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A Friendly Visit | Sunday, 3 pm- Xmas 1677

Sophia de la Cerda

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The Toledo Residence


Even with the colorful touches she had added to the drawing room, it still seemed a bit masculine with its dark but tasteful décor and polished mahogany furniture. Sophia could hardly wait for it to be redecorated, and was making plans to have it done while she and Esteban were in Madrid during recess. For now its bleakness had been brightened with cheerful paintings hanging on the wall and the dark green drapes had been replaced by cream silk curtains shot through with gold thread. White porcelain vases painted in floral patterns sat on a few of the tables, filled with flowers from her small orangery.


A table sat close to the fireplace covered in a cream colored tablecloth with gold lace trim to match the curtains. She couldn't do much about the chairs with their dark brocade upholstery, but Anna had trimmed the backs with gold ribbons. Two crystal decanters, one filled with a dry white wine and one with brandy, stood on the table along with two matching glasses. The refreshments would be brought shortly after Mistress Jennings arrived.


Sophia hoped this meeting went well and that she and Sarah could become friends. They had gotten along quite well at the ball. She knew that it was possible that the Duchess of York wanted her lady to spy on the Spanish Ambassador's wife, but that was fine with her. Esteban didn't confide in her and she had no secrets to hide. Hopefully all Sarah would report back to her mistress was what a gracious hostess she had been.


As she waited for her guest to arrive, she roamed around the room, occasionally stopping in front of a vase to rearrange the flowers. If Mistress Jennings went to the Embassy first, where most courtiers thought she lived, she would be redirected to the house behind it, which was the true residence of the Ambassador and his wife.

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Sarah was well enough familiar with this area and so knew to go round the back having given answer to an asked question by several men who stood about. An expected thing given there was an Embassy.

Her boots crunched over the ground and the skirts of deep navy velvet she held a bit aloft unwilling to soil them. Her gaze took in her surroundings curious as to what it might look like inside. 

She climbed the stairs and was admitted saying to the groom -

"Mistress Jennings to see Baroness Toledo. I am expected."

She untied her cloak and waited for it to be taken by another servant as one does her eyes roving over the interior that was rather dark by design.

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After a liveried servant bowed to Sarah and took her cloak, the butler led her to the drawing room where Sophia was waiting, dressed in a cornflower blue velvet gown decorated with white lace and golden ribbons. The matching ribbons in her hair glittered in the light cast by the flickering flames of the fire burning in the hearth. Candles were not needed as sunlight streamed through the large window that took up much of one wall.


She left the flowers that she had been toying with and crossed the room to greet her. “Welcome, Mistress Jennings. Come and sit with me by the fireplace. You must be cold.” Leading the way over to the table and chairs, she indicated that her guest should take one of them. Sophia sat down in the other one. “Please forgive the décor. My lord husband's predecessor didn't have much taste.” She meant that statement in more ways than one, but she doubted that Sarah knew anything at all about the former Spanish Ambassador.


A servant stepped forward to pour their drinks. “I've set out white wine and brandy, but if there is something else you would rather have, I can send for it.” A glass of brandy was poured for the Baroness and set on the table in front of her.


“So how have you been since the ball?  I hope that your mistress is doing well. I often think of the conversation I shared with her.”


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Sarah gave the Baroness a curtsey then did as bid sitting in the other chair glad for the warmth the fire provided. Her gaze rested on the other taking in her appearance a small smile playing about her lips.

"If any were present they might wonder at how alike we are dressed ..." A reference to her own deep navy velvet skirts and matching bodice trimmed with metalic silver trim. "Do not say such things Baroness after all you must live with your predecessor 's taste .. or lack there of. I am sure you shall make changes that better suit but I do hope you keep the window for the light is most welcom'd especially now in Winter. What you drink is fine for me also."

"Tired. I find the Twelve days are oft times thus and we are still over-populated so some quite is appreciated. My Lady is well."

She did not expand upon that comment ibstead turning the topic by saying

"Ah. Here then are your winnings."

She took a small bag from the pocket of her skirt which jingled as she rose and went to hand it to the Baroness explaining that

"Tis more than middly yet not too rich. Thirty shillings. One angel worth ten shillings the rest silver crowns. Not a bad return at all! I have seen that and much more lost at wagers so you are indeed fortunate."

She did not add the small amount of difficulity she'd had in getting them to 'pay up' but she was skilled enough with words to merit compliance.

Returning to her seat she took up the glass and sipped feeling the liquid burn a bit as she swallowed.

"If you wish to decorate then I will suggest The Royal Exchange for most but if you desire a Mercer for fabrics then West Cheape and London Bridge is where you should go."

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“We chose the same color, but not the exact hue, and the styles of our gowns are much different,” Sophia observed. Sarah's gown was more sophisticated while hers was rather girlish. “Although perhaps we are more alike than we realize.” The servant poured a glass of brandy for Mistress Jennings, set it on the table, and then withdrew to alert the cook that their mistress was ready for the food to be brought in.


