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A Morning Call, Friday 31- Xmas 1677


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The Toledo Residence


The journey from St James to Westminster was not far yet on a cold sunless morning and under a sky that threatened more snow the lone occupant of the fashionable yet undecorated coach was warm enough under the heavy fur throw and the flannel wrapped bricks upon which her soft leather clad feet rested added to her comforts.


The sway and occasional lurch did not bother and she knew that her driver was well equiped to deal with whatever might present itself in their path and she had pulled back a cornor of the leather window cover for ventilation and rested an elbow on the sill her eyes focused on nothing in particular. Her thoughts however were on the person she was going to see and she wondered yet again what the topics might be.


After a few turns she was there. Tossing aside her lap robe and drawing her own furred cloak about her as she gathered up her skirts then placing a gloved hand into the palm of her driver she ducked her head and stepped onto the frozen ground. The chill was immediate and her breath blew white as she ascended the steps where her arrival had already been announced so that the door would stand open and all she had to do was enter.


Knowing that she would be met by a Steward or another House Servant she stood quietly ready to have her cloak taken. She had choosen to wear a new gown of fine Italian wool so soft to the touch and in a shade of cranberry bordered with cream lace and decorated with a pattern of small gold beads, pearls, and rubys fashioned in a floral pattern that was random in its placement but deliberate in its idea.


Her blonde hair was worn up and she kept her jewlery light - pearl and ruby necklace and earrings that matched - knowing that the other woman would be just as well presented. Was there perhaps some inner desire to outshine? Possibly. But she had learned that making a Statement was advantageous and as her Father had the income and did not refuse her the spending of it she liked to be well dressed.


She quielty thanked the servant for taking her cloak and gave a nod and followed to where Sophia no doubt was holding Court. She wondered if anyone else had been invited to this 'discussion' of Charities and was curious to find out.

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  • 1 month later...

Sophia strolled into the main drawing room, pausing just inside the doorway and studying it with a critical eye. She knew that her guest would not miss a single detail and she was determined that Mistress Doolittle would find no fault in the décor. The wallpaper was tasteful but dark and the finely carved and polished mahogany furniture was upholstered in deep hues.


The overall effect was rather masculine but Sophia had brightened it up with paintings of colorful landscapes that she had bought on her travels and feminine touches like the cream silk curtains shot through with golden thread and porcelain vases painted with flowers that sat on some of the tables. She had filled those vases today with flowers from her orangery and the table that had been moved close to the window had been covered in a cream-colored tablecloth embroidered with pastel flowers above the ruffled lace hem.


Nothing was out of place and Sophia was pleased with the impression of understated wealth and elegance that the room conveyed. The tea and refreshments were ready to be served at her request. There was nothing more to be done but wait.


With a little sigh, the young Baroness walked over to the window, looking at her reflection in the glass. She was wearing a gown of medium teal crushed velvet liberally sprinkled with tiny iridescent gold beads. Golden lace framed the modestly-cut neckline along with a row of fabric rosettes made of rose-colored silk. Her puffy long sleeves were hemmed in golden lace and her split skirt was fastened on each side by fabric rosettes and strings of golden beads, revealing the underskirt of ivory moire silk embroidered with gold. Three rows of golden lace ruffles hemmed the underskirt.


Her hair was arranged in its usual tumble of ringlets, the top held in place by ivory combs studded with topaz and aquamarine gems and diamonds She wore a golden necklace and earrings, each with a tear-dropped shaped aquamarine in the center and diamonds on each side. The entire ensemble had an innocent simplicity that would not outshine her guest. The last thing she wanted to do was intimidate Mistress Doolittle, considering that the two ladies had once been bitter enemies. She wished to mend things between them now, not make them worse.


When she heard the door open, Sophia turned from the window, listening as two sets of footsteps drew closer. She smiled warmly when the other woman entered, crossing the room to greet her. The diminutive blonde limped slightly, but was no longer using a cane to get around and there was now only a dull ache in her foot when she put her weight upon it. “Welcome to my home, Mistress Doolittle, and thank you for coming."

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Ushered into where her Hostess awaited Ellen walked slowly her eyes taking in all about her with interest. It was still clearly a Male Dominate House but she could see that Sophia had begun to try to add some woman-like touches or rather as much as her youthful ideas warranted she guesses.


The Ambassador's wife came slowly towards her and Ellen noted the slight limp with a small raise of one eyebrow that might have encompased her overall attire as well. One thing was certain there was nothing shy about her and she wondered yet again how the Ambasador for Spain was able to handle her.


"Tis I that must thank you for the invitation Lady Toledo."


