Jump to content


Your Stories Await Telling

Breakfast with Family (Morning, Friday 31st)- Xmas 1677

Charles Audley

Recommended Posts

It was the smell that woke Charles, tea and baked goods of some description. His stomach growled.


Ah Wodehouse. You always anticipate my needs.


He smiled lazily and sat up in bed, stretching languorously. A hand reached out and plucked up his dressing gown. He stood to slip the garment on and dragged a hand through his hair to undo the worst of the tangles. (There were times when Charles understood the practical appeal of short hair, but he always judged the aesthetic necessity of long locks more important.)


Hunting out his slippers occupied him for several minutes- the right was under the bed and left had somehow ended up on top of the wardrobe. Finally decently clad and shod, he moved from bedchamber to sitting room, lips still curved appreciatively.


"Wodehouse, you are a prince among men. My stomach thinks my throat's been cut."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It was something of a stretch to call it a dining room specifically, these everything-in-one-room apartments were lamented by many to be woefully undersized. Yet there was indeed breakfast arranged upon the table near the divan. A tall spouted pot of steaming hot coffee, and a shorter one of tea, a basket with freshly baked scones, there was a small dish with butter and another with some manner of jam, a platter with fried bacon and mushrooms and scrambled eggs too.


Truth be told, this was far more than Wodehouse usually arranged, his man might now mention the note he'd found slid from the adjoining door.


I took the liberty of ordering breakfast for us

both, let me know when it arrives. ~ M


If Charles attention increased a little more upon the fine spread, he might note that there were indeed two sets of crockery and utensils.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Charles picked up hints of other appetising scents as he approached the door.


Eggs and... bacon, I think. Wonderful.


He resolved to do something nice for his manservant. (That was always a challenge. Wodehouse had no vices that Charles had been able to discover, and conventional niceness was not the Earl's forte.)


An eyebrow arched as he first saw the extent of the spread.


"I hate to contradict myself immediately, but I don't think I'm as hungry as that old man," he began, laughing, only to trail off as Wodehouse produced the note. His pleased equanimity vanished.


"She's HERE?!" he hissed, overloud.


Wodehouse mutely pointed to the connecting door.


"And next door?!" He tried to lower his voice, and only succeeded in sounding half-strangled. Sighing, Charles reached up to pinch the bridge of his nose.


"Make a pot of Mademoiselle Vauquelin's tea, would you? I feel I shall be in sore need of it," he instructed, recovering his composure. It was not fair to spring these things on a man in the morning.


Shaking his head, he crossed to the connecting door and rapped loudly upon it.


"Breakfast is served Mater," he sang out, making sure his voice was obnoxiously cheerful.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Unlike Charles, Mary had been up for some time -- their nights before having been vastly different.


She was fully dressed and distracting between reading a novel (which was not near as interesting now she was in London, though it had seemed riveting when in Chatham), and glancing at the clock. She had been ever so slightly on edge, but the splash of brandy in her coffee had indeed helped.


There seemed to be some sounds of movement, and then came his voice. Her maid moved forwards with a shawl to add to her shoulders, while Mary rolled her eyes at his public schooloy term. "I am not so old as that." Just was she meant was uncertain to the maid, who apologised and took the sensibly warm item away.


"Then won't you unlock the door?" She called through from her side, "Why the key is upon your side I have no idea. I shall sue for custody of it over breakfast."



OOC: edited as I spotted I wrote her name wrong >.<

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Charles frowned momentarily. He had absolutely no idea where the key might be. Fortunately, Wodehouse was on hand to offer up the item in question. Charles took it and (after glancing about the room in search of heavy furniture he might use to blockade the doorway if it became necessary in the future) unlocked the door.


Leaning languidly on the doorjamb, Charles smiled brightly at everything in the general direction of his stepmother. Internally, he crushed the part of him that was disappointed to see her fully dressed rather than robe clad between two mental rocks.


"Very well Mater, we shall add the key to the list of items to be discussed." He huffed with amusement. "At the rate it grows we may actually have to draw one up."


It grated, slightly, to have to call Mary 'Mater,' but he liked to think that it grated on her more. (He had toyed with using 'Mama,' but decided against it, on the basis that he was likely to vomit.)


Chuckling softly, he crossed the floor to offer her his arm.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

At length the door was opened, and there he was with a show of ease in the doorjamb. Evasive, was the feeling she got from him as he did not specially meet her eyes. Taking up a handful of skirts she swept past and into his room, leaving a waft of patchouli in her wake...