“I'm only going to change the paint and wallpaper and buy new furnishings, not remodel the entire house. The framework is pleasing; the colors are just too dark and masculine. I've already redecorated my music room and my bedchamber. The latter was in poor shape as it had not been used. I believe that the former Ambassador was either unmarried or his wife didn't accompany him to England.” In truth, no self-respecting woman would put up with Ronquillo's lecherous and deceitful ways. If he did have a wife, she probably chose to stay in Spain so that she wouldn't have to deal with him anymore.


Sophia figured that Sarah wouldn't say much about the Duchess, but she was surprised that she found the holidays tiring. Maybe it was because her mistress had her running around a lot and it probably didn't help that she lived in the currently over-crowded palace. The petite Baroness was glad that she had her own residence, even as gloomy as it was. “There are only a few days left in the season, and it should become quieter when everyone goes home. Do you stay with the Duchess during recess or do you spend it with your family?”


She had almost forgotten about her false wager and she grinned when Sarah handed her the bag and explained how much was in it. “Thank you for your generosity in obtaining it for me, considering that I didn't really bet on whether or not the sun would rise on New Year's Day. It's more than I expected and gives me some extra spending money.  I used most of my allowance on gifts.” Sophia decided not to tell Esteban about it. It wasn't enough to matter to him anyway and she believed he would be angry at her for gambling, even on such a sure thing.


Standing up, she placed the bag in her pocket and then sat back down. “All I really need to do is find someone to do the work while we're in Madrid. And I do plan on choosing the upholstery and curtain fabrics myself as well as the wallpaper. I've done some sketches in pastels that shows the color scheme I've selected. If you'd like, I can show them to you.”


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  • 1 month later...

Sarah accepted the glass her eyes resting on the Baoness as she chatted about her schemes for decorating. Yes it was rather to much in its maleness and some change would improve no doubt.

"Well it is not common for an Ambassador to bring either wife or family to Court so that would explain its condition. I have no knowledge of the former Ambassador or his 'taste' and this is my first time here yet I imagine it has always looked this way since twas only inhabited by Men."

"I am sure you will bring much needed light and I would indeed like to view them." This in answer to the question put and as the Baroness had already stood Sarah could hardly not have said that!

"Regarding Recess ..... well that will depend on the Duke. If he is of a mind to take All to some country place them the Duchess will make arrangements and either we go or some will stay. I hope to be one of those that stay! I would like to see my sister but she is far away and now tis Winter so like not to travel. She is married to the Comte de Hamilton lives in Paris and has three childred the youngest, Mary, born last year who I have never seen. Yet I have many cousins on my late Father's side. His Father, my Grandfather sired twenty and two in total so a large family indeed!"

"They are based near St. Alban's but that too requires travel and the roads in the best of times are not well so now ..." She gave a small shrug and smiled. "So like as not I shall be here."

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“Really?” Sophia asked in surprise. “They leave their families in their own countries? They must be very lonely without them. I wonder if my lord husband is thought of as strange because I am with him. Yet is not my place beside him?” She hoped that Esteban wouldn't insist that she remain in Madrid next season, even if that meant she would get to spend most every night with her beloved Juan. The young Baroness believed that he wanted her with him because of her social aptitude and her party hosting skills. She had pointed out a couple of opportunities that he would have missed if not for her, such as donating to the Queen's charities after the candle event at church.


“I will have my sketches brought it when we're finished with the refreshments.” As if on cue, a maid entered with a porcelain platter full of English, Spanish, and Italian delicacies and set it on the table. Another followed and placed plates, napkins, and eating utensils before each lady. “I hope you like what my cook has prepared. Nothing is very spicy so you don't have to worry about burning your mouth.”


So Sarah did not wish to accompany her mistress to her estate, but wanted to stay with her family. She certainly had a lot of relatives. Sophia felt a bit envious that her friend was so blessed when she herself had no family at all that was related to her by blood.  “Have you been to Paris to visit them  or do they come to see you? I would like to visit Paris someday, even if the Spanish and the French do not get along. You would rather stay here in London or does your family have an estate nearby?”

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"Well you must have taken note of all the other Ambassadors that are here at Court - if for nothing else in order to put face to name - they have no wife or child in accompaniment only a small retinue. I believe that Lord Toledo is the ONLY one that has a wife on display. Perhaps that accounts for all the speculation about you hmm?"

"As to a loneliness, well, I can not speak to that except to say that it is commonly enough known that several keep a mistress close at hand."

Sarah smiled as she shared a secret that was not so secret.

"In a manner of speaking you are correct for when we marry we then belong to our Husbands and our 'place' as you call it is by their side yet there are many Courtiers that do not bring their Ladies here for whatever the reasons might be. Just as there are wives that prefer not to come to London. Who is to judge that business?

