pastimes.


The three old fellows led Sophia through long halls, the refectory, past the infirmary, along an upper floor past the Veterans’ own rooms, through the chapel and along one of the outdoor covered walks.


Something seemed to be on Bill’s mind, and as they wandered in the cool air and watched the snow, he seemed finally ready to utter it. “Do you do a lot of singing, Miss?” He asked.

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Sophia had thought tossing snowballs at each other would appeal to them, but apparently, they had a difficult time getting around in the snow. She had a lot to learn about the limitations of the elderly and now she felt guilty for suggesting it.


When they reached the lounge, she followed her guides over to the fire, holding out her hands to warm them. “I will definitely visit in the spring,” she assured them. “I have never played bowls before but if you are willing to teach me, I learn quite quickly.” Her gaze encompassed all three of them. “What kind of games do you like to play when it is too cold or snowy to go outside?” Sophia played backgammon and chess, but she wasn't very good at either.


After leaving the lounge, they took her on a tour of the rest of the hospital. She noted the location of the infirmary and paid particular attention to the chapel, where she would be singing tomorrow. Every room they showed her was pleasantly decorated and immaculate. Obviously, the veterans here received the best of care … unlike the poor mad souls at Bedlam.


Sophia pulled her fur cloak tightly about her as they led her outside and along a covered walkway. The snow was still descending in a lovely cascade of white, but they were protected from it here and could watch it without getting wet and possibly becoming ill. She stuck one hand out over the railing so she could watch the snowflakes disappear as soon as they touched her glove.


When Postlethwaite suddenly asked her if she sang a lot, she withdrew her hand and smiled at him. “Yes, I do. Singing is my greatest joy. I spent several years in Venice training my voice and only a few days ago, I sang the lead role in an opera for the King. Every morning, I practice for at least two hours. One might say that music is my life.”

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  • 2 weeks later...

The old men assured Sophia that they would happily teach her to play bowls in the spring, and allowed after a few glances at each other that they usually played cards inside when there weren't any other options. But showing her around was much more interesting!


Unlike the Bethlehem Royal Hospital, the Royal Veteran's Hospital in Chelsea had been custom built to the latest designs, and still enjoyed Royal favour. Bedlam had once, but her fortunes had fallen mightily since Henry III's reign. Chelsea's initial patrons were still very much alive and ensuring that things were kept to a standard.


"Oooh, Venice. Now there's somewhere hexotic!" Jack said appreciatively, having little familiarity of places beyond England's shores that hadn't involved fighting.


"Ah, we heard a lot about the Opera." Bill added a little more quietly. His daughter was married to one of the King's stablehands and often brought them gossip. "They say t'caused quite a stir." He added, at which point Nate shifted slightly and trod on his foot.


"We heard the King was right impressed." The Corporal amended hurriedly.


"Will ye be performing some Opera for us tomorrer then?" Jack asked hopefully.

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“I have never played cards,” Sophia admitted. “Perhaps the three of you can teach me that too, as long as we play just for fun. Almost everyone at court plays for money, but I have no interest in gambling.” Sophia rather doubted that they were given much money to spend. Everything they needed seemed to be right here.


Now that she had seen how well the hospital was taken care of, she wanted the same for Bedlam. Maybe she could inspire more interest in it once the mystery was solved that she, Lord Dundarg and Lady Buccleuch had uncovered. If ladies visited elderly soldiers, they should have no qualms about visiting the insane, as long as the patients were quiet and presentable. Attention might even help them to improve to the point where they could be released and live productive lives.


“I have never thought of it as exotic, but that was probably because I moved there when I was only eleven. It was just a normal place to live for me. If you would like to hear more about it, I will be happy to oblige whenever I'm here. I miss Venice dreadfully and talking about it keeps my memories alive.” There were some things she could never tell them. She would not be able to mention the operas she had sung in, the gifts she had received as a result, or the mischief she had gotten into with the other performers. But she could describe the city and speak of her life with the Grimanis and the places she had gone with them.


Sophia was surprised that they had heard about the opera, and she did not see Nate step on Bill's foot when he said he had heard it had caused a stir. “Oh, it did,” she agreed. “It was the first opera that was ever performed in England. And yes, the King seemed very impressed. I hope that he will want to see it again.”


She noted the hopeful tone in Jack's voice as he asked her if she planned to sing opera for them tomorrow. “Yes, I will. I will also sing some hymns. Have any of you heard opera before? I could give you a short demonstration, if you would like.” The covered walkway was a good place for it. As she tended to sing rather loudly, she wouldn't disturb the other residents out here.

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  • 1 month later...

“We kin teach ye to play cards for fun.” Bill assured Sophia kindly. They usually played for ha’pennies or groats or matches, whatever was going, but if the lady did not wish to gamble then the old soldiers would most assuredly accommodate her.


