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Grace Preston

Gracie and the Bandit-April 6th, noon (open)

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St James Park

The Park was once a marshy water meadow, but now is a thriving attraction with all of London's elite. Charles' grandfather, James I, improved the drainage and controlled the water supply. Other royalty had made improvement to the park over their reigns, but it was Charles II who made dramatic changes. The Park was redesigned, with avenues of trees planted and lawns laid. The King opened the park to the public and is a frequent visitor, feeding the ducks and mingling with his subjects.

In summer, it was fashionable to drink warm milk, freshly drawn from herds of cows placidly grazing in the London parks, at a kind of milk bar provided for the purpose. The milk sellers would advertise their wares by calling: "A can of milk, ladies, a can of red cow's milk, sir!" 

A blur of grey, white and black went racing over the grass, chittering merrily while dragging a leather leash behind it.  Not far behind, a blond woman, her sky blue skirts rucked up to assist in running, several strands of hair having escaped the updo her maid had done for her, her pale cheeks red from exertion, ran.  "Bandit, get back here.  You naughty creature!," she yelled as she chased her wayward pet. 

Instead of listening to his mistress, the animal raced up and tree and well out of Grace's reach.  "Oh, as if that will stop me," she grumbled.  Pushing a few strands of hair out of her face, she looked at the tree, searching for a good handhold. 

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Edmund had decided to take a turn about St James' Park. His manservant had been left in charge of setting up his new lodgings. Not that Edmund trusted the chap for a second but he couldn't bear the thought of unpacking, placing things in proper places - domesticity. That was the work for domestics. So, thus unaccompanied, he decided to go see how London may, or may not, have changed since his last visit several years previously. The best place to do that was to take to the parks for it was here that people came to see and be seen, especially when they were pretending to be going about the "private" business. A strong breeze was blowing, creating a pleasant swooshing sound as the wind bowed the trees and shook their leaves and early blossoms. The Sun dipped in and out from behind grey tinted clouds and even the crunching of the gravel of the paths beneath his feet has a slightly mellifluous quality that Edmund found oddly uplifting. And he wasn't even drunk yet! Perhaps city life became him after all?

He gave gentle, non-descript half bows to various people he passed en route. He attracted the odd second glance from several passers by, clearly struck by his bright yellow jacket with golden buttons over a black waistcoat, etched with silver-grey ivy trellises. Given the windy weather, the choice of a broad Dutch style cavalier hat with an ostentatiously long ostrich feather, had been a mistake as he was forever having to quickly pull it back down lest it go flying across the park. Still, style meant that you could not make allowances to the weather. It was a cross to bear and bear it he must. Those giving him quickly thrown glances were clearly jealous. Surely.

As he rounded a corner, and whilst still musing on how long he thought before yellow might become the season's colour, he was distracted by a flash of white and black crossing his path. He jumped back in shock. He had heard of the prodigious size of London's vermin but that looked the size of a dog! The shape vanished up a tree and suddenly a young woman raced past, shouting after the creature and stopping at the foot of the tree it had sought sanctuary in. Turning and looking up, Edmund got his first proper look at it. He had never seen anything like it. Dog shaped, in a way, but with almost feline features and a great brush of a tail like a fox. 

The young lady looked bent on clambering up the tree after it. Edmund walked closer, bemused at the strange creature giving him furtive glances from the supposed safety of its arboreal fortress. "Good Lord, Madame, is that your dog?"

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Grace was still trying to figure out the best way up when the man in yellow approached.  "No, it is not my dog.  I'm not aware of any particular breeds that climb trees."  She glanced at him for a moment, before returning her attention to Bandit.  Gracious, but that jacket was YELLOW.  "That, sir, is a raccoon.  Indigenous to the wilds of the American Colonies.  And that particular one is in a lot of trouble," she said, giving the animal in question her best mad glare.  Unfortunately, it was completely lost on the rascal in the tree.  He was playing with his leash, pulling it away from the people on the ground, all the while chittering up a storm. 

It wasn't long before Grace's maid, Lizbeth, came trotting up to join her mistress, taking deep breathes.  "Sorry, miss," she said.  In her own hand was a piece of leather that precisely matched the leash Bandit was playing with. 