It was then that food arrived and Sarah lent a keen eye to what was presented. Some she knew but others not so she was curious to try. She waited until Sophia helped herself then took a small sampling of each.

"My sister and I are the only ones left. Our brother has died erlier this year."

She did not add that he has left all of the Estate to be divided between the two sister which made Sarah Jennings a tidy catch in the Marriage market.

"No I have not been to Paris and wonder about it but as of now I have not the desire to go. As to the last, well, as much as I care for my many cousins there are at times rather a lot to handle and so that tis why the 'quiet' of Whitehall is more attractive. Especially once everyone has taken leave. What will You do then Baroness?

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“I thought that all of them were unmarried.” Sophia had hoped to meet other Ambassador's wives, but if Sarah's words were true, they had been left … or chosen to remain … in their own country. If they had children, she could understand them staying behind. They would want their offspring educated in their own land. Maybe some of them weren't married because they were devoted to their jobs. It took a lot of ambition and influence to become an Ambassador (or wedding one's master's mistress so he could be closer to her, which she suspected was how Esteban had obtained his position) Or, as Sarah surmised, they didn't bring their wives because they wanted to enjoy the company of mistresses.


She doubted that Esteban would be assigned to England forever and eventually, Juan would send him to another country. She would then find out what it was like to move from one culture to another. Before that, though, he would need to learn another language unless he was sent to France, and that was unlikely given the tensions between France and Spain. For all she knew, he was already fluent in other languages. She didn't think he understood German or Italian or he would have spoken to her in those tongues. I will have to remember to ask him how many languages he speaks so I can predict where he might be sent.


“I had already begun making a life for myself in London when we met, so he knew I wished to return. I feel much more at home here than in Madrid and he knows I have friends at court. This is where he courted me, and it seems natural that we would stay here together. If anybody is bold enough to ask me instead of speculating in private, then that is what I shall tell them.”


Mistress Jennings did her own speculating about the reasons husbands and wives didn't attend court together. “I wonder if there are any wives who come without their husbands. In some cases, maybe it is the gentleman who likes a quiet life while the lady craves excitement.”


Sophia filled her plate with some of the savory food first, saving the sweets for later. “I'm sorry to hear about your brother,” she told her friend, genuine concern in her voice. “I still miss my lord father, who passed away last autumn. I don't think you ever truly recover from the loss of a loved one, though I've been told that grief lessens with time.”


Like most Englishwomen that she had met, Sarah had no interest in leaving the island she called home. “It is not boring at Whitehall when court is not being held?” she asked. As to her own plans: “We will be going to Madrid, like we did last recess. I think all Ambassadors return home if they can.”


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"Unmarried? Well I should think some are for they must make their Home where they are sent after all. As to those married it is uncommon as I have said to bring either a wife or children. The Ambasador's time is spent at Court or wherever the Monarch is gathering up what ever is talked about, gossiped, wagered upon, lied about or truths all to be sent back in reports. And Lord Toledo would be no different. Are you not curious what he says? I would be."

She said it with the intent of gauging how it was answered. Her Mistress had an interest in many things about Court and what another Catholic was saying held merit.

"There are many stories and tales of such things. I know of one who's husband did not allow wife to Court because it meant that a daughter would aslo arrive and it was feared she would reapeat any private talk to all and sundry! Or a wife who's Lord is older and unable to attend so she comes to have a tatse of Freedoms being denied and creates Troubles  .... There are endless things. If I were alone, well that situation would never have arisen anyway, I would make my way to Court and claim my righful Place amongst the other Ladies of same Rank. I would give said husband no cause for distrust not would I dishonor his name. I am bold yet know right from wrong!" 

"My brother Ralph was likable enough. It seems as if he was ill on and off so his death was not a true surprise.  There is no wife or issue so tis why we are co-heiresses. My sister Frances has had the support of her in laws - her Mother-in-law is the sister to James Butler, the Duke of Ormonde so tis well. She has said they will return to Ireland in the Spring once the new child can travel. All three are well so I do not think anything will prevent."

"Well I think I am the unusual one for I quite like it once everything settles. And as I am with the Duchess and she the sister-in-law to The King 'Court' is always present! I can not speak for Ambassadors yet know that some do leave and others' are called back by Mater's.. I shall remain I suppose here or perhpas to Windsor?"

"I do like this taste." She refered to a particular item that was 'Spanish' by origin. "I had thought evey bite would breath fire into my lungs!"

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“No, I am not curious at all.” Sophia wondered if Sarah was fishing for information to give to her mistress. “His official business is none of my concern and he keeps his own council on such things. Even if I asked, he would not tell me so I do not think of it at all.” This was true. The information Esteban was gathering for Juan had nothing to do with her.


Mistress Jennings paid more attention to gossip than Sophia did. She had not heard those stories before. “So you will want to attend court even if your future husband does not? Will you be content to stay in the country if he insists that you do not accompany him?” She wondered just how bold Sarah was. Would she defy her husband if his plans were not compatible with her own? Sophia would have to stay in Madrid if Esteban chose to leave her behind, but that cloud had a silver lining. She would be with her beloved Prince.