She executed a correct level of reverence for an Ambassadors' Wife and the fact that she herself was the elder did not sway her at all. She knew how it was done. After all had she not been taught so?


Rising she fixed her level gaze on the other asking


"I see your have an infirmity in your wailk - should you be on it? I ask simply out of concern nothing else. Might you not want to sit?"


She was sincere for there was nothing pleasant about injuries and when ones foot was the recipient she knew how comfortable it was to simply SIT! But she could hardly instigate the path to that end so must wait for Sophia herself to now reply.

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Ellen looked quite sophisticated in a burgundy wool gown adorned with beads, pearls, and rubies. Sophia had never really paid much attention to her former foe's appearance before. She sensed a maturity that she herself lacked. Though she would never admit it, she envied Mistress Doolittle's poise. Her own composure was impeccable, but undeniably effervescent. Even with her acting skills, worldliness was difficult to pull off. She was simply too young to look refined.


The petite Baroness was a bit surprised when Ellen curtsied to her, but she was secretively pleased by her deference. She didn't smirk as she might have done a year ago. Her pleasant smile remained in place and she met her guest's eyes when she rose. It was a rather difficult not to notice Sophia's limp, and she waved her hand dismissively. “Thank you for your concern. It is annoying, nothing more. I fell and twisted my ankle two days ago. I am lucky that it is healing quickly.


“Come, let us both sit. Tea should be arriving shortly.” The butler would let the cook know that it was time for refreshments to be served. Her servants were well-trained and efficient and since she had learned to assert her authority over them, they respected their mistress, despite her tender age and lack of experience. Or maybe they obeyed her because they were afraid that Esteban would dismiss them if they didn't.


Sophia slowly led the way over to the window, where two chairs were arranged around the table. Sinking into one of them with a relieved little sigh, she indicated for Ellen to take the other. “How have you enjoyed the season so far, Mistress Doolittle?” she asked politely. “I hope you have been more fortunate than I.”

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"I am glad then that tis nothing serious."


She smiled a bit and then followed the lead waiting until Sophia had sat herelf before taking a chair. Settled she answered the idle chit-chat and knew that more would no doubt happen before the true topic was uttered.


"Well enough. My sister has had a daughter - did you know - some months now. They have called her after Me so I am much Honored. Lord Melville has returned to London so I hear but my sister and niece are not present. I must admit to a longing but see the reason for Winter is not time to be upon the roads."


"And You? Despite the injury I hope this has been a Merry Season. And tis your First as Spain's Lady here at Court. How is the Ambassador?"


Asked politely in return.

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Sophia nodded gratefully to Ellen's kind comment. Did she mean it or was she just being cordial? It didn't really matter. They had actually spent a few minutes in each other's company without insulting each other. That was a start toward friendship, she believed.


As Mistress Doolittle spoke of her family, the petite singer arranged her skirts around her. Wait. Did she just say 'Lord Melville?' Sophia managed to hide her surprise that the charming Scot was married to Ellen's sister. When they had first met during summer, he had told her he had a daughter named Ellen, but she had not made the connection.


She could not remember his name mentioned while she had lived with the Doolittle family, but she had spent most of her time elsewhere, as she never felt as if she belonged with them. Most of her meals had been taken in her room so that she wouldn't have to endure Ellen's smirks and barbs. Perhaps she should have paid more attention to what had been going on in the household.


What would Ellen think if she knew that Sophia and her brother-in-law had become friends? It was tempting to reveal that she knew Lord Melville was in London because he had attended her banquet last night. Yet she didn't want to raise Ellen's ire before they discussed the subject of charity.


“You must be so happy to have a little namesake. Perhaps they will be able to come for the spring season and you can get to know her then.”


A maidservant arrived with a tray of sweet and savory pastries and sat it on the table between the two ladies. Another followed carrying a tray with a delicate porcelain teapot and two pretty cups. The rich aroma of the tea tickled Sophia's nose.


“The Ambassador is very busy with his new duties,” she confided. “I do not see a lot of him. I am becoming accustomed to my new position as well. It is funny to see the shock on some courtiers' faces when I am introduced. No one expects an Ambassador's wife to be so young.”


She poured tea for both of them, and handed one of the cups to Ellen. “As you know from my letter, I have recently taken up charity work. It is a way to show my devotion to God and to England. I hope that the two of us can work together to improve the lives of some of London's most vulnerable citizens.”

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"I am indeed. Yet my father naturally would have prefered a 'son' but my sister is young enough so one is bound to appear."


She did not respond to that comment about how others' at Court viewed her Hostess.


She accepted a cup as offered but stilled its journey as Sophia at last broached the subject of why she had asked her to come.