"If you continue to call me that, I shall call you Snookums." she threatened airily as she gazed about his room - satisfied that it was at least no better appointed than her own. "Mary will do."


Here she turned back and looked at him, drawing a breath and with it a moment of vulnerability showed. He looked well, in that barely awaken way, seemed far less the dissolute that she liked to think of him as. Even looked a little like his father, in the good years before Henry had become sick. She discovered an unexpected moment of hope for the young man before her, but then quickly pressed past. "I had not been expecting your letter."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"'Snookums?'" Charles asked drily. "Really? I should have no choice but to retaliate by calling you 'Mama.'" His smile widened to show just a hint of pointed canine.


Following Mary back into his room, he waited out her appraisal of the furnishings with every appearance of relaxed patience. He caught a flicker of something in her expression as she returned her attention to him, but was too focused on maintaining his own facade to identify it. Cocking his head to one side, Charles considered for a moment before replying to her admission.


"I had not expected to send it, or one like it," he said slowly. This was not proceeding as he had imagined it might, and the contravention of his expectations left him somewhat off-balance, a feeling neither familiar nor comfortable.


We should be spitting icily polite daggers at each other by now! At best!


Shaking himself, Charles crossed the room with quick strides to draw out a chair for Mary. Seating himself, he flicked a hand in the direction of their repast.


"Tea or coffee?"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Snookums is worse..." was that a whisper of amusement at her lips, Mary mentally claimed round one as hers as she took a position upon the divan.


His admission that he too found his letter unexpected was a curious twist. She looked at him frankly then, "Haven't the fates dealt us a strange hand Charles? Coffee please. Yet I did not take any pleasure at your provocation, this talk of sending him to France was brutish at best. I discussed it at length with my friend Lady Lucas, and she agrees with me that your timing could not be worse. I can only hope that it was but a ploy..."


Upon a pause she placed a scone on side plate.


"... though as ploys go, it was rather artless. I had come to expect rather better of you, and so here I am now left to wonder if all the tales that made their way back to Chatham was nothing more than bombastic rhetoric." she looked towards him with a raise of eyebrows.



OOC: I just thought to double check that you've read Charles rooms location post?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Of course it had been a ploy, but that did not mean Charles would not argue about it, if only to restore some sense of normalcy to the situation. (And it would probably help him avoid gloating about it. Not being able to rub people's faces in it was the worst part of being subtle, in his opinion.)


"You had expectations of me?" Charles asked first, smiling. "You evidently heard different stories in Chatham than I did on the Continent." He widened his eye in mock innocence. "You will not believe the things they invent to malign one's reputation over there."


Sipping at his coffee, he gave a Mary a level look over the rim of the cup and assumed a more serious mien, addressing her with a cool, dispassionate tone.


"Angers is an excellent school. A superb education, not just in riding. Music, mathematics, the classics... all the things a gentleman needs to know. And he'll be in the right social stratum. It'd do wonders for the boy's French, if nothing else." He smiled thinly. "And as to what I imagine is the meat of your concern, the fighting, if there is any, will be in Flanders and the Franche Comte, which are both quite a distance from Angers. They'll hardly suspect him of spying either. Just because we are at war is no reason to discard civilised behaviour."


Charles had no idea if all of that was true or not, but that was besides the point. He was beginning to enjoy himself now, could feel his mind start to whirr into action.


"And I do not think myself likely to be moved on the point either. He needs to go to school." He paused briefly. "If you'll permit me to speak frankly, you coddle the boy too much. It's smothering him."


He had left an opening in that, that the school in question need not be in France. Whether Mary took advantage of that or stuck to her guns would be instructive.



OOC: I have, yes, but not since the Willoughby thread, and I see I've gotten some of the details muddled. Oops

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Yes we had heard you'd debauched your way from Stockholm to Gibraltar, I had at least hoped that it would be done with finesse, a certain je ne sais quoi. But perhaps I was mistaken." She was goading him perhaps, to behave stylishly. (Effort in any other for ones own benefit is soothing to the ego.)


Alas, at that moment he rather chose to be stubborn. Her lips pressed into a thin line of response, hearing him out, some of his argument held merit, if Francis was a bit older, and if a war did not loom. "Spying?" she'd not even thought her son would be accused of that. Her colouring rose, while appetite vanished. And then he really got onto a roll...


"Now just one minute." Mary set down her cup, horridly upset that Charles insulted her mothering. "There is nothing wrong with his schooling at Chatham, you yourself did not leave to attend St Pauls until you were 12. Do not think that I cant see through this Charles, you are plotting petty revenge!


