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How to Steal a wife | Cambray residence morning of the 7th

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The geometric lines of the House stand stark against a neatly cropped lawn - it's gardens comprised of neatly trimmed hedges in the shapes of various mythological beasts. Beneath the Echidna tree is a marble bench from which the garden's design is optimally viewed - where upon in the dusk and a gentle breeze granting susurration to the leaves, the garden seems to come alive with excitement and adventure.

A sweeping arched driveway enters from one gateway and exeunt through the other, that carriages might drive right up to the steps that lead up to the house.


Lord Chichester walked with satchel tucked under arm; therein was his notes on various sessions of the House of Lords. Biased of course, to his point of view.  His recently made woman friend Lady Cambray had expressed an interest to learn more about English politics, and his notes might at least be a start.  George knew from his own study of the subject that it would take years to come close to mastering the subject, but it was a harmless enough topic for a young woman to  read about. Not for a moment did he think she would ever become a player in courts political games. 

Yet all that was much of an excuse for his visit today, for he had enjoyed the young ladies company and... and had come to think that her opinion upon a rather delicate matter he was contemplating would be... well possibly what he wanted to hear.  Oh he'd thought at first to seek Lord Beverley’s advice on this, but, well he could well guess how his terribly upstanding and proper young friend would reply.  No, never, perposterous, certainly not, what are you even thinking!   Those were the sort of words the doe eyed St Ledger would say.

But George wanted a more liberal point of view, perchance encouragement, for his utterly wild idea. 


*Knock knock knock* 


George adjusted his lavender silk cravat as he waited at the doorstep – presenting the very image of a man of whom butter would not melt in his mouth.

Edited by George Hardwick III
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  • 4 weeks later...

Anne-Elisabeth was looking forward to Lord Chicester's visit, though she didn't know what to expect. Would he just give her his notes and leave or would he want to stay awhile? She hoped for the latter and so had prepared accordingly. It was too early for lunch, but she had instructed her cook to have tea and an assortment of sweet and savory snacks, including hard to find fruit from the Caribbean, available in case he was hungry. If he wanted something stronger than tea, she would suggest he try her exotic coconut wine.


There were several places in her house where she could receive guests. The previous owners had apparently enjoyed having people over. It was the quirky garden that had prompted her to buy it, but the number of parlors for entertaining was another reason she knew she had to have it. Some of those rooms were empty now, as she had yet to buy furnishings for them, but eventually, they would serve the purpose for which they were built.


Even had they been fully furnished, the Countess believed she would always prefer the upstairs drawing room, mainly because of the large window that spanned the length and width of the wall opposite the door. The window gave one a lovely view of the whimsical garden with its creatively sculpted topiaries. They seemed to shimmer in the morning sun, giving them a magical appearance. The window's filmy coral curtains had been drawn back and fastened with turquoise ties with seashells strung upon them. Her telescope was set in front of the window, pointed up at the sky.


The room was decorated in a tropical theme. The other three walls were each painted with a different color … one turquoise, one coral, and one light amber. The paintings on the wall depicted beaches, the ocean, palm trees, flamingos parrots, and brightly colored flowers. There were several large potted plants set artfully around the parlor and vases full of flowers sat upon small tables next to pretty seashells.


At the end of the room sat a fireplace with a low fire burning in it. A rug featuring an underwater scene had been placed near it and a couch and two chairs made of rich dark mahogany were arranged around it with a small table between them. The upholstery echoed the colors of the walls. There was another longer table along one wall, strewn with books and maps of the night sky. The entire house was a bit warmer than most English residences so that it would be comfortable to a lady who had grown up in the heat of the tropics.


Anne-Elisabeth had chosen a mauve silk gown for the occasion, embroidered with tiny white flowers. The bodice was moderately cut and trimmed with white braid adorned with pearls  that framed the neckline. Her sleeves were twice puffed and the lace ruffles that hemmed them reached nearly to her elbows. The skirt was embellished only with white braid and pearls along the bottom and she wore a white sash around her waist, tied into a bow at the back. Her jewelry consisted of a pearl necklace, bracelet, earrings, and rings. It was a lovely but informal ensemble, suitable for receiving guess at home.