"It's not your fault," Grace said to her maid as she finally decided on the perfect way up.  She began to reach for one of the nearest branches.  Lizbeth gasped.  Her mistress wouldn't dare attempt to climb a tree with witnesses, would she?

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Posted (edited)

Edmund stood back and placed his hands in his pockets, arching his back and inspecting the scene like a surveyor appraising a building site. The young woman's maid had hurried up and the pair seemed as though they could very well get on with things by themselves. However, it was a time honored English occupation for spectators to behold an unfolding scene and chip in their own two pennies' worth of advice, whether requested or not. 

"Hmm...if you say so. I am pretty confident, though, that I have seen a dog climb a tree. My aunt had one, years ago, crazy little thing. Forever up and on everything. No - no - come to think of it that was definitely a cat. Most decidedly a cat. Dead now, of course."

He walked across to the other side of them, still looking up at the tree and the strange creature as if somehow a new vantage point would make things more clear.

"Well I never, I can safely say I have never seen a rac-raccoon...before. What a jolly odd name! And from the colonies too! What a well traveled chap he is! However did you manage to get him here. A boat, of course, I suppose so, but what a novel thing indeed!"

It appeared that the young lady was intent on following her misbehaving colonial friend up the tree. This was probably the sort of occasion on which the unwritten code of the gentleman required him to be gallant and offer to go up there in her stead. But what if the thing bit? More to the point he was wearing his good yellow jacket. He did not much fancy having the furry fellow tear it to shreds. Still, gallantry required that he put good manners before good dress. 

"I say, would you like some help trying to get the fellow down? Could we not lure him with something? It would seem he has an unfair advantage up there in what I am guessing is his natural terrain."

Edited by Edmund Dedlock

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Sophia had warned her people would have a strange reaction to her exotic pet.  At least this gentleman seemed curious instead of afraid.  "My brother brought him back to me when he visited a few years ago," she answered, searching her pockets for any treats.  Something...anything would work.  Bandit would eat anything. Vegetable, animal, probably mineral, though they hadn't tried.  One of his favorite things was rummaging through the trash.  "He was bringing one back with him for study but during the voyage, she gave birth.  George kept one baby for me."

Her pockets were empty of any treats, but just as she was about to give up and hoist herself up into the branches, Lizbeth gave a triumphant gasp and handed her a bag full of nuts.  "Brilliant!," she told her maid.  Taking one out, she held it up so that the creature could see it.  "Bandit!  Look what I've got.  Yum, yum."  She put it between her lips and then crunched down hard.  His ears perked up as he chattered at her.  "You want one?  Come here and get it."  She held up another one, moving it slowly towards her own lips.  One thing she could always count on.  If she was eating it, the wee beast would want to eat it too.  She shook the bag towards Edward.  "Would you like to enjoy a nut too?," she asked, briefly glancing in his direction before returning her eyes to the animal in the tree. 

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“Oh, why not,” he said with a little laugh, “after all, you would get refreshments at the theatre.” He picked one out of the bag and cracked it between his teeth.

 

The furry little devil was still ferreting around in the branches, chittering in an odd fashion but was clearly interested at what he saw below. His little black and white face kept popping in and out, keeping a firm eye on the nuts.

 

“Bandit, what a splendid name for the little fellow!” Edmund said with a laugh. “He’s so good at climbing that if you could only teach him to pinch things you were after you could find yourself owning a capital burglar!”

 

He looked up again, shielding his eyes with a hand as a lance of sunlight burst through the grey clouds and shimmered through the gently moving branches and leaves of the tree. “Come on, old chap,” he called up at the raccoon, “jolly good stuff this. Miss…sorry, Madame,” he said, turning to the young lady, “I did not take your name? Lord Banwell, how do you do,” he said with a short bow.

 

“Your brother was a colonies man, was he? Can’t say I’ve been. Father owns several plantations out in the Caribbean and I feel like I smoke enough Virginia tobacco that I really ought to go there but cant say I have yet. Europe, yes. America, maybe one day! Do you suppose the natives keep these rachoons as we do dogs, do you think?”

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Bandit chittered as he saw the man crunch one of his treats.  He was not fond of sharing.  He came down one limb, but was still out of reach.