"You think that I was the one who suggested you sent to boarding school when first married to your father - and would now send my own son away, and he younger still."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Slander, lies and calumny," Charles declared with, in his own opinion, an admirably straight face. He held the deadpan expression for a moment before it dissolved into a roguish grin. "I've never been further north than Amsterdam."


There was, Charles knew, a strong streak of malice in his nature, one that he had been avoiding indulging at court thus far. It was that part of him that enjoyed Mary's upset, that gloried in the impending dramatics. He felt the wonderful icy thrill of it suffuse him. That this was the woman who had displaced his mother's memory and made Charles himself a stranger in his own home made it all the sweeter.(And if an even blacker part of his nature whispered that she looked every bit as magnificent angry as he had suspected she might, well, that was nothing more than objective fact.)


He took a slow sip of his coffee, keeping his motions smooth and elegant. Setting cup and saucer down, he gave Mary the sort of assessing gaze he had given the breech at Maastricht and the wood at Enzheim, letting that cold, fey part of him shine out of his eye.


"Oh, I've never credited you with any hand in that," he told her, using his real voice for once, abandoning the innumerable hearty affectations that usually infected his speech. The words came quick and cold, sliding into place like a thrust from a stiletto. "It bore Father's stamp- swift and decisive action to rectify a perceived problem, heedless of what other problems the solution might create. I can't even say I hold a grudge over it. It made me what I am, and I flatter myself that in nerve and resource, at least, I am everything one might want in a son."


That there were other things he might hold a grudge over, things he might credit her with a hand in, went unsaid, as did that Charles was in many ways his father's son.


He took another sip of coffee and continued, voice and demeanour both now restored to their normal pitch, as though the hot drink had restored his human warmth.


"I'll own that there might be some merit in what you say of his age, but if I was twelve when I went to St. Pauls, I had ceased to be coddled some years before."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

She acknowledged his humour with a small smile - not that she approved of any of it of course. But he was a male, and it was the way of young men to travel abroad and get the worst of their natural excesses vented as far away from the home estate as possible.


But this was a serious conversation really, the preamble being something of a social nice-ity, curtains gracefully drawing to the side and revealing aforementioned ''.


He had a penchant for self-flattery, now exhibited in a way that roiled her stomach. "If one held an unrequited desire for an arrogant and foolhardy son, one who does not check which way the wind is blowing before he vomits, then I would agree. Alas your Father yearned for one with diligence and concern for the families reputation, both of which you failed him miserably.


"Francis was the single saving grace." Mary did not like how she was feeling just now, it was there was an acute discomfort of the direction the conversation was taking. She did not want to involve her own son in it, and yet found herself holding him up as an example. Possibly only making the youngster more of a target.


"If by ceased to be coddled, you mean your mother had died, then pshaw Charles." her eyes flashed angrily.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It was a exquisite feeling, sinking himself into that icy lake of malice at his core. It brought with it a wonderful clarity of thought, seemed to sharpen his senses and make the whole scene more vivid. It did not matter to Charles whether or not he won the argument, merely that he goaded reactions out of Mary.


That wonderful frigid mantle also wrapped him in ice, denied his stepmother's barbs any purchase. Charles merely smiled gently in reply.


"Concern for the family reputation? I would not have suspected it of him, given his attachment to the bottle. Delirium tremens is quite the faux pas, after all. And I shan't delve into the gambling." Stab stab stab went the stiletto. Still smiling, he continued.


"And I would deny any lack of diligence on my part. Indeed, I strongly suspect that it is the only one of the classical virtues to which I can lay any claim." His smile widened just enough to show the pointed tips of his canines. "I know my nature, you see."


But that armour of ice was not quite impenetrable, and Mary's next sally lit a flicker of something in his solitary eye. His smile widened further, though, exposing all of his sharp carnivore's teeth in an expression that bore more resemblance to a shark than anything human.


Oh, he's going to France now, even if I have to smuggle him in a brandy cask.


"Francis?" he asked with frozen, vitriolic sweetness. "I was unaware that he had made sense of Father's affairs, put them in order and broken his personal fortune saving the family from Queer Street." He shook his head. "Come now madam."


Charles savoured the flash of anger in her eyes, barely managing to resist the impulse to shiver with malicious delight. He did allow himself to grin, a thin expression that nonetheless contained infinitely more warmth and humanity than his earlier parody of a smile.


"I meant precisely what I said, no more and no less," he said simply. His voice shifted as he continued, becoming more of a purr. "And that was a fairly transparent attempt to anger me. Are you truly so eager to see me roused to passion?"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Mary visibly flinched, yet held her ground. "Then evidently he was 'everything one might want in a son' also."