“I'm sure you will be happy to see them. Do they plan on coming to court or will you travel to Ireland?” Sophia had never been to Ireland but she had heard that it was a beautiful country.


“I imagine the palace is rather peaceful when there are not so many people around. Which one do you like better … Whitehall or Windsor?”


Sarah then complimented the food. “That's an empanada.” The savory pastry was filled with minced meat, olives, and cheese. Sophia bit into the one she had placed on her plate. “They can be very spicy but I told my cook to make them mild today. I like the fiery burn of the hot ones myself.”


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"Ah to that I do not believe you Baroness. We all have a natural curiosity and so tis unusual to think that you are made diffrent that me!"

But Sarah cloaked her words in smiles so that there would be no misunderstandings. But her inner thoughts were the same and she did not believe what had been said. A Political husband and wife needed to work together especially here at Court. It would be in the best interest of Lady Toledo to have an ear placed about Whitehall to fetch back information for that was after all Power. And Power was an Advantage if it were to be used for or aganist. 

"But I will never marry a man that IS NOT at Court. I want a husband who's own Rank will benefit Me after all and that of my children. One who is equally or more Ambitious than I am."

"A country establishment is expected several if I am lucky and he is Fortunate enough. Going to such a place is not the same as being forced to stay or only coming to London once a year if that."

"Well my brother-n-law must come to Court to pay Homage to the King and attend to his business but my sister will not. She has had enough of Court Politics before her marriage. Me? Tis doubtful and besides the Irish are uncivilized still and I have no wish to become entangled in such things."

"Peaceful? Well I suppose. Yet there is never a time when tis empty Baroness for there are hundreds of everyday servants for all the Departments added to all the personal servants and retaines of those that have rooms there. Have you hard all the pounding that goes on - that is the constant working of improvements and also those that lodge here improving their space by adding on additions. Why some have even build small mansions within the palace grounds!"

"I shall say Windsor. For the number that can be accomidated is smaller and the air clean and fresh. I wonder where Court will convene next?"

"em pan neigh da" She sounded the word out carefully. "Is that right? How funny and yet almost Latin sounding. I do not think I shall ask for anything that will burn so I shall no doubt be a disappointment to you Baroness. At least Today." 

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“Oh, I am curious about other things,” Sophia amended, “just not about those matters that are none of my business. Even if he confided in me, I am not sure I would understand everything he told me. I am only beginning to learn about politics and sometimes it's so confusing that it makes my head spin.”


Her head tilted sideways when Sarah insisted that she would not marry a man who wasn't at court. “Do you have a choice? Is it not your duty to marry the gentleman your father chooses for you? I wasn't thrilled about marrying my husband. It was my guardian who selected him for me. All I could do was obey.”


True and not true. She had not wanted to marry Esteban, but she had agreed because wedding one of Juan's closest associates would mean that she could see him without arousing suspicion. Lord Kingston had been against the union at first, but he had ultimately made the arrangements. She still didn't know what had changed his mind.


“So you will see your brother-in-law but not your sister and your nieces and nephews?” This sounded quite odd to Sophia. Ireland was not that far away compared to Spain and she and Esteban traveled there every recess. If she had a sister, she would want to spend as much time with her as possible whenever she was close enough to visit. Then again, she enjoyed going to new places. Not even uncivilized natives would daunt her.


“There's nothing going on in the palace for nobles, though, is there? If I stayed, I would visit the library and the music room a lot, and stroll in the gardens. Or are those areas closed when the King is not in residence?


“I was only at Windsor for a few days when I first arrived in England. I could barely speak English and I didn't venture out much. Maybe court will be held there again in the future. I do remember thinking the air was rather foul when I came to London, but I don't even notice it anymore.” In truth, it had not been much better in her beloved Venice.


“Em-pa-nah-da,” Sophia corrected.  "And don't worry. You won't disappoint me because you don't like spicy food. Most people don't. It is an acquired taste unless you grow up in a country where it's normal, such as Italy and Spain. German fare is mild, but I moved to Venice when I was eleven and became accustomed to it. In Spain, though, the food is even hotter.”


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"But what if it IS your business? You have a Duty to your husband after all to say if you have heard things that might be negative or even the positive. And if someone plots and schems to do him harm how can you not think to know about it? If it were me, why, I would employ who I had to to be my eyes and ears! And least you think it something practiced only by Courtiers think again. Even a common servant used that to make deals and better themselves."

"Yet I think I waste my breath for as you have made clear you have no interest in Politics because you assume it does not include You. Heigh Ho. I shall Pray that nothing goes amiss and you have cause for regret."

Enough of her words had been purposely directed to the younger woman in the hopes that some of it might actually sink in. It was now apparent to Sarah that the Baroness either had no clue and spoke truth or she was indeed cleverer than most thought.