Although she heard the knock at the door, she stayed where she was, looking out of the window. She had instructed her butler to greet Lord Chichester, take his outer garments if he was wearing any, and show him to the drawing room. As two sets of footsteps approached, she turned around and smiled, waiting for the fashionable the Earl to walk through the door.




Edited by Anne-Elisabeth Devereux
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It was unusual to be lead to a reception room up a set of stairs.   George felt oddly impertinent to climb them (as though he was going directly to a boudoir).  She was a libertine widow after all. To be recieved directly into her private chambers was practically scandalous. Actually, perhaps not even practically, but fully scandalous.  (Lord Beverly or Lady Lucas would know the answer to that query) 

Menwhile, Georges eyes were a little rounder as he put his head through the doorway (before fully entering) - though then seeing Lady Cambray he relaxed and smiled.  Shoulder lowering he strone into the room, approching warmly he took his bow. 

"Lady Cambray, what a marvellous setting I discover you within, you are a veritable water nymph - have you a conch shell handy, I feel compelled to blow into it!" he smiled with eyes bright.  Still tucked under his arm was his satchel of contrastily dry and dull political things. 



Edited by George Hardwick III
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  • 2 weeks later...

Lord Chichester did not immediately step over the threshold. He stuck his head in the doorway first, as if not certain what he would find within. The unwritten rules of polite society were more relaxed in Barbados and it wasn't unusual to use the second floor of a plantation house for receiving guests. During her year in Cornwall before coming to court, Anne-Elisabeth had learned that things were different in England. The second floor of a house was considered private and only family, very close friends, and lovers were invited to ascend the staircase.


This house had a perfectly respectable downstairs drawing room which been decorated in an ocean theme …soft blues and greens, accented with white and cream. But the second floor parlor with its wide windows and spectacular view was her favorite room in the house, and the one in which she spent most of her time. Why should she not entertain here if she wanted to?


She noticed the Earl's round eyes and suppressed a chuckle. Had he, perhaps, expected to find her in her nightdress? What would he have done if she had not been fully clothed? Drop his notes and flee or pretend that nothing was amiss? Well, she would never know the answer to that question, for despite her libertine ways, she had never been inclined to entertain in her skivvies. She had too many lovely gowns and sparkling pieces of jewelry to show off. "Do come in, Lord Chichester," she said with an engaging smile.


Finding the interior of the drawing room … and herself … perfectly proper, the Earl strode into the room with confidence, all hint of uncertainty gone. He was a fine-looking man and just as charming as he had been the day they had met, despite the unfortunate beginning of that encounter. She admired his eloquence. He certainly knew how to compliment a woman. His words might have made her blush, if she had been the blushing sort, which she was not.


“You flatter me, my lord, though I admit that I do like being compared to a sea nymph.” She moved to one of the tables and picked up a pretty conch shell that had been lying beside a vase of brightly colored flowers. “Here you are,” she said, holding it out to him, her dark eyes twinkling playfully. “If that one doesn't work, I have several others.” A conch shell had to be specially prepared to be used as an instrument and hers had come straight from the Barbadian shore, but she didn't expect him to actually blow into it. She just liked to tease him, in a playful platonic manner.


The Countess looked down at the satchel tucked under his arm. “Thank you for bringing your notes. I am sure that I will find them quite fascinating.”


Edited by Anne-Elisabeth Devereux
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Welcomed into her second floor room (the locale of which would take some getting used to for our George!), he was graciously received -- though she actually did have a conch and swiftly enough offered it!

“Ha, my bluff has been called!” George gave a laugh, “You are a rare treasure, what other lady in London, nay all of England,  would have such a shell within her hands reach!  I now must refrain from suggesting we send the seal to fetch us a drink, for fear they might come flopping in the door. Though really, how would they manage the stairs!”

All said while holding up his hand to decline an attempt of blowing into the shell.  He’d once tried to blow a trumpet, and had only succeeded in making an ugly noise. He was far too interested in impressing Elizabeth Anne to want to repeat such a sound within her hearing.