Spat? No his words were recited back to him with more of a strained smile instead. Charles was the pot calling the kettle black in this instance at least. Mary's eyes wide and dark, skin pale, and hands trembled just a bit.


"Reputation is far more than the passing pleasures of a day." she counter claimed.


"I meant during his life." she relied to Charles faux-question of her son, "In life he was the apple of his fathers eye, or at very least, present. You have been gone for years Charles. Barley a word, unless it was a petition for increase in your allowance. Still he would hear of none sitting at your place at the table, despite your conspicuous absence."


Was she goading him? Evidently he believed so, as he called her out on it.


"And are you threatening me?" in return she spoke, holding herself a little more erect in retaliation, as her dark eyes flared flickering to his lips and back.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"'In terms of nerve and resource,' I said," Charles reminded his stepmother, "and I cannot answer for Father's reserves of either."


Her flinch irked him a little. She was obviously not the unassailable iceberg of will he had imagined her to be. It made a tiny corner of him feel the slightest bit uncomfortable with how things were progressing. It was one thing to fence with a peer and quite another to run roughshod over a scared woman. The latter did not tally with his image of himself at all.


"No it is not," Charles agreed of reputation. To his mind, it had been his father complaining about the colour of the crockery. He could (he thought) have taken the chastisement for his actions had it not been accompanied by a large dose of hypocrisy.


"I am working on it though, and have made a promising enough beginning." He smiled the blithely confident smile of one to whom war was home and conflict full as much a necessity as food or air. "And when we get our fight with the French I'll burnish it even brighter."


A frown creased his brow as Mary spoke of his father. He felt irrationally angry at the revelation that a place had been kept for him at table.


A place for me, and none for Richard, who was worth a hundred of me and a thousand of that drunken sot? A place for me, and my mother's filled by another?


He managed to smile as Mary found her steel, burying his useless anger for later. He noticed the flick of her eyes and arched an internal eyebrow at what, in other circumstances, would have seemed to him a signal.


That cannot possibly mean what I think it means.


Charles still smirked as though he believed it did, all in the interests of goading her to yet greater anger. (Or so he assured himself).


"If I meant you harm," he said, striving for a tone of amused disinterest, "I would not waste time with threats."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Steeling herself, Mary continued, "I would see you tested upon that score." she returned, "you may claim resourcefulness and nerve very easily now. Yet just as you cannot vouch for it in your Father - due to your prolonged absence - nor can I be certain of it in you."


"Truly?" Charles claimed to be growing a new reputation of his own, one that he seemed a little proud of even. "You mean in the gambling hall I suppose." meeting his eyes, she wondered if she’d be corrected. Hoped for a correction even. Though it was as unlikely as a leopard changing his spots.


It had been his use of a trigger word 'passion', that made Mary aware of her heightened state 'of presence' right now. She did not mean to, yet felt an impossible drawing towards Charles for a moment then - and she challenged him. To which he toyed some words towards her, like a matador might flick his muleta.


Drawing deeper breath, bosom heaving as she did so, Mary rose higher in her stance and returned, "Then you shall apologise to me.”

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Charles smiled indulgently.


"You assume I'm insecure enough to need your approbation," he said lightly, beginning to butter himself a scone. "I know my own mettle well enough for my ego to support itself. But that is by the by. Remain at court and I'm sure you will have innumerable opportunities to, ah, take my measure, shall we say?"


He matched her gaze, his sole sapphire orb meeting her twin hazel. Idly, he wondered if she could read his enjoyment of her incensed state there, returned in full measure now that Mary had steeled herself anew. Charles knew it swam in the depths of his eye.


"Truly," he confirmed drily, before snorting in amusement as his stepmother continued. "No, I don't. We both know that I will never have a proper reputation," he invested the word with all his contempt for the concept, "but I have begun to sow the seeds of a... serious one, for want of a better term."


It took a frankly heroic effort of will for Charles to keep his gaze from Mary's heaving breasts. She had a most impressive bosom, and Charles himself was highly susceptible to such things. He could almost feel muscles in his cheek twitch with the strain. Fortunately, her face was not without its own attractions, particularly animated as it was now. Feeling a twinge of admiration, some small part of Charles cursed his fascination for passionate, difficult women. The rest of him focused on playing his role in this little melodrama.


"Hmm?" he asked, arching an inquiring eyebrow as he bit into his scone. A small dab of butter was left on his upper lip, and his tongue flickered out to sweep it up.