It would bear watching.

"I am orphaned and my Brother was the Head of my Family but he is now dead. I suppose that Ormonde might take some interest but unlikely. My Mistress, well tis her Duty to find good husbands for her Maids, but I am not a Catholic so that is slim."

"My male relatives could interfer yet I do not expect that simply because they do not wish to go aganist York. So I am 'free' as it were to look about! And I do just that."

"Well Brother-in-law George needs must come to Court to as I have said and no doubt will find lodgings somewhere. And tis possible that he would bring Frances and the children and she may demand it and she is very skilled at that!"

"Nothing Baroness after The New Year. Christmas Court will be dismantled and all those that came will return to Country Estates or even stay in LOndon or other places. Nothing "Official" will be planned and it as I have said - wherever The King goes so goes Court."

Sarah mouthed the words but privately thinking them silly and it was much like a Pastie anyway and twas just a way to show off.

"Well then I shall hold you to it! But I will try another. I doubt Spain is in my Future so I shall make do this way."

"Have you a mask for this Auction? I have and it is sure to catch many an eye."

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“I do tell him about the things I hear and see, but he has made it plain that he does not want me to spy for him. I dare not disobey him. Our servants are loyal to him and I'm sure he has asked them to keep their eyes and ears open. Servants are a splendid source of information. Even my own maid would report to him and not to me. I think he is concerned for my safety and that is why he does not want me to gather information for him.” Sophia knew that statement was true. Esteban was protecting her for Juan and if anything bad happened to her, he would have to answer to the Prince.


“So you will select your own husband? Other ladies will certainly envy you for that freedom. I would too, if I was still single.”   In a way, she had chosen her own husband, with Juan's encouragement.  Without it, she would never have considered wedding Esteban.  She was quite content with the arrangement the three of them had, though she wished that she could see Juan more often.


“We will have more parties, and you will be invited. There will always Spanish food available, but some of it is quite spicy. The next time, I think I will label the trays. The milder offerings will be put on one, the slightly spicy varieties on another, and the really hot ones on a third.”


She shook her head when Sarah asked if she would be wearing a mask to the auction. “I do not think that married women will be wearing masks, but I will bring one along just in case. I have several that I bought in Venice and others that were given to me as gifts. What is yours like? Or do you wish to keep it a secret?”

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What at odd thing between this Husband and Wife. The idea of not telling what may or may not be important was hardly spying. 

"You are fortunate then that Lord Toledo cares greatly for you." Sarah could hardly say anything else but complement. She already knew that to continue talking of Politics was, at least for now, pointless.

"Well I am able to have a look over those available Gentlemen that I think are Worthy and if there is an agreement between then the Duke himself will have the yay or nay simply because I have no Male relative and I am under his Protection after all."

"Envy? Do you think so?" She smiled at the idea of that. "There are many that find me .. um lacking or to outspoken or having too high an opinion of myself. I generally ignore that for oft times is jealousy not envy. Yet I think I should quite like to 'be envied'!"

 "I had not thought about it. The Duchess has not expressed an interest in going nor has the Duke suggested it. I suppose I would be free to attend. I am curious as to what Gentlemen shall be there. If I go then I shall indeed need a mask. I can only answer that it will have to remain a secret."

"I should like to be invited back. I will be curious to see how you turn this into what you imagine. And I shall also be Brave and try more of your Spanish foods as well. Yes that will be helpfull and will avoid a guest being taken by surprise."

"Then you own mask will be an orginal and thus stand out."

She finished her food and took up her glass once again playing time to allow for her tummy to settle itself. What she had eaten was good yet strange to her tastes which she supposed made for her feelings.

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Sophia had already spoken of telling her husband what she saw and heard, which meant those things she felt were important. She had heard of no threats to either him or Juan, or any scheming against Spain. Of course, she would alert him if she overheard something that she felt he needed to know. “He is a bit overprotective of me, but I appreciate his concern.” In truth, it would be easier for her if he was indifferent and didn't care what she did, but Juan wanted him to take care of her while the two of them were apart.


“I don't think you are any of those things. Those who insult you are just jealous of you. It is the same with me. There were dreadful rumors spread about me last spring, also a result of jealousy.” She was still absolutely certain that Ellen Doolittle had originated that nasty gossip. “Well, I envy you for being able to have a say in your own marriage, even if one of your relatives has the final word. I could only hope that Lord Kingston chose well for me.”


Finished with the savory offerings, Sophia placed a few sweet pastries on her plate. “Our parties are held at the Embassy. It has more room. But I should like to throw at least one private banquet here that everyone won't think is hosted by Spain, something just for our friends. I shall also invite you to tea.” Sophia had changed her mind about showing her friend the sketches of the color schemes she wished for the house to be redecorated in. They were a bit amateur, as she was still learning how to draw, and she was afraid they would make a bad impression.