"Pardon? I am not sure I understand what you are asking of me - to be included in some Charitable Cause is naturally an admirable endeavor yet I am confused. What to you mean by wanting to improve lives and just who are the ones that you want to save?"


She looked over the rim of her cup then took a slow sip of the hot liquid all the while saying to herself that here yet agan was mischief ahead and the Leader was the wife of the Spanish Ambassador.

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“I am sure she will have many children.” Sophia wanted children as well, just not at the moment, for any baby conceived this season would be Esteban's. She hoped that she would get pregnant when she was reunited with Juan. Her children would be raised as her husband's but she would know the truth about their paternity. Whether they learned their real father's identity would be up to her royal lover. She knew he would love them even if they were never claimed as his own.


Oddly enough, it never occurred to her that if she gave herself to Lord Chatham or Lord Arundel, she could possibly become pregnant by them. All she could think of was how wonderful it would be to find pleasure in their arms, not the possible consequences of such encounters.


Ellen was suspicious of her motives, which didn't really surprise her. Her poor opinion of her had apparently not changed and she probably didn't think that Sophia was capable of coming up with an idea that would truly be beneficial to the poor of London. It was true that she had caused Ellen's father all matter of grief when she was his ward, but she was no longer that rebellious girl. She was a wife of an Ambassador, and she had matured (though perhaps not as much as she believed she had).


The petite blonde took a sip of tea, unperturbed by her guest's questions. “There are men who are unable to find jobs, and without money, they cannot support their families. I wish to help them find work and I hope you will be willing to assist me.”

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Ellen sat her cup back on the table her eyes steady on her Hostess


"You can not be serious?" She said said flatly. "You are proposing that the two of us wander the streets of London on the look-out for these 'men' and once discovered we are to see them gainfully employed? By whom pray?"


"Or have you managed to round them up and pen them in someplace and then by some trickery suddenly announce it with Grateful Families looking on as you accept accolades for all this Charity that has happened?"


"Who has been filling your head with such nonsense that you believe it to be possible? Why the mere idea that such a thing you are suggesting would even be possible causes me concern for your well-fare. But then I am being unfair to you as you have not provided all the details of how this Plan is to work. And by the way who else have you said this to and who else has pledged to assist?"


"I am serious Sophia. Who have you discussed this with or did others' approach you first? It is important that you are straight with me."


It was unlikely that she had already managed to sell this plan and if she had those involved were only seeking to cause her harm and eager to ridicule and humiliate her husband as an Ambassador at Court from a Country not that well liked.

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The petite Baroness blinked as Ellen began her tirade. Just how stupid did she think she was? Obviously, she believed that Sophia was trying to help people in order to call attention to herself. Maybe she had given her that idea because she had tended to be imperious and arrogant when she lived with the Doolittles. And most entertainers did want recognition. However, her motive was pure. She really wanted to help the poor out of the goodness of her heart.


She waited until her guest had finished jumping to conclusions, every now and then taking a sip of tea. “Everyone has their pride and these men are no different. They are loath to accept handouts but I think they would jump at a chance for gainful employment. I do not even know who they are, just that they exist. Your father owns a large shipping company, does he not? Surely he must need good people to work for him. If he hired some of the men I have told you about, he will benefit and so will they. Other businesses will follow his lead. I had planned on asking Sir Cedric myself, but I thought that you would like to be involved.”


Sophia leaned forward. “Do you think your father would like to assist in this way? He could gain much from it while helping the poor in the city."

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Ellen watched carefully as Sophia began her reasonings trying to gage her mood. She then set forth her thoughts and it was with considerable skill of her own that she did not interrupt and voice her own mind.


"Am I given to understand that you wish for me to have my Father somehow establish employment or service for these 'men' that you only know exsisit somewhere about London?"


"And just what exactly is he to provide - my Father owns Ships Sophia and employs those who are trained or apprenticed at young ages to work on them. His wharehouses are overseen by Managers who have hired those capable to work in them.'


"So you are expecting that He then take up some out of work men without knowledge of that profession and then have to teach or train for them to be of real use - and how is he to manange the real work when those that are already employed must stop their own jobs to risk time on the new?"


She sighed


"Do not misunderstand me. I think your ... eagerness .... to become involved in some acts of Christian Charity admirable but you are misdirected. You are an Ambassador's Wife and can not simply run about London attempting to restore right to the wronged. Your Lord Husband what does he council?"


"And I wonder how you think my Father will benefit? He gives alms to the poor that he thinks are deserving already, he provides funds for the widows of Sailors, or his employess that are killed or too injured to work - but this is all done quietly so as NOT to draw attention. He has no desire to be held up for Admiration."