"Oh, settle down and drink your coffee before it goes cold. In fact..." he leaned across to top up her cup, brushing off her hip as he did. Doing the same with his own, he leaned back and grinned at her.


"Might I be permitted to know my crime?"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Not mine solely - but all of court." She returned. Lud his smugness was a infuriating as it was attractive! "You are an unknown to all, aside from a little murmur here and there of a decay'd sort." It was too late to retract the words, which she realised he'd take as a compliment!


Her eyes flared, then narrowed. "How pleasantly you phrase your invitation. Have no fear, I have every intention of remaining, at least till seasons end." He'd goaded to remain hadnt he? Why, he was enjoying this! And she. Well she could not entirely admit to an innocence of it either. Even now her mind sought some succulent insinuation to toss towards him, like throwing a steak before a lion. No, she must never call him a lion (his arrogance would be inflated by it!). A Jackal perhaps.


"All reputations are serious things, though granted some are laughable." for the moment she was distracted as he spoke gloatingly of his construction of a reputation. "Are you meddling about the House of York perhaps?" she tried to guess.


He had his long friendship with Churchill that might grease those doors. She herself had a friend in the Churchill family, though he might not be aware of that (what young man took any interest in his Fathers new wife's friendships?) unless John had mentioned Arabella's frienship with Mary in passing?


Mary was caught entirely by surprise as he instructed her towards her coffee then, while he licked away a daub of butter, and grazed hand past her hip as he refilled cups. A tingling sensation rose up her spine right into her scalp, and her posture shimmered.


"Distressing me, for the sport of it." Oh she could slap him right now, just to stop him grinning!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Decayed," Charles said musingly, tasting the word. "You know, I've always wondered why they use words like that. I live and laugh and love while they stagnate, and I regret not a moment of it. Yet I am the one who decays." He snorted and smiled apologetically. "Forgive me my meanderings. I do take your point, tangential philosophical ramblings aside."


He would have laughed had he known of Mary's search for a suitable animal metaphor for him. A leopard, he would have told her without hesitation. A more self-sufficient creature than a lion, sleek and savage and powerful, but with less nobility and an association with deception, treachery, and underhanded cunning. A perfect fit, Charles felt.


He smiled at her guess. The logical assumption, but his plans were both broader and less deep than that, at least to start with.


"I'm associating with the powerful, and being seen to do so. I'm discussing the war, and offering sober, reasoned opinions. I'm being seen to drill my regiment and train myself. When Parliament resumes, I shall be seen to make speeches on such issues as seem appropriate to me. In short, I am creating an image."


His little bit of theatre with the cups and the brushing contact went well, or so he judged. It was hard to tell, as he had had no real end in mind for the action to achieve. It had been its own purpose. And he liked Mary like this, Charles decided, when he had no idea what she might do next. It was interesting and just dangerous enough to be fun.


He nodded gravely as she announced his crime and slid smoothly from the couch to kneel in front of her, head bowed in contrition.


"Mea culpa," he began. "I confess. I have made sport of you. I am a malicious little worm, and it gives me pleasure to discomfort you so. I apologise unreservedly, and beg most humbly for your forgiveness. Anything you care to ask of me in restitution I shall perform."


Charles looked up, boyish delight in his playful wickedness shining out of him.


"Admit it. You're enjoying this too."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

"In an effort to lessen the appeal to reprobates as yourself." Mary replied pragmatically, a glint in her eyes as she got her second wind. "Yet your perspective does not surprise me in the least. Those sat in the mire oft consider themselves spectator to a splendid view. It is those upon high who have the misfortune of viewing those wallowers, averting ones eyes can only work so much."


"Stagnation." she took the word from his own ruminations on the topic, "I suppose the real question is which level of society are the ones sedentary? To my viewpoint I would say it is a position either class might hold, if fully one or fully the other. And that the true visionary and thus enviable individual is the one who may move between either with equal ease."


She paused at that, pleased with her thought's development she met her stepsons eyes.


Her probe had the desired result, and he elaborated some on his earlier vague. It was not with York specifically he was throwing his lot in with, although with the tack he was taking the connection would not go amiss. She had not realised he'd brought his regiment to London. Had never suspected anyone would ask him for a sober option upon anything - Let alone imagined he had intents to make speeches at The House with Parliament next came to session.


"Well and well." She failed to hid the surprise in her tone (or did not try to)


This was a game being played, an inch taken, and then lost, tugging, and allowing to be tugged.