Whilst she spoke, however briefly, of lands that seemed far away and exotic to the three men, she had their full attention. “Oh, we’d love to hear more about Venice.” Jack enthused. “Or anywhere really. Somewhere that aint here.” He added with a snort. It was easy for the old men, however well provided for, to become bored. “If you would like to tell some stories, we can assure you of an appreciative audience.” Nate promised.


The prospect of some Opera the following day went down well with the three old codgers, who grinned at each “No, we’ve not heard Opera afore, but we’re right lookin’ forrard to it!” Jack enthused. Them, viewing the height of culture as enjoyed by Kings, with a possible side-option on some nudity to boot. Perhaps that explained why Bill, with his poor sight, wasn’t quite as excited as Jack.


Just as Sophia was offering to sing for the men, a nurse came hurrying up with a scrap of paper in her hand. “Your Ladyship, Governor Trenchton said I was to give this to you.” She bobbed a slightly out of breath curtsey and held out the paper, which bore the Governor’s handwriting.


Doctor Alexander Tutill

Expert on mental derangement, studied some of our patients in April 1676. Worked briefly with Doctor Winchester.

Has rooms on Friday Street in the East End.


Gov. Trechton

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“That would be splendid!” Sophia clapped her hands enthusiastically and there was eagerness in her voice. “I have always wanted to learn. It looks like such fun, but I have been afraid to ask anyone at court to teach me, for fear they would believe I wished to gamble.” Actually, gambling with invaluable objects wouldn't bother her, as it would be only for fun. But there were much more satisfying ways to part with her money than losing it in a game. She would rather buy new gowns and shoes, as well as paintings and sculptures for the Embassy and her new house.


Besides, she remembered that Esteban had been pleased when she had told him she had no interest in gambling during that long ago walk on the beach at Brighton when they had first discussed marriage. She believed that had been the longest conversation they had ever had. He probably wouldn't have spoken so much if Juan hadn't requested that he impress her enough to marry him.


Her three charming guides seemed quite interested in hearing about Venice. She could understand their restlessness. Even such a fine hospital as this one would get boring after awhile. “I can tell you about Spain and Germany too.” She was quite well-traveled for a sixteen-year-old girl. “I visited both places a few months ago.” Sophia grinned at them playfully. “If I tell you my stories, I hope that you will also tell me yours.” The petite singer knew little about England's past and hearing firsthand experiences would make her feel as if she had been there.


She had no idea they were hoping that she would sing nude. She just thought that they wanted to listen to the new form of music that had impressed their King. And so she offered to give them a demonstration, but before they could reply, a nurse strolled up to her and held out a strip of paper. “Thank you,” she said as she took it. Sophia already suspected that the Governor had found the information she had asked him for, and it turned out that she was right.


After reading it and committing its contents to memory in case she lost the paper, she stuffed it into one of the pockets of her gown. “Please give Governor Trenchton my gratitude,” she told the nurse. Turning back to her companions, she grinned again. “Now, would the three of you like to hear a bit of opera or would you prefer to be surprised when I sing for you tomorrow?”

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The old men positively beamed at Sophia’s response. Here was something that they could offer the young lady in return for her kindness, even if it was something as simple as playing cards. “We’d be right pleased to teach ye.” Jack assured Sophia. “We’m know aw kinds of games!” The curmudgeonly old Trooper with the gamey leg seemed to be warming to the cheerful and mischievous Ambassador’s wife.


Meanwhile Bill seemed far away, looking not so much out over the snowy lawn, which he couldn’t see anyway, as at some inner perspective. “I’d like to hear about them places.” He said at last, with a slightly wistful tone. As life wound down for them there was time to reflect on things not done. Note that Bill could complain, he’d had a good life and his children and grandchildren were secure, but still… sometimes there were might-have-beens that preyed on the mind. He was the oldest of the three. Suddenly he seemed to shake himself from his reverie. “I’m sure our stories aint nearly as interestin’, but we have plenty.” He said, and if she wanted to trade stories they could oblige.


The conversation was interrupted by the arrival of the nurse with the paper, who bobbed a curtsey and assured Sophia that she would pass on her gratitude to the Governor, before she hurried away. As Sophia posed her quandary of Opera now or later, the Terrible Trio seemed at odds on the matter. Jack, with all the patience of a spaniel, was keen for now, Bill thought they shouldn’t spoil the surprise, and Nate seemed undecided.


After a short period of bickering, Corporal Pickering pulled rank on the other two to stop the squabbling. It would, he had to admit to himself, be both a treat and a coup. “You’re very kind.” He demurred. “Perhaps just a little bit, Your Excellency. Just a taste. You do us a great honour, but we wouldn’t want to spoil things for tomorrow.” Pale blue eyes watched for her reaction. He didn’t want to seem ungrateful, but if this was Trenchton’s big thing and it turned out they’d heard it before he had, there might be trouble.

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Sophia grinned at Jack. “You can play more than one game with cards?” she asked. She had assumed that there was only one way to play, just like in backgammon or chess. “I doubt there will be time to start teaching me tomorrow, but maybe I can visit again in a few days. You will find I learn quickly.” Her grin turned wry. “But I ask a lot of questions.”