"Miss Grace Preston," the blond replied, dipping a quick curtsey while still not taking her eyes off her wayward pet.  "A pleasure to meet you."  The idea of using her pet to steal things thoroughly confused her.  For just a moment she glanced at the man in puzzlement.  She thought about responding as to that being a truly horrible idea, but managed to think better before opening her mouth.  Perhaps he had meant it in a teasing sort of fashion.

"Raccoons are not normally pets to the natives.  The Northern tribes have legends of one they call Azeban," she said, using the pronunciation her brother had taught her, Az-zuh-ban.  "He is always portrayed as a mischievous fellow, always getting into trouble, but only for himself.  He doesn't harm anyone."  George was one to lecture when he had an audience.  She knew a couple different legends from different tribes he had visited with.

"I don't understand how men can enjoy tobacco.  It's rather nasty and made me sick," she muttered, shaking her head then shaking the treat bag.  Bandit moved down another branch, holding out his paws in hopes that Grace would toss a nut up towards him so he could retreat into the branches.  She, however, was wise to this idea and simply lowered the bag again.  "Come on down.  No treats until you're back on the ground."  Bandit grumbled, looking from the bag to the upper branches back to the bag.

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Having spent the morning indoors at the palace, Darlene was very happy to walk back home through the park - her little darkie maid walked along beside her carrying a now empty basket.

"... and when he said that then I knew the truth of the matter, and so how could I do anything but resolve  to help. It shall be difficult of course, but I am up to the challenge.  If anyone can do it, it is me. As I've told you before I happen to be quite brilliant at such things. Why if my calling was not to be a great lady at court, I'd probably have become a professional repairer of such things. I would probably have demanded the most incredible fees for my service.  'Exorbitant',  that is the word that persons of business use for such things don’t you know.  Yes my fee would be exceptionally exorbitant, so much that it would completely impress all my friends.  It would be sure to impress Charles too.  It's a pity really, because as a Lady of court I have to do it for free... oh not that I am complaining.  It shall be grand. Properly marvellous actually.  'Marvellous' is a word we ladies use when something is exorbitantly fun..."

Darlene's chatter came to a stop as she came to pause her walk and plans to better view a pair with some doings-on with a tree.  She came to stand next to a Lord fellow, who was stood next to a Lady and her maid holding a bag up high.  Looking up into a tree she wondered what they were about. 

"Good heavens! That is a racoon." She helpfully identified!

 

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The new arrival interrupted Edmund's bemused viewing of the chittering colonial woodland creature. He turned and found yet another dashing lady, accompanied by her maid. Well, the Park was certainly the place to come to view such lovely natural treasures. 

"Good grief, Madame, you know what this is too? Then it is I who am clearly a fool for thinking this was some sort of dog. I stand corrected and chastened!"

The raccoon made another series of chittering noises which sounded disconcertingly like laughing and Edmund almost threw it an angry look. He gave the newcomer a bow.

"Lord Banwell, clearly as inept a natural scientist as I am a knight errant as I have provided precious little help so far to Miss Preston here," he said, waving a laced-cuffed hand in her direction, "at removing this little fellow from the tree he is trespassing in! Miss Preston was just telling me all about these fine colonial fellows. Apparently some of the natives thereabouts hold holy reverence for these scamps in honour of one or other of their Gods. Quite fascinating indeed and now all the more so to find one living in a tree in London! All that talk of the streets here being paved with gold is clearly false but instead it turns out the trees are full of exotic creatures."

He gave a gentle laugh.

"I am sure if I took such a fellow as this back to our estate in Somerset the poor locals would take it for a familiar of the devil. How refreshing that the good people of the capital have such open minds!"

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Another person arrived as Bandit continued to stay just beyond reach while ground bound.  Blast it.  More people meant her chance of climbing up after the scamp were dwindling to zero.  "Good afternoon, milady," Grace said with a shallow dip of a curtsey.  "He is indeed a raccoon.  And a most naughty one at that."  She returned her eyes up the branches, where said naughty raccoon had just fixed his eyes on the basket held by the new lady's maid.

Bandit, well acquainted with living on the Truxton estate, was no strangers to baskets.  In his vast raccoony knowledge, they often held such delights as sausages and cheeses and sometime cakes and other things that were delightfully edible.  He moved down another branch, wriggling his nose as he attempted to sniff out any nuggets of delight that might be hiding therein.  Then another branch.  He wasn't keeping his eyes on Grace, just the basket.