Her eyes dilated as his theatrical response of bended knee... and floridly overdone apology. A smirk formed upon her lips, and hand reached, fingertip used to lift his chin till her eyes looked deeply into his. "Now I'd have picked you as a man who'd not need to ask such a question. Rest assured Charles, you shall know loud and clear when I am enjoying myself."


Upon climatic, and not entirely proper reply, the Lady Chatham arose from the divan ready to leave. "I intent to go to the ball tonight, you shall escort me of course."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Charles could no more have stopped himself than he could have uprooted a mountain. The opening had been offered and he had to take advantage or no longer be himself.


"I assure you, from where I sit the view is indeed splendid." He pressed on smoothly. "And, for that matter, I have not infrequently found myself sharing my perch with those you would deem 'upon high.'"


Charles continued breakfast and listened as Mary indulged his philosophical tangent. He did not eat to excess (vanity and the morbid feat of ending like his father prevented it) but nonetheless consumed his food with the sensual relish that was the essence of gluttony. (Charles meant it when he said that sloth was the only mortal sin he had not committed, and meant it even more when he said that if one was to sin, one should sin well.) He sipped slowly at his coffee as she finished, savouring the flavour while he considered her words.


"There may be some truth in what you say," he admitted, "but to me it has always boiled down to this: when I die, I will have lived first, and will perish without regrets for the might-have-beens and the what ifs. How many of those who decry me will be able to say the same?"


Her surprise as they moved to more pertinent topics was no surprise to Charles. It fit his preconceptions, that Mary should be too used to thinking of him as a wastrel to see him as anything else. He resisted the urge to gloat, confining himself to a shrug.


"It is vague, I know, but more concrete plans require that I know first the lie of the land."


They changed tacks again, their little game whirling on apace as Charles threw himself into his melodramatic 'apology.' He matched Mary's smirk with his own and met her gaze as squarely as a cyclops could, letting her see exactly how much the fey part of him was glorying in this.


"Oh, I know you're enjoying yourself," he purred out. "I just wanted to hear you admit it."


Rising alongside her, Charles shrugged. "Very well. I have a few prior commitments to tend to at the ball, but I'm sure you can take care of yourself." He drew in a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. "Before you go, there is another matter I would raise."


Charles squared his shoulders, frowning slightly.


"It is time I began to consider marriage. You likely know more of the general state of things in that arena than I do, and there are avenues of inquiry open to you that are closed to me."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

"But of course." Margret affect a preening motion as he claimed his view was splendid. The motion done to tease at him more than anything else, for she was not such a fool to not know he was speaking non-literal.


Yet as for his perch-mates she uttered under breath, "As would your father." though not making any great deal of it. The fact remained that the Late Earl of Chatham's vices were acceptable enough in the age, and coudl even be played as passports into the loftiest low places in the Kingdom. Not that Charles would admit he followed in his fathers footsteps - at all.


Digressions upon the topic aside, the distance between their views was not quite as opposite as either made out. One might even say they argued over it for the sake of argument alone. But no, she'd not admit that she was enjoying this. Admitting to such a thing might preclude a repeat, and it was frankly an invigorating conversation!


How many of those who decry me will be able to say the same?"...


"They shall all say it darling." she replied with a wheedling smirk to the man just a few years her junior.


Yet the conversation then reached a point at which she, thinking she'd 'won' a the latest bout, thought to leave while she was still on top. The pair were both stood now, he accepting his duty of providing escort -- when he dropped the steamed pud&custard!


"You what?" There was perhaps nothing he could have said that would have surprised her more. "Marriage."


Blinking her surprise, her silence invited his further explanation. Suffice to say this conversation was far from over!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Marriage," Charles confirmed with mock gravity, his own discomfiture with the topic eased by Mary's obvious shock. "A dowry would ease our financial constraints somewhat, and connections are always useful. Besides, I'm twenty-six, which is practically middle-aged by Audley standards. Past time I was wed, really." He smiled at her. "To be quite honest, had I known that the topic would unbalance you so I would have opened with it."


He seated himself once more, surveying the remains of breakfast.


"Hmm. The coffee is spent, but there is tea, which I gather is the traditional beverage for plotting these things over anyway. Shall I pour?"


Filling a cup for himself, Charles leaned back to survey his stepmother over the rim.


Almost a pity I can't marry her, really.


Charles shook his head gently at that, amused at the meanders of his mind. That would be a glorious disaster.


"That's why I need to marry," he said seriously, "and I've already told you why I need your help."