"Indeed I think that is true for many in Position. There are those obviously that have a need for such Public Displays. And one can not equate the Duties of Their Majesties into what we speak about so do not think to add comparison."


"You represent Spain after all. That alone makes you unpopular with Londoner's in general and Catholic to boot. I know, we all know, that you are not of that Faith but SPAIN is and as you are the wife of its Ambassador it will be assumed you share your husband's Faith. You can not associate with the common people Lady Toledo no matter how you think to try. You are foreign born and now Spains Lady here - two marks aganist you."


"Those that I know will see this as nothing more than a Political maneuver and one that your husband oversees to improve the image of his Master."


"Perhaps I am too harsh and may cause hurt feelings and that is not my wish or desire but someone has to clearly state the facts. You are not in the same position as Mistress Gwynn or any other of the King's Mistresses'. Nell Gwynn is common born and that is why she is well loved and the others' are Noble born to Ranks Baron and Above."


"You will have better success if you approach a Court Lady or even Gentleman. Francis Kirke for one - he will not refuse outright I do not think but then I do not know his mind. You, as an Ambassador's wife, can move freely about Court and perhpas there is another Ambassador that has brought his wife with him? Might you think upon that?"


She had been rather harsh but then Sophia needed to fully understand her position now. No more a Foreign Born girl who was warded, who paraded herself upon Stage no matter how enticing she was found to be.


"Despsite what you might think I do not wish to see you hurt or humiliated or made fun of. You are a Wife now no matter your youth and so you needs must assume that Role. There are many eyes that watch you Sophia all eager to see you mis-step and that will be reported back to Master's that they serve both here and Abroad - as I have already said."


"You must protect your Lord Husband and strive to not by action or word to give cause for insults and do you think Spain will keep quiet once things are written? I have not the advantage of Travel that you have had but I am smart enough to know that if Spain is insulted too often Lord Toledo will be recalled. Is that what you would wish for him?"


She leaned more towards the younger girl her words calmer and kind


"Sophia I understand your desire to want to be of help and I applaud but this is not the right cause. Think more on what I have said. I will aid you if I can but you must think more carefully upon the right one and be aware that no matter how Pure your intentions Politics will always play a part in it. That is why the involvement of other Ladies is best."


"I alone am of no use to you for I hold no Rank but I will provide monies if I can - my father will allow it. Will you accept that?"

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Sophia listened patiently to Ellen's advice. Some of her opinions made her angry, but most of them made her think. She envied her former guardian's daughter for her intelligence and insight. The petite Baroness wasn't stupid but once she got her mind set on something, she didn't always think it all through. And she had been sheltered all of her life and didn't have much worldly experience. Ellen was not much older than Sophia, but she was wiser.


Yet she just can't let go of the notion that all I really want is recognition for myself.


She did like to be admired when she sang, but she was content to remain in the background where charity was concerned. Her expression remained passive, giving no clue as to how Ellen's speech was affecting her. Her teacup was steady in her hand as she sipped it. Her eyes did widen slightly at her erstwhile enemy's kind words and only then did she smile.


When Ellen finished speaking, Sophia took a deep breath and then let it out slowly. “My lord husband condones my charitable efforts. A few days ago, I presented an opportunity for him to donate to the Queen's charities and he was quite pleased. I gave him a way to show that Spain's Ambassador cares about the welfare of the people in his adopted country.


“I know that you will never believe this, but I wish to be like your father when it comes to charity. No one needs to know that I am involved at all. I am perfectly content to remain in the background and to present my ideas to those who are in a position to carry them out.


“Does not your father and his employees have to train new workers from time to time? Why not recruit some of those workers from the poorer parts of town? Maybe they have not worked in a few years because they fell on hard times. That doesn't mean that they will not pull their weight if given a chance to be productive. That is what these men crave.


“I imagine that quite a few of them are foreigners, just as I am. You do not have to be English to care about the English people. If Spain is ridiculed because the wife of its Ambassador is donating money and time to help others in the name of God, it will not look bad on my lord husband but on those who insult him. I believe his master would appreciate my endeavors.


“And yes, I know that I am constantly being observed and that there are those who are going to despise me no matter what I do. I make certain that I do not speak or act in any manner that will set their tongues to wagging. I know that there has been gossip about me relating to the opera, but the only way to avoid those rumors would have been to refuse the King's command that I play the lead role in the production he commissioned. There are many good things said about my performance as well.


“I am also aware that there are political implications in everything anyone does at court. I do plan on involving other prominent ladies but thought to run it by you to hear your thoughts on this matter, because you are very smart and have an understanding of English culture that I will always lack.”