She didn't miss the wistful tone in Bill's voice. Had he dreamed of traveling when he was younger? The petite Baroness surmised that commoners didn't go abroad as much as nobles unless they were sailors. Perhaps he wished he had become a sailor instead of a soldier. If she had been a man, she might have chosen that profession for herself. Even nobles could be sailors. Lord Kingston was a case in point.


“I will tell you everything I know,” she promised. “I made some sketches when I was in Amsterdam and Madrid. If you would like to see them, I can bring them along with me. I'm not a very good artist … yet … but my drawings might be able to show you what those places were like.” She smiled reassuringly. “I am sure that your stories will be as interesting to me as mine are to you.”


Sophia waited patiently while the three old men argued among themselves as to whether they should take her up on her offer or wait until tomorrow to be introduced to opera. She stuck her hand over the railing again, watching as the snowflakes melted on her white glove.


At length, Corporal Pickering made the decision for them. They wanted only a taste of what what they would be hearing tomorrow. “Once you get to know me, you will discover that I will grab any opportunity to sing that comes my way. I assure you it is no inconvenience, but a pleasure to sing for the three of you.”


She stepped away from them and closed her eyes briefly. When she opened them, she began to sing the first verse of the song she had sung to Caroline on Sunday, an aria written especially for her voice about a young girl's hopes and wishes for the future. It was not a subject they would be able to identify with, but unlike most of the arias she knew, it was in the English language. She would have sung an aria from the opera, but her first solo was a bit too flirtatious and the second was a sad lament.


Sophia sang softly, her highly-trained voice leaping and twirling in the frigid air. Emotion poured from each note that emerged from her lips. She didn't move around, but stood perfectly still. Tomorrow, they would get a full performance. Today, her demonstration lasted only a few minutes.


“So what do you think?” she asked when she had finished. Opera wasn't for everyone. If they didn't like it, she would sing some of the folk songs that her voice master had taught her along with some hymns.

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“Oh aye.” Jack assured Sophia on the subject of card games. “There be as many as ye like.” And the old soldiers knew a great many of them. They could certainly teach Sophia some of the more respectable ones, particularly if she came on a day when the weather was entirely inclement.


“Perhaps when you visit in the future you might bring your sketches Your Excellency, and we can play cards and tell stories of old travels.” Nate suggested gently. Their tour today had taken up a reasonable length of time and he knew that they shouldn’t monopolise the fine lady, who no doubt had more important things to do than talk to old soldiers.


They had been promised a special treat however, and the three men listened attentively as Sophia sang for them, not loudly but with a delicate flexibility and skill of voice that left the three of them more than a little stunned. It was like nothing they’d ever heard before, though perhaps closest to the finest choral hymns. Certainly a long way from the kind of folk songs which were the soldiers’ usual fare, and although they normally preferred those kind of hearty tunes, they could appreciate that what they were hearing now was something truly special.


As Sophia finished her song, she would find the three old men gaping at her in astonishment. Finally they seemed to snap out of it, and burst into cheers and applause.


“Ee lass, tha’s grand.” Jack enthused, Sophia’s newest fan. “I’ve never heard the like, but that’s a real treat.” Bill agreed, perhaps all the more appreciative of the song for his failing sight. “But I’ll look forrard to hearing it again.” He admitted. Tomorrow afternoon would truly be something to enjoy. Even Nate, with his poor hearing, seemed suitably impressed. “Thank you, Your Excellency. You’re truly brightened our afternoon.”


Just wait until the other lads heard about this!


OOC: Fin? Do you want to let me know when you create Sophia’s thread for her visit the following day?

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“Then it is settled,” Sophia declared. “I will sing for you tomorrow and then I will return in a few days with my sketches and you can teach me how to play cards.”


They were quiet as she sang, and by the astonishment on their wrinkled faces, she was afraid that opera was not to their tastes. Yet then they began to cheer and applaud and the young singer gave them a theatrical curtsy, basking in their enjoyment. She was glad she had pleased them and now she knew that her music would be well-received on the morrow.


“Thank you,” she said, smiling disarmingly. “Or grazie as they say in Italian. Tomorrow I will be singing in Italian and German as well, but you will be able to understand what I am singing by my tone of voice and my actions. That is part of the beauty of opera. You can enjoy it even if you cannot understand the words.” She would also be singing the first aria from the opera, which was in English.


It was time to go. She did have other things to attend to today. “If you will point me toward the door I first entered, I will be on my way.” Sophia had no sense of direction whatsoever. “It was a pleasure getting to know the three of you and I will see you again tomorrow.”


When she had first arrived, the petite Baroness had been a bit concerned that she would have nothing in common with elderly soldiers, but now she felt as if she had made three new friends today.


{OOC: I'll shoot you a PM soon. And thanks for the fun thread!}

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