As to masks: “If you didn't already have one, you could have used one of mine. I hope you will show it to me tonight. I would think ladies will only be hiding their identities from the gentlemen who sign up to be auctioned, and not other ladies or men who are not participating."


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"Do you think that is why? Jealousy indeed." Sarah smiled across to her Hostess. "Tis because I am easy on the eye, good figure, and I am known for my wit - and if that warrants that emotion fine. But tis really because I now have an inheritance as I sopke of. Tis very sizable and that makes me even more of an interest to the Gentlemen of Court! And my Marriage Settlement shall provide for my Jointure to ensure that it all retuns to me if said Husband dies. I have no wish for it to be dispersed out amongst the in-laws as is so commonly done."

"And what was said Baroness? And by whom? If you know then you should have taken action. I would have. But then we are not the same are we? Do you think such differences can make a friendship?"

"Any event that is held here will be assumed that Spain Hosts. For Lord Toledo is Ambassador and You his Lady. That is why you must pepper those you invite - trying to mix those that despite differences will get along and no one will take offense. Not an easy task yet one that will Benefit."

"I should like to come again."

"As to that ... allow me to see what lies about and if I can not think of a design than I shall send you word. Tis my understanding that every Lady is to come masked. Even The Queen."

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Sarah certainly thought highly of herself. Everything she said was true, though, and Sophia appreciated candor. “That's how it always is, I think,” she said, a thoughtful look on her face. “If my lord husband should die, my dowry will return to me.” She believed that Lord Kingston would have insisted on that, even if customs were different in Spain. Oddly enough, thinking of Esteban dying disheartened her, despite the fact that they were basically strangers. It seemed as if she wouldn't care at all. But she did. Was she beginning to grow fond of him since their relationship had started to improve?


The petite singer shrugged. “Last spring before I was married, there were rumors circulating at one of the balls that I was not a maiden. It upset me then, but now I realize that whoever instigated it was envious of me for being beautiful, talented, and well-endowed.” She looked down at her generous bosom. “I think that all ladies with assets like mine is considered wanton. It's sad that women are judged on their appearance and not on how they behave.


“I don't know who started them, though I have my suspicions. Until they're proved right, there's nothing much I can do. If I had known back then, I would have done something about it. So we are not so different, after all.”


Sophia didn't think that everyone at court would believe that her private parties were held on behalf of Spain. Some would, but others were smart enough to realize that Ambassadors and their families were not only representatives of their countries, but had personal interests as well. “Only good friends will be invited to the private banquet, and they come from many different backgrounds and nationalities. The last Spanish party was open to everyone, and so shall all other events held there.”


Sarah had just said she had a spectacular mask, but now she claimed she had not yet chosen a design. “Well, if you need one, let me know. I have quite a few I think you would like.”


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Sarah frowned a little as she listened.

"I heard nothing Lady Toledo and I find it hard to believe such a topic would be a thing whispered at such an event. Well your have Qualities indeed so many might feel that." 

She could hardly comment on the other woman's body however and privately she is glad that SHE does not have such for it would be an embarrassment for her.

"Well twas Last Season and now you are married so I would not keep that thought any longer! Yes after hearing these things we do so it seems share some things."

"You may offer invitations to any that you wish yet any of those 'friends' might betray that is, sadly, an unfortunate circumstance here at Court but as Time goes on I suspect You will grow better at discovering such things for yourself."

"Will you?" She smiled across to Sophia. "What I had thought may not be as elorabate as what is called for! Will yours cover your whole face or just your eyes? I do no think I could cover my face so I will use just one that covers my eyes."

"What does your's look like or is it a secret?"

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Did Sarah think she was making those rumors up? “Well, I heard them, and I'm sure more people did too. It was extremely upsetting then.” Sophia remembered how Juan had soothed her and promised to protect her reputation. Yet he had been the one who had made them true, much to her delight.


“I will not forget what was said about me,” she told her friend. “And if I do find out who started it, I shall have my revenge.” She and Ellen Doolittle had been civil to each other at their last meeting, but she had no doubts that her former guardian's daughter still detested her. Sophia would continue to be friendly to her, but if it turned out that Ellen was the source of that long ago gossip, she would pay for her malice.


“I do not think that holding a banquet for friends will bring any trouble. There might be rumors.  I've discovered that ourtiers like to make things up when reality disappoints. There is nothing anyone can do about that. In fact, I hope my guests do talk about my parties. Those who were there will be believed over those who were not.”


Sophia nodded. She would be happy to let Sarah borrow one of her masks. “I won't be trying to hide my identity, so I will just wear an eye mask. If I was not married, I would wear a half-mask that also covered my nose. I've worn full masks before but they can be a bit uncomfortable and it's difficult to speak because your mouth is covered. I don't think anyone will be wearing those tonight.”