Stopping for a moment, she lifted her tea cup to her lips and savored the warm liquid as it slid down her throat. “I do not think that you have been harsh with me, Ellen. We Germans appreciate candor and are not easily offended. You have given me a lot to think about. Perhaps the best way to go about helping people find jobs is to start some kind of training center. Even women could be taught how to be housekeepers, maids, and cooks, and support themselves by finding positions in noble households. No one is born with experience. They have to start somewhere.”

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Ellen was just as silent and did not interupt the other until she drew breath


"Does he truly? She asked Sophia.


"What Lord Toledo did was done AT COURT as Spain's Ambassador to aid the English Queen's 'Charity' by way of You, his Wife. That was Political Maneuvering to be a step ahead of another Country's Ambassador doing it first."


"That Performance will benefit no one that you so ernestly seek to aid. Just what did all the posturing really show? And Lord Toledo is a Politician first and foremost whos Allegiance is to his Master and Spain - not here in England - no matter the face that is presented."


"Naturally he was 'pleased' as you say for Spain came First and now any other Country will look as if they compete aganist that and so the circle continues. I have heard enough from my Father and Lord Melville of Court Politics to understand."


"Very few at Court care. In Truth. At least in the manner you are describing to me. You say you wish to not be give accolades and I must believe you yet now I caution you - do not be fooled into thinking that what you want is attainable. These folk you speak of are men for what ere the reasons are as they are.."


"Most are uneducated, can not read nor write or know just enough to make their "Mark", are injured in some fashion or have impairments, and by in large have families to support that when there are too many children will willingly sell one or two for coin."


"And who's wives are perpetually with child year in and year out simply to have enough that live thru a Winter or past the age of two. Those that do are put to work in fields or if lucky apprenticed into some Guild at six or seven - there to learn that Trade for years."


"You think that my father is able to take what is a lump of clay and thereby mold it into something that is profitable to employ? Taken from the poorer parts of London? And being as I described? And how, pray, have you the abality to know what their circumstances are hmm? You imagine that a man with no 'skill' that knows no other way is deserious of a Life he can not even begin to Imagine and would thank you for it?"


"THAT is My World Lady Toledo. That is what I see day in and day out."


"You think that Foreigners are so welcomed here? Look beyond your own experience. Those that come here are poor or lower class with no prospects and the only skill what they did in other places and no one will employ. Why do you think they settle within their own groups?"


"There is Safety first. Secondly their skills are known and thereby needed. Those of Middle Class have it easier for they are Guild bound - in other words each 'profession' has a Guild that all belong with a Guildmaster that oversees. Everything you shop for is made thru a Guild System. Apprentices are taken in and educated but tis a rare thing for a poor boy to be found there."


"They are looked upon with suspecion especially those Franch at the moment and tho its been many many years since the Great Queen Elizabeth and the War with Spain that memory lingers still. Spain, or any other Country, will be ridiculed for trying to curry Favor."


"You want to help and that is admirable as I have said but you have not, as you yourself say, thought it out to the end. By all means try to get other Ladies' to come to this cause but it will not be easy. Husbands will not want wives aligned with Spain especially if it goes Politically aganist their beliefs."


"I wonder at the Households you lived in - you speak nonsense. Those of the class you speak of are oft times born into the service of a Nobel Family. Most of the servants there are men and any women employed would be for the Lady's use. In my own house tis run by my Father's Steward and he oversee's the servants who are all men - even the cook. I oversee the women employed - you will remember the girl that was yours and I have my own - a washerwoman is employed for that."


"You forget that Everyone knows their Place. The idea that they should be taken out of that place and put into another is unthinkable."

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Again, Sophia listened to Ellen attentively and without comment. She despised the fact that her old enemy was so well-informed about politics, knowledge that she herself lacked. If Ellen was clueless, how would she have known that one of the points of donating to the Queen's charities was to be the first foreign country to do so? It was the same with the banquet last night. They had been the first Embassy to host such an event. If other countries either donated to charity or threw a party for all nobles, they would be seen as copying Spain.


Still, she believed that Esteban supported her non-political charity work as well, as long as she stayed away from Bedlam. Sophia didn't know his thoughts on finding jobs for the poor because she had not yet discussed it with him. She had wanted the opinion of an educated commoner first. And Ellen had a lot of enlightening opinions on the subject.


The blood drained from the young Baroness' face at her description of how the poor lived. Her hands started shaking and she set her half-empty teacup back on its saucer. She knew that most peasants couldn't read or write, but did they really sell their children? Was that what had happened to some of the children she often gave coins to on the street? The thieves she had met yesterday had been orphaned but maybe others had run away from cruel masters who treated them like slaves. The very notion was horrifying.