To the point she identified the satchel.

“Oh yes these.” He held the fine leather satchel out to her, “for you to peruse at your own leisure, I need only collect them at the end of the season.” Nodding head towards the divan he then asked, “May I? You see, Lady Cambray, I come to laden with a concern which I hope to gain your advice upon. A matter far more perplexing than mere politics, you may need to take a seat also for it. Its… the Cavendishes you see. Oh, and Dorset. I have to mention him too I suppose, though would rather not.”  

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Anne-Elisabeth laughed at the image Lord Chichester's jest conjured in her mind.  One of the many things she liked about him was his wit.  Placing the conch shell back on the table, she waved her hand nonchalantly. “Seals aren't good at serving drinks,” she said, schooling her pretty features into a serious expression. “I have an octopus for that. He can not only climb the stairs but he can carry a tray of food and several drinks at the same time.”


She picked up a starfish that had been lying beside the conch shell. “I doubt any lady in England has one of these either. Unless they're stitched upon a cloth in an embroidery hoop.” The young Countess' seashells had not been brought with her from Barbados. She had lost everything she owned in the shipwreck. The gentleman who supplied her with coconut rum had surprised her with an entire barrel of lovely shells from her homeland. If he had hoped to be rewarded with a shag, he had been sadly disappointed.


Her new and fascinating friend said nothing about the telescope by the window, a more unusual object for a lady to own than exotic seashells. Then again, she had already told him about her interest in science, so he might not think it was odd that she had one in her parlor pointed at the sky.


She took the satchel that Lord Chichester handed her. “All season? Thank you, my lord. I was hoping I wouldn't have to rush through them. And yes, please sit down.” Anne-Elisabeth carried the satchel over to the long table, pushing aside a few diagrams of constellations so that she would have a place to set it. Returning to him, one ebony eyebrow arched upward when he said he needed her advice on a complicated matter that concerned the Cavendishes and Dorset.  Whatever could it be?  She didn't know the Cavendishes, but Dorset was a fairly uncomplicated man.


“Of course, my lord. I will be pleased to offer you my advice.” Anne-Elisabeth sat down beside him. He had never stumbled over his words in her presence before and she sensed that he was a bit anxious “Is it something you would prefer to discuss over a drink? I can send for some of my coconut rum.” As an attempt at levity, she added: “It won't be delivered by the octopus, though. I gave him a day off.”


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  • 4 weeks later...

“Then your parties shall outshine even the Duke of Yorks!”

Even though George had renounced his catholic faith, he still thought highly of the very Catholic peer, and so Yorks was the go-to name in instance such as this.  Though really everyone knew Buckingham’s was the better for parties.

“It is quite a theme you keep in this room Countess.” George commented as she held up another treasure, a starfish husk.  “I might guess it is your retreat when feeling homesick. Might I hope that you need to seek it’s solace less and less as your comfort in London grows.”

The telescope was not commented on, he knew it was impossible to see Barbados from here, though perhaps she’d tried. It was abandoned now, with it’s scope forlornly tipped upwards at the sky.  He walked with her to the table, it was littered with documents, to which he as a gentlemen did not gawp. But his eyes did fall upon one now, as his brow creased and he frowned wondering where to begin…

“err, ah yes, perhaps a drink will help.”

George was realising how difficult it was to bust out the topic, and he, well he hardly knew Elizabeth Anne very well did he. Their conversations until now had been primarily jest and tease, hardly issues for life changing decisions.

“Is that a star chart?’ he distracted, quite possibly escaping any other talk of his intended topic.

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Anne-Elisabeth knew very little about the Duke of York except that he was Catholic. Because of the lack of gossip about him, she assumed that he was not a libertine. It wouldn’t take much effort to outshine one of those stuffy, somber affairs the proper set called parties. “You can be the judge of that. I plan to throw a housewarming party soon and yours is the first invitation I will write.


“And speaking of invitations, thank you for inviting me to your art exhibition. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” Lord Chichester