As he descended one more branch, Grace quickly grabbed the nearest branch, gave a small jump to pull herself up and then, as she balanced on her waist with her feet dangling, reached out and snagged Bandit.  Who, as might be expected, was not at all happy about the turn of events.  His wriggling to get free made Grace off balance and she started to tip forward and downward.  "Oh, bugger!," she muttered as she began a downward facing descent from the tree.

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“Not at all my lord, it just happens that I am exceptionally well informed.” Darlene bragged happily, "although I’d never heard of raccoons being gods to the natives there, even though the Queen of the Pamunkeys happens to be a dear friend of mine.  Weronance Anne, perhaps you’ve heard of her?”

Why not name drop when one could? It was not every noble woman in England that could boast that sort of connection.

Meanwhile the raccoon discovered allure in Maisie’s basket, which went unnoticed by Darlene at the moment as she was too busy impressing the equally chatter some gent. “Enchantee Lord Banwell,” she dipped a prettily formal curtsy as she extended one hand, “ and I am Lady Oakham, pleased to meet.” Perhaps they shared a certain nervousness in common, for the third well-born of their grouping was not like the rest!

The tree shuddered, Darlene’s eyes flared as she turned to see the girl Gracie lunging up into, snatching at but missing, and then tilting back over with vulgar language.

“Heavens!” Darlene declared a second time, then turned to the gent and declared, “The folk of Somerset are not so different at all, for the folk of Whitehall would be equally dismayed!”  

Somebody had to intervene, before the young lady made an utter scandal of herself right here in broad daylight.  “What ever are you doing Mistress?! We have ladders and servants for such things, and if all else fails a gun will see it settled!” Darlene hurried forwards trying to stop Graces skirts from flopping over too and giving the unsuspecting gentlman a sudden eyeful. 

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Being a man, Edmund had been most easily distracted by Lady Oakham's arrival and had almost quite forgotten that the main purpose of everyone standing about here was to remove the raccoon from the tree in which it had taken sanctuary. Perfectly happy to look on her some more and ask her about her acquaintance with native royalty from the New World, it was with some small surprise that he heard a suddenly rustling and decidedly human noise coming from the tree. Next thing he new, Lady Oakham had rushed past him.Whirling round he saw why: Miss Preston had clearly grown tired of her audience and decided to attempt to storm the raccoon's leafy fortress herself. 

He hurried behind Lady Oakham in her wake, towards the foot of the tree. "I did say I would climb it if you wanted, Miss Preston!" he called out, if anything top try and make him look like he had made a gallant attempt and not idly stood by and let the young lady try it alone. 

"Good God, Miss Preston, take care not to fall! If fall you must then fall on me! I have a hard head but I am sure I am soft enough to break your landing!" he called up, not noticing the unfortunate double entendres. "At this rate of going half London will be in the tree before the fellow is rescued!" 

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Grace managed to throw her weight back enough that she didn't end up completely flipping over, though her hair decided it rather was tired of being in the up-do and tumbled around her face.  Dresses and skirts were stupid items to wear when wrangling raccoons.  The new lady decided to admonish her instead of helping and the gentleman offered for her to land on him.  Deciding the lady was the second of her worries, she glanced at her pet, who's leash now dangled closer to the ground unnoticed by the fiend.  Instead of addressing either noble first, she said, "Lizbeth, get it!"

Without having to guess what 'it' her mistress spoke of, the maid quickly caught the leash.  Wrapping the end securely around her wrist and giving a light tug, the maid spoke to the miscreant.  "Down now, or no treats for a week."  While the raccoon might not understand human speech, he was familiar with 'treat' and the negative tone of voice being used.  He began his head first descent from the tree.

Grace, meanwhile, pushed herself back up on her arms, pushed away from the branch, and lowered herself back down from the branch she had previously launched herself on.  Brushing bark and leaves from her dress, then pushing back her hair with was haughty a manner as she could in such a situation, she turned to the lady and gentleman.  "A ladder would have caused him to climb higher and since he has been known to nip at those he is unfamiliar with, it falls to me to take my pet in hand.  Which is why," she turned to the lady, her brows drawn together, "a gun would never be used."  The idea of shooting her pet.  "Do they often shoot pets who climb trees in London?"