It seemed that most of Sir Cedric's employees came from the guilds that took in boys from the middle class and trained them. That training was probably not free. The poor were left to rot in their dirty hovels until they got sick and died. Nobody cared about them or wanted to help them improve their bleak existences. It was pure luck that she had been born into the nobility. She could have been born to a poor family just as easily. And if she had been, she certainly wouldn't have accepted the lot fate had dealt her.


Sophia wanted to change the world. She wanted everyone to thrive and be happy. People were people whether they were wealthy or impoverished. Maybe the reason that she was not as oblivious to the poor as other nobles was because she had associated with plenty of commoners in Venice. Some talented singers had achieved great fame despite humble beginnings, and others did odd jobs in theatres hoping to get their big break. Not everyone was content to remain as they were.


At least Ellen didn't think her goals were impossible, just that they would not be easy to implement. That was something positive.


For a few moments after her guest had finished speaking, Sophia sat in silence. When she finally spoke, her voice was subdued. “I have endured taunts for being foreign as well. Some people still tell me to go back where I came from. And that is tame considering some comments that have been thrown at me. Still, I do not think anyone will ridicule Spain for doing good Christian deeds in England, particularly if I am able to get powerful courtiers to support my endeavors.” Idealistic to a fault, the young lady was not about to give up. “Perhaps it is possible for me to hide my participation. Then no one will know that Spain is involved at all.


“It is true that I have been sheltered all of my life and was unaware of how the poor actually lived. But that does not make me want to give up. It makes me want to help them more. I do not know whether my servants were born into families with positions in noble households. They were hired by my lord husband, and most of them are foreign. There are ladies among them as well, including my cook, who is very talented and was complimented last night on the food served at my banquet.


“You say that everyone knows their place and does not aspire above it? Try telling that to Nell Gwynn.” Perhaps one of the King's mistresses was not the best example, but Sophia could think of nobody else in England who had gone literally from rags to riches. “Every person … rich or poor, noble or common, man or woman ... has dreams, Ellen. And some of them dream of rising out of poverty and making something of themselves. I think those people should be given the opportunity to achieve those desires, which is all I want to do.”

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It seemed that no matter what Ellen said the other was determined to be deaf to anything else but Her determined Success.


That made her frustrated and she suddenly rose from her chair her skirt billowing a bit at her sudden movement to pace a bit in the small space until she turned back and spoke


"What exactly do you not understand?" She asked Sophia directly.


"Those Common Folk have neither notion time or care about what "Spain" does simply because it effects them not at all. That applies only to Court and its Politics. Spain, France, Italy, and more have placed Ambassadors and what do you think is the reason - not for Charitable Acts I assure you! The intent Sophia is to spy on England and report back to their Master's."


"Think you that Lord Toledo does not apply those in paid service amongst the English at Court? Why even my Lord Father has his own men that supply information of various kinds and I know too that these same men are used for other things not so nice. Think you that every Ambassador does not do the same - and I will wager that those writing their reports include every little thing no matter how small - for that is what they are paid to do."


"It takes little to bring suspecions on others' - a few well-placed words or some contrived action amongst those at Court, or offer enough coin and any servant will be bought and thus feed things back or make it up. Many reputations have been ruined and Familes disgraced by what is said or written.."


"Your desire to aid is, as I said, admirable yet worthless. You think no one will Ridicule Spain for your good Christain Charity Acts? How will other Countries see it hmm? They write to Master's of how Spains Ambassador has set his young wife amongst the Court to be his eyes and ears perhaps. Or how his young wife tis not really wed to Spain at all but works for HER true Aligence that of Germany? You are after all German."


"And these powerful Courtiers you would recruit do you think they will support you simply because you are charming and possess a lovely countance and so they will willingly open purses or promise to stand by your side all the while behind your back wagers are placed and bets made - you are an easy Mark and as an Ambassador's wife from a Country that is not popular there will be many, not all English either, that are eager to see You thus Spain humbled."


"You had best come awake from that Dream World you are in Sophia. You are not your own person but belong to Lord Toledo and HE belong's to Spain."


"Tis no different for me. I know my own Place. I know who I must give deferance to and who must give to me."


"I am a step above a Knight's Wife and so she must give to me, but one down from a Baron's, so I must give to her; And she one step down from a Viscount so she gives to her; and she one step down from an Earl's Countess so she must give to her; And that Lady one step down from a Marquis' and so she must give to her; and she one down from a Duke's. That is Rank."