It rankled more than slightly to admit that he did need Mary's aid, but Charles made no more than a token effort to conceal it, thinking that his vexation might encourage her. The best sort of manipulation, that, the sort that needed nothing more than for him to act exactly as he normally would.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There was nothing wrong with her hearing, she knew very well what he'd said. Like anyone hearing of such plans the first consideration was 'how does it affect me?'


"Hah hah..." she managed a little limp laughter as he rued not leading with this subject.


Discovering herself seated once more, Mary nodded to tea and pulled together her composure - looking at him more critically now. Was this a bluff? You never knew. She'd been 'winning', and he did this to trip up her triumphant exit!


"Well there is something to be said for your intelligence, that you come to me for help." The only way forward was to test and see if she could call his bluff. Not that she was ready to gain the cast aside title of 'dowager' any time soon. I am in my prime!


"You are right to think that your appeal lessens with every passing moment, its truly best that you marry as soon as possible, and before further news of your nefarious exploits aboard become known in England.


"It is not as though your value as a husband will increase over the coming months or years. Not as though holding off marrying a barons daughter now as an unknown to all might be wise. You are unlikely to ever be called upon by the houses of Cavandish, Howards, Villiers ...


... that is, unless, you actually meant what you told me of court ambition."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Charles shrugged easily under Mary's appraisal, grinning internally at her swift recovery.


"No one has ever called me stupid," he commented drily. Arrogant, utterly lacking in sense and restraint, and reckless to the point of insanity, yes, but never stupid.


He snorted softly as she bluntly laid out what she thought of his prospects, darkly amused (but unsurprised) by the bleak picture she painted. Not, he would admit, that it was entirely inaccurate. Charles knew that he was no Thomas Herbert.


"Just as well that I have a robust ego," he said, deadpan, raising his cup in acknowledgement. "But yes, I am not what most would think of as the ideal son-in-law, we are in agreement there."


He paused for a moment, sipped at his tea, and sighed in pleasure before continuing, his mien becoming more serious.


"I almost always mean what I say, and that was no exception. But it brings us to a matter worth discussing- do we really want to marry into the grand families? Oh, the connections, of course, but would they be worth the inevitable suggestion of... subservience? What we really need is money, and there are any number of wealthy gentlemen with unwed daughters they would be willing to attach to an Earl." Charles shrugged again. "Have you an opinion on the matter?"


He gave Mary an inquisitive look.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

His return was less robust than it could have been, her eyes fell upon him with a moments quiet as he raised his cup. His comment suggested his skin not quite as thick as she'd imagined. Curious.


Then onwards she continued.


"You seem to underrate the value of family connections, perhaps it is due to having spent too many years abroad... But marriage to the right family may give you a leg up into influential circles, and the manner of conversations where a well placed word here and there can truly shift a mans fortunes.


"Consider Basildon for an example, a man who arrived at court disowned by his family and kept as Lady Hawthorns plaything. Yet an ambitious man, even back then, wily to spot oportunity. Yet it was only after marrying the Seymour heiress that his fortne truly changed. He gained himself a multitudes of estates, and host of relatives who include the Lord Chancellor. Upon the tail of that success he was granted the sugar monopoly by His Majesty. Now do you think his rise would have been such a catapulting success, if he'd married a wealthy nobody for the short term reward?


"Yes I do have an opinion, and that is that long term vison should be used when considering such maters.


After her earlier insult (which had been meant to incite his contrary-spirit rather than deflate him) she thought to then add, "Now I do not claim to know you well as well as I ought to, but I do believe you are capable. And. And I was only teasing when I said your appeal was waning. Rather, you have the character foundations: wit and intellect, to swiftly accelerate your position and prospects, to become one of the most sought after matches at court - if you put your mind to it.


It kind of rankled to encourage him like this. but then, she really did not want some merchants daughter made into the new Countess, turning up at Chatham and throwing her weight around.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Charles listened closely, head half-cocked to one side. The beginnings of a thoughtful frown creased his brow as Mary laid out her reasoning.


"Perhaps I am underestimating what such a match could bring us. I have an instinctive aversion to tying myself to another as the lesser partner, and it may be colouring my thinking." A short sip of his tea as he considered further.


"I do not think Basildon is the best example, though," Charles continued after a moment. He was vaguely surprised to find himself no longer arguing for the sake of argument, now honestly interested in a genuine debate on the matter.


"If I recall correctly, there was no patriarch among the Seymours at the time. It gave Basildon a degree of... freedom, for lack of a better term, that I am unlikely to enjoy in a similar match. Furthermore, it is all very well, and even necessary, to consider the long-term, but one must first survive the immediate future. What is strategically desirable must be tactically possible before it can be performed, and one of our foremost limitations at the moment is money." Charles shook his head. "But influence is not far behind it, I'll concede that much."