Images of the masks she owned ran through her mind. “I wasn't planning on wearing one at all, until you told me that all ladies will be donning them. I'll probably choose the one with the butterflies. I wore it to a costume ball in Venice and I have accessories that go with it.” She grinned. “And I simply adore butterflies. What kind of mask are you thinking of wearing?”


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"I am not discounting you Baroness. I simply said that I did not hear of it. I am closeted with the York's remember and even tho I move freely about I do not attend Every Event."

"And if the day comes when you have a face to put with it then, well, I hope it provides answers."

Sarah chucked at the words used.

"Indeed you have that right - WE Courtiers find many ways to amuse both real and imagined - I should think that one of your parties would be most interesting and I am curious about those that attend."

She did not expand on that last bit. 

"Hmmm ... If I do not like my creation may I send you word then and make use of this 'offer'?"

"Butterflies? How charming and fitting."


Sarah had forgotten during the course of this conversation that the Baroness was indeed still more child-like than woman despite her physical presence and the choice of mask only added to that. She was a married Lady and so was freer in some ways to be flirtatious and playful yet instead made use of a thing that girls chased about a garden. Another clue that anything that Sarah tried to 'teach' might not be fully understood. Patience would indeed be required.

She lifted her glass saying

"Well then shall we toast to a Successful Event for us both!" 

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Sophia spoke no more of rumors, parties, or courtiers making things up out of boredom. Sarah counted herself among the latter and anything else she said on the matter might anger her. She had no patience for gossip herself and thought it pointless. Her parties, hopefully, would be praised rather than ridiculed. She had done well so far. Her marriage celebration during the summer and the banquet at the Embassy a few days ago had both been successful.


“Of course. Just let me know and specify what color you would like and I will choose one for you. Unless you would like to see them now.”


A butterfly mask was fitting? The young Baroness liked the idea of being thought of as a butterfly. They were beautiful, graceful, and playful. Sophia lifted her glass as well. “And I hope that you win whichever gentleman you fancy.”


After the toast, she asked: “Will your mistress be attending too?” If so, she might get the chance to speak to the Duchess of York again.

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"Her Grace has shifted between attending and not - by staying away it might offend The Queen and that is not the intent - but then she is also married and so unable to participate. She might be coaxed."

"It will depend how the Duke views it. He will send her simply to avoid anything and she will go. As of now I do not know."

Sarah sipped her drink thinking about the question. She did not think her Mistress would go.

"Well if not then there will be other opportunities Baroness. After all recess is upon us all and nothing will happen till Spring. If The King decides for Parliament to meet the end of January it well or it will not."

"Yet there will still be little for Ladies to do and I would not stir from Country Manor in deep Winter to travel to London and then it was for nought! And have to retrace the journey."

"When you go to Spain where do you reside? Is it in a place much like this?"

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“If she is hesitant, you can tell her that at least one other married lady will be there.” Sophia suggested. “There will probably be several others as well who wish to be noticed by Her Majesty.” She would be happy to keep the Duchess company but she couldn't mention that to Sarah or she might think she was trying to further the interests of Spain by becoming friendly with York's wife, possibly at Esteban's request.


She wasn't certain what other opportunities Sarah was referring to, unless she had guessed that Sophia wished to speak to the Duchess again. And if that was the case, she must not disapprove of her goal to get to know her better. Maybe the Italian Princess was lonely and needed a friend who could speak her own language and loved her homeland as much as she did.


“If I were an Englishwoman, I would not return to London for Parliament either. The gentleman probably leave their wives  and daughters at their estates if there is nothing for them to do.”


Her friend asked where she stayed while she was in Spain. “We have rooms at the palace in Madrid. My lord husband is usually closeted with his master and I have plenty of time to explore. Part of our time is also spent with his family. I was worried that they would not accept me because I'm a foreigner, but they have been very kind to me. I get along quite well with my lady mother-in-law and the two of us went shopping together. She helped me pick out fabric for my winter wardrobe.”


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"I shall pass on your words but it will be up to Her Grace as I have said."

"And is The Palace like Whitehall" As large? I am curious naturally and want to compare!"

"Yes I should think that you might have had difficulties trying to adjust - you are so unlike a Spaniard - all lightness and cheer. But Spanish Fashion is so stiff and dark or so I have always heard."

"A 'lack of color' was once used in a description to the Duchess when the topic was clothing and I wonder how right that was? Everyone admires the French Taste and seeks to emulate but I have not seen anyone think that Spain sets a lead. Perhaps you might be the one who changes that?"

Sarah did not actually think that Spanish Fashions would be at all popular here at Court and Lady Toledo herself was young and still wishing to dress as such. Sarah also thinks that the Lady embellishes too much and has not yet learned that less is oft times better.

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Sophia hoped that the Duchess would wish to converse with her again. If she did go, maybe the two of them could watch the auction together. She would certainly look for her. “Tell her I will be wearing a butterfly mask so that she will know who I am in case she wishes for the company of another married lady.” Now she knew for a fact that she would be wearing the butterfly disguise. She would have Anna find it and make it ready for the morrow as soon as Sarah left the house.