"Unmarried girls and women take their Rank from Father's. Wives from Husbands. That will never change."


"Even amongst the Gentry and Middle Classes tis the same."


"Every man who tills the soil wants to own it. Every landowner wants to be a Squire every Squire a Knight every Knight a Baron every Baron a Viscount every Viscount an Earl every Earl a Duke. But wanting does not mean it will come to pass. Peers are Born to it while common folk buy it or are Gifted by the King.'


"Dreams? A fanciful notion that few aspire to for daily Life is what it is - full of hardships - and the 'idea' that by some manner of training a new skill can be learned and thus they will become somehow better off will not be understood at all."


She went then to where Sophia sat and knelt taking the other's hands in hers


"I know you have kindness. But to find these few Souls that dream of what you assume they want how shall that be accomplished? Will you yourself go amongst them - the poor of London - to where they live? Will you dress yourself as they and pretend to understand and thus offer them the same words used to me? Will you gather up those powerful Courties and bring them as Companions expecting them to do what? And how will you be rec'd I wonder?"


"You are Lady Toledo.You will standout no matter what you wear. There is nothing that speaks of being poor about you. Nothing at all. And I do not think Lord Toledo will allow his Lady, no matter how well he thinks your ideas are, to do that".


"Oh some will listen I am sure. But no woman will support you in this. What right do they have and few will disobey a husband. And a man without employment will demand to know that what you offer will bear fruit. How will you guarantee that it will be so? And when they ask the place they should seek what will you say to the farmer who now must be a rigger on a ship or the ployman or the dung-man that with some learned skill they can thius rise above where they are now?"


"They will not leave their families or their place."


She stood and went back to her chair and sat with a small sigh.


"I have said I will give monies. I have tried to make you see reason. Yet for all of that you will still say that those fanciful beliefs are what is True and that it will all come to pass simply becaue you have a desire to aid and want it to be so."


"I can say no more to you. You will do as you like I think simply because you refuse to believe that there could be Truth in all that I have said. Your wants are greater or so it seems so I can only counsel you to go to Lord Toledo and tell him of this conversation - tell him what I have told you and then speak of what you think is correct. Ask him for the direction."


"But I'd wager you will be enlightened by his words and in how close they resemble mine."

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Sophia's hands shook uncontrollably when Ellen stood up and began to pace and she folded them together and placed them on her lap. What had she said to upset the older girl? A restless energy was welling up within her as well, but because of her stupid ankle, she didn't have the option of walking it off. Her small body tensed as she watched Ellen parade back and forth.


When she finally stopped and looked at her, Sophia was certain that she was about to be yelled at. Yet Ellen's voice was calm and her words were blunt, which Germans preferred over flowery speech. The petite singer had said nothing about the poor caring about Spain. Did Ellen think she wished to win them over? That was not her intention. She just wanted to help them lead productive lives … to have enough food to eat, roofs over their heads that didn't leak, and access to physicians when they were ill.


Ellen would never understand that her interest in charity had nothing at all to do with Spainish interests. Sophia knew that all Ambassadors … indeed, all nobles … employed spies. She had spoken to one of Don Juan's at her party. Even her own father had a network of men who gathered information for him. Worrying about being maligned was pointless. No matter how powerful one was, how religious, how influential, how humble, one was going to be criticized.


Even if she did nothing all day but stay home and be a proper wife, someone was bound to say something disparaging about her, maybe that she thought that she was better than everyone else because she didn't attend court events, or perhaps that Esteban kept her imprisoned in a gilded cage. Neither would be the truth, but when had the truth mattered to rumor-mongers?


Ellen was quite pessimistic when it came to achieving one's dreams. Sophia wondered if she was speaking from her own experience. It must be frustrating to be in her position She was no longer a commoner, but she was not really a noble either. She lived on the fringes of the society that Sir Cedric had bought himself into and probably had her own fair share of detractors. Sophia felt a bit sorry for her.


The young Baroness was taken aback when Ellen knelt beside her and took her hands. Hopefully, she wouldn't feel them shaking. Was her former enemy actually trying to protect her? It hardly seemed possible. And yet she made some good points. Sophia could dress as a commoner and go undetected. She had done it before, but she couldn't tell Ellen that. That wasn't her plan, though. She had no plan.


At the moment, she was just collecting ideas which she could put together into a coherent course of action later, preferably with the help of other like-minded ladies who were more experienced in charitable affairs and knew how to implement new ideas. But how did she find these ladies? Lady Alyth would have assisted her, but she didn't seem to be at court this season.


Ellen stood and went back to her chair. Sophia almost missed the warmth of her hands around hers. She wasn't the heartless bitch that the young German had always believed her to be and was only trying to get her to see reason … or her kind of reason anyway. Sophia was more optimistic and idealistic.


“Desire is the driving force behind change and progress, Ellen. And I do think there is truth in what you have told me. It is why I decided to ask you about it. You know much more about such things than I. I am also aware that all countries disparage each other, that all individuals disparage each other. But in the long run, gossip means nothing.


“Yes, Spain may be criticized if I help the poor. But there is an equal chance that my compassion for the unfortunate will be looked upon favorably. It could go either way or opinions could fall in between those two extremes. Nothing worth doing comes without risk. My lord husband told me that. If no one was bold enough to try and change the world, we would still be living in caves.


“You have shown me that what I wish to do must be implemented very subtly and with much care given to every step. I will certainly discuss this with my lord husband when I have worked out more details. If he tells me to give it up, I will obey him. But I do not think he will.


“I have no need for donations yet, but I will let you know when that time comes. For now, I must come up with a workable plan to lay before my lord husband. It is possible that I will realize that this idea is, as you say, nonsense. Yet I have to try. I feel it in my heart and in my soul.”

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It was a bit like leading a horse to water but it refusing to drink.


Ellen knew that nothing more she might say would penetrate simply because Sophia was dead set on achieving what she wanted to. The fact that most people cared nothing for the poor of London - beyond the giving of Alms at different times of the year for example - was a fact well established and so for her to waste more effort was pointless.


"I am unhappy that you seem to believe that there are enough Courtiers that will jump at the chance to join you in the fruitless endeavor of 'aiding the poor'. That you seem to be filled with fanciful notions and thus how things should be as you think they need to be is something attainable."


"But then I am not in your Position. Yes, I will counsel you to take heed of my words, to not rush head-long into a situation that you know nothing about. That is Truth."


"Where has this 'belief' that the World must be changed come from I wonder? You express thoughts and ideas that will be met with laughter by most. And do not forget - our World is Ruled by Men Sophia and will always be so. We are the properties of Fathers then Husbands and so anything we want or wish for must come from them."


"Granted some of our sex enjoy liberties that few will ever have let alone imagine but those select few are not what is common. Widow's have the most freedoms but even they are sugjected to the Laws made by Men. You used Mistress Gwynn earlier but even she is dependent upon a Man - but he the King - a man nevertheless. And people rally to any cause she Champions NOT for the actual aiding but for the fact their name is coupled with hers."


"Even she is being used simply because to align with Her might bring attention from the King upon themselves thus opportunity for advancement. And so it applies to All. Its a Game played always weather in Your world or in Mine."


She took a sip of now cold beverage but hid her dislike of it.


"I think it best that I take my leave. I am sorry to have tired you but I thank you for the invitation. And I truly will offer monies but not to be tossed away on a cause that goes nowhere or does nothing. Or one that causes you embarrassment or your Lord's."


She did not think that Sophia would ask her to remain any longer. What more could be said by either?

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“Maybe there is no one else at court who thinks the way I do. Or maybe they have been hiding their willingness to help the poor because, as you say, they will be laughed at. Someone has to lead the way, has to convince them that their ideals are not foolish. Perhaps I am that person. Perhaps I am not.”


Sophia shrugged when Ellen asked where she had gotten the idea to change the world. “There are always things that need improving, even at court. And I am fully aware that we live in a man's world, but ladies are not without influence. We just have to be clever about how we go about achieving our goals and make our fathers and husbands believe that our aspirations are what they want for us. I am not worldly enough to play that particular game yet, but every day brings me closer to that objective. By the time I am twenty, I will be a force to be reckoned with.”


She finished her tea. It was now cold, but she didn't mind. She had drunk tepid tea many times in Venice when the weather was too warm to drink it hot. “I also know that everyone is being used by everyone else, but this too can be used to one's advantage. You just need to know how to win the game instead of merely playing it.”


Ellen then expressed interest in leaving. In truth, there was nothing else she wished to speak to her about. They had not become friends and co-conspirators as she had hoped, but they had not engaged in a shouting match either. Instead, they had agreed to disagree, which in Sophia's mind was a step in the right direction. Even better, Ellen seemed to genuinely care that she pleased her husband and did not bring embarrassment down on either of them, despite the fact that she probably had no love of Spain.


“You have not tired me,” she declared, setting her teacup back on the table and awkwardly rising to her feet. “I found our conversation quite stimulating and your opinions are valuable to me. I know now that my ideas need refining, and that it might be best to abandon them altogether. Thank you for being honest with me, Ellen. I truly appreciate your advice.”

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