In truth, their finances were not quite so bad as that, but it suited Charles to have Mary think so. He laid down his cup and stretched languorously, loosely knotted dressing gown drawing tight across his chest and shoulders. The conversation had his mind roaring to life, flooding with ideas. He could feel barely restrained energy vibrate through him, and burned with the urge to be up and doing. Somehow, he kept himself seated and focused on Mary, smiling softly as she rowed back on her earlier comments.


"That must have hurt," he said silkily, smile widening as he did a little teasing of his own. "If you, with better knowledge of my faults than any, have taken note of my... appeal, then my position is better than I first thought." He leaned forward. "But I take it you see room for improvement? What, then, would you have me put my mind to first?"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

"True, a match between peers would be a fine situation - particularly if intellect might be counted amongst your figuring." She reflected for a moment upon her own match. She'd not been married for intellectual reasons, like so many others of this 'Enlighted' age, she'd been raised under a dreadful lack of true education for young ladies.


"Basildon was merely the first name pulled from a hat." she countered as Charles objected to comparison. "My point being that you might sell yourself short if you marry prior to showing court that you mean to be a figure to be reckoned with. That is what you intend, is it not? You intend to be a man who shapes the world, not one who is shaped by others..." She spoke to his male ego, with an advantage of believing her points were entirely true.


Yet he was still an ass. Rather than silently accept her complementary encouragement, he pointed out the discomfort her change of tack must give. Mary flicked her wrist, "Pfft Charles, you should know by now I shall do whatever it takes to defend my situation. It's just that I have realised that you are currently my horse in this race, and I shall not have you pulled up lame at the first pass."


Her defensively selfish claim was a little rattled however, as he leaned towards her and somehow triggered sensations that were entirely womanly. Her eyes flicked to his lips, her own were wetted. "You might begin with..." how on earth did she feel like kissing him at that moment?! Ack, the deprivations of widowhood might destroy her better sense and good judgement. It was like a magnet pulled her, her spine had to strain not to relent! "You might begin with a haircut." His locks meanwhile tumbled about his face with appealing neglect, the sort that made any woman desire to straighten them into place.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"It shall have to be," Charles said, lips peeling back to show his canines once more in a darkly amused grin. "Stupidity bores me, and boredom makes me cruel."


It always amused him to stumble across the blackened remnants of his morals like this, but there you were. Charles would not marry a woman he knew beforehand that he would torment directly and maliciously. (That some might find his usual behaviour an equally grievous torment, however indirect, did not occur to him.)


He sighed as Mary continued her arguments. She had misread him, but only slightly - if forced to choose, Charles would take freedom over power. But his stepmother had still revealed some measure of insight, and he wondered what else she might see if they kept playing.


Well, if that is a concern, we must let no hint of it show. Carry on.


"And therein, as Shakespeare tells us, lies the rub. To marry well I need stature at court, but to attain stature at court I must marry well." He laughed. "A fine cleft stick for this serpent to wriggle on, I'm sure you'll agree."


His need to goad her was childish, he'd freely admit, but could Charles really be blamed when Mary reacted so splendidly to the provocation?


"Oh? And where do you intend to ride me?" For once the innuendo only occurred to him after he had voiced it, and he hid his boyish grin in his tea cup. "That is to say, what do you expect to find awaiting you at the winner's post?"


Charles had leaned in when teasing only to make Mary uncomfortable. And yet, watching her gaze flicker to his lips while she wet her own, feeling the tension grow with their proximity...


Surely not. But...


Not drawing back an inch, Charles tugged a lock forward, assessing it critically.


"My hair?" he purred. "I should need persuading, but... How short were you thinking?"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

"Well there is something to be said for a man who knows his own character." she returned with a measure of wry. That he knew and could say such things of himself in such a casual almost throw-away manner was surprising to the woman, it showed rather more self reflection than she's have pegged him with.


"You may be suited toward a woman upon her second marriage, one who understands how the world works and can handle herself." Mary made further comment, while her eyes grew distant with her own reflection.


And then he leaned in, and she discovered herself distracted. Worse as he recognised her distraction, and teased her of it. "Where would I ride you?"


It was taboo of course.


Her voice was low, almost a purr as she continued, "While we are being utterly frank Charles, I shall state that I hold no desire for you to bring some woman let alone a bride to Chatham." Mary touched a finger to his lapel. "I am perfectly happy as I am, and have no need for some other thinking to assert her dominion."

Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...