Turning to the gentleman, she locked her most serene expression on, one she used to irritate her male relatives.  "I appreciated your offer, milord," she said, while her maid brought over the raccoon, who Grace swept up in her arms, cradling like a baby.  "But as I mentioned, he is nervous of new people and nips."  Bandit, whose leash was now double wrapped around Grace's hand, climbed up to her shoulder, where he could pick twigs and leaves out of her hair.  Not exactly a dignified look.

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Darlene stepped away blinking at the reaction, though if she'd had more time to think about it she might have appreciated it was defensiveness of her pet in Gracie's eyes, rather than what presented like anger. 

"Ah ... I" she’d not meant to upset, really she had meant to help, to correct an embarrassing mishap, it was all terribly uncommon.  How can anyone be prepared for an encounter like this?!  Her help had not been accepted, rejected really.  It had been mention of a gun that had done it.  Words hastily said, but possibly would never be forgotten.  

"oh dear..."  Darlene turned feebly turned to the poor gentleman to mediate and fix the upset! 

"You remind me of my cousin Heather." Heather had been very unfinished when she first arrived in London too. 

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Edmund was rather put out at Miss Preston's attitude. After all, so far as he was concerned, he had only been trying to help. He recalled he had heard that there were women such as these - fiercely independent types that took any form of male assistance as some form of personal affront as thought they could not do the relevant item themselves. The streak of petulance in him almost bubbled up and he almost ended up telling her where to put her assistance and applying his boot to the raccoon too in order to place it further up the tree than before.

However, because he was a gentleman, he did not.

"Well," he said, "all is well that ends well and the chap looks no more poor for his travels, perhaps he misses home?"

He turned to Lady Oakham with a smile. "I trust you are addressing that to Miss Preston, my lady, rather than her raccoon!"

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Grace wanted to sigh, but managed to hold back.  Now everyone seemed put out with her because of her defense of her pet.  She was so used to taking care of her own issues, as she had been taught by the multiple males in her life, that the idea of accepting assistance was foreign to her.  Besides, she was simply trying to keep everyone from being at the wrong end of Bandit.  Friend or foe might get bitten or scratched.  Taking a deep breath, she calmed herself while her pet moved up to drape across her shoulders like a stole.  She accepted a nut from her maid and handed it up to the rascal without bothering to look. 

"I apologize if I was short.  Bandit is my responsibility and as such, I'm a bit protective of him," she said.  "The idea of shooting at him..."  She couldn't even finish the thought.  Looking at the lady whom she had snapped at, she finally dipped an appropriate curtsey, still with the raccoon peering out from her shoulder.  "I'm sorry."  She had no idea if the lady liked her cousin Heather or not by the comment.

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It was a difficult moment; life was quite full of them actually. Or at least Darlene's life had been full of these sorts of misunderstandings and mix ups, like the time she'd hopped into a carriage thinking it her own but it hadn't been. Thank heavens she'd had Thomas to save her then. And thank heavens for Edmund at this moment, who's valiant humour was no less heroic.

Darlene, in her uncertainty blinked again, and then understanding his joke broke into a laugh. 

"No not the racoon, although Cousin Heather's mischief might actually rival this little creature!" she replied to Edmund, her sunny (and relived!) smile returning to Grace now.  "But actually I meant You milady, with the spirit to climb a tree if its deemed necessary.  Just like my cousin Heather, you are bold and irrepressible!"

The girl had pretty enough manners to apologise to her then, and Darlene waved her hand as though it was unnecessary, even though it actually had been.

"That is quite alright, these things happen sometimes, and it would not be the first time that I've regretted talking about guns. I really should stop talking about them. It’s just that they are so exciting, and life can be so tiresome.  I for one would prefer an occasional upset and the freedom to talk about all the most exciting subjects freely, than a safe and dull existence speaking only the things that everyone can smile and nod about...”  Did she need to name some specifics?  Perhaps.   “…things like Cromwell, oh now there is a subject that they don’t like us talking about!” and then her eyebrow rose, with a glance towards Edmund she continued talking to the lady, “Or bosoms.  We are not supposed to talk about them either.”

Not that she thought men were averse to the subject at all.

But where was she up to? Oh yes!  “…. but I promise you, cross my heart and hope to die, that I shall also defend your little racoon fiercely from anyone!"  Happy with her little speech Darlene wore a pleased-with-herself smile.

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"Bravo and well said, Lady Oakham!" Edmund said with a laugh and a gentle clap. The talk of bosoms had made him colour a little and he made a good effort not to immediately look at any which may be in front of him. "I must say I fully agree. My dear mother, rest her dear soul, had a conversational menu which rarely stretched beyond a handful of supposedly proper and non-contentious topics. How she made that last a lifetime I do not know. There is surely only so much that can be said of the weather, of the vicar's most recent sermon, or a distant aunt's waxing and waning health. Still, my parent's marriage seemed to thrive off that time of non-conversation, not that I would wish it for myself! It is often the things that you shouldn't speak of which are the most interesting."

"Now that the little fellow has been rescued do you plan to take him for a walk? Forgive my ignorance but I am assuming he is quite like a dog in that manner? I feel I would do well for the companionship of a pet but I would like something equally exotic as this fellow, I think. Since moving to London I keep my own lodgings with only my manservant for company. In many ways he is a perfect ape and I think I often spend more time sorting him and his mischief out that he does for me. Perhaps there is some menagerie in the city? I feel like I need to open my eyes and be able to identify more animals than hounds, pigeons or foxes!"

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Grace finally blushed, but it was more in being compared to the lady's cousin than the talk of Cromwell and bosoms.  You don't grow up surrounded by males and not here talk of both.  Especially about bosoms and also especially around her nephews and cousins of similar age.  They all seemed obsessed with them, when they forgot Grace was around to hear them talk.  They probably talked about them when she WASN'T around too.  She gave a glance down at her own less than outstanding breasts.  They were fine, her mother had told her, but she knew she'd never compare to Dorcas, the upstairs maid, who always looked like she was about to fall out of her top.  She'd asked Trip if he wasn't allotting enough funds to the maids' clothing because of this, but he had just stared at her while seemingly blushing at the same time. 

She blinked for just a moment at the sudden fierce statement from Lady Oakham in defense of her pet.  Sliding her hand up towards the creature as she held several more nuts, he patted her cheek before taking them.  His was of apologizing for being a terror.  He then daintily took a nut, rolled it around in his paws and then crunched down on it.  "Since he seems to have worn himself out with his escapade, I think Bandit will be taking the rest of the walk staying right where he is.  He often gets these spurts of energy, but for the most part, he's rather lazy."  She reached up again and ran her fingers through the fur on his head and gave him a scratch.  Chittering happily now, he nuzzled in. 

"My eldest brother mentioned a menagerie at the Tower," she offered as a suggestion for learning about more animals.  "I was hoping to see it while I'm here.  Of course, this is just my first full day in London and there's lots to see and do, I've been told.  I've even been told of a Ladies' adventuring club.  So many exciting things to do and see."  She paused, turning her head to eye the raccoon relaxing on her shoulder.  "But perhaps not while accompanied by this escape artist."  Noting the animal's calm state, she offered to the lady and gentleman, "Now that he's relaxed, if you wanted to pet him, you can."

Edited by Grace Preston
mispelling

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There was literally nothing Darlene liked better than the sound of a cheer from an admiring audience, so that as it came from the gentleman’s quarter she fairly glowed in response!  He even clapped.

“It is testament to your mothers creativity that she managed to do so, m'Lord Banwell.  And of course much is said that is not enunciated… ” she crooned warmly as she took in more details of this man.  He was of a sensible age, possessed clear blue eyes, and a head of hair that was a-gleam with good health, “…but perhaps the art of communicating between the lines is not confined only to her fair sex?" her eyebrow rose and a smile played on her lips.

The notion of a walk appealed.  Well she was on a walk already, planning to go home, but newly charmed by this appreciative audience, she fancied a walk with Edmund if Gracie was happy to provide the excuse. 

Alas.

“Oh, I think he’s still got some energy yet.” Darlene sounded disappointed when a walk was off the cards, and cautiously she reached to pat the racoons head, perhaps to prompt some livliness in it.  While Bandit might be too tired now, Gracie came up with a clever idea.  “Ooh yes, I’ve never even been to the Menagerie, lets go for a walk there!”

While personally she thought that there was nothing at all wrong with normal pets, like cats or dogs, but perhaps she’d come to have time to relay this more privately to Edmund.

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