The young Baroness tilted her head sideways. “I think it's about the same size as Whitehall. I never thought of comparing them before. The styles are very different, both inside and outside. One notable thing about it is that it has an amazing collection of art from many different countries, much more extensive than what is displayed here.”


As to Spanish fashions: “Most Spaniards do wear dark clothes and the designs are far too conservative for my tastes. Foreigners live there too, and the fabric stores also cater to them. Though I bought the fabric there, I had my gowns made in the French style. In fact, the fabric that this gown is made of was purchased in Spain. Sometimes my attire has subtle Spanish touches but I have no intention of ever dressing as they do, even if I move back to Madrid for good. If that happens, I'll probably try to set new trends so that Spanish fashions will be more colorful and less austere.”


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"Can you move freely as here then? I wonder if Court there is the same? Do you ever see Their Majesties as we see ours?"

"I am curious so forgive me all the questions!" She smiled across to the other. "I think that black is worn more frequently there than here and I have seen the 'dolls' all dressed so tightly from neck to floor. Even the doubles designed for women are that way. You are clever then to have thought such for French Taste is far better!"

"But if you do not resemble those Ladies will that not be uncomfortable for you? To set yourself so apart in such obvious a manner? Yes I have to admit that your sense of being able to achieve a thing might well prove to be correct."

"Your dress today is most pleasing on the eye and as to fabrics there are several places to be found in London that may outshine those you have discovered."

Her sense of Loyalty went up then as talk of Spain this and that and then the French coupled with the Lady's own self-importance made Sarah strike a point.

"I do not think I would much like Spain. Forgive me that Baroness for I do not seek to offend in any way tis just that my experiences are Here and I am breed to the ways and customs especially at Court."

"I suppose tis why so much concern is given to those newly-arrived. There are so many eyes that watch and seek to find faults. Yet I expect that is the same in Spain? I am too outspoken at times so there would be many faults that would accumulate I fear!" 

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“I don't mind your questions at all,” Sophia assured her friend. “Court there is much the same as it is here, just not quite as lively. Spaniards are reserved by nature and not as boisterous as some of the courtiers at Whitehall.” She cocked her head thoughtfully. “Or perhaps they are, and I didn't travel in those circles. They have balls and banquets and parties, and they laugh, and drink and dance. Their dances are different than ours, but just as enjoyable. Opera is also popular there. I sang at a party in the palace and everyone seemed pleased with my performance.”


She shivered when asked about the Spanish monarch. “I saw the King once. He's about our age and he's extremely unattractive and sickly. I don't think he associates much with the nobility. It is the prime minister who runs the country and presides over events.” The petite blonde could have spoken about Don Juan forever … he whom she loved with all her heart … but it was best to pretend that she barely knew him.


“Black is the color of preference among the nobility, including the women, and the styles would be considered stifling by our standards. If I try to start a new fashion trend, many will be against it, but others will embrace it. I do not mind going against tradition or attracting attention.” Sophia actually thrived on the latter. “And I am not the kind of woman who judges herself by what others think of her. If I am ridiculed, I shall not be upset. I shall think that those who insulted me have exceedingly poor taste.”


Sophia said nothing about fabrics. She understood Sarah's need to defend her homeland. Beautiful fabric could be found everywhere, and she had discovered delightful colors, designs, and textures in England, Germany, Italy, and Spain. “I am not offended. Attending court in multiple kingdoms is not for everyone. Just because I enjoy it does not mean that you will. Newcomers are watched there just as they are watched here and gossip is universal. My bluntness was not well-received, but I have learned to expect that. Outside of Germany and the Netherlands, straightforwardness is generally frowned upon.”


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"I am glad then that you have no offense."

She smiled back yet her private views on this Lady would remain the same. It was also clear that Self-Importance for Herself would not change and Sarah hoped that that is not a weakness others' may make use of.

"Yes I can understand that. Yet it must still be somewhat of a hinderance but being exposed to ANY Court is education enough and those lessons applied. Yes Eyes are Eyes no matter the location and Court is not for the faint of heart or those lacking in nerve."

"Do you not miss then the Family of Lord Toledo? Is it a large one?"

"I had expected to see you with at least one or two of His female relatives clustered about that had been added to your Household. Since you are the only Wife of an Ambassador present it would be easier to have those you are familiar with by your side? But then perhaps none were found suitable?"

"Or, like me, did not relish the journey needing to be made and so declined?"

"Even The Queen has her German Ladies so I can not think there would be objections if you had Spanish ones."

"But then there is the language ... and not many here speak it. You will have a difficult time getting your wishes addressed until you are fluent in Lord Toledo's native language and that is frustrating enough here with our own!"

"Do you have a Tutor?"

Sarah was interested simply because she was curious of other places and the gaining of knowledge or information was never a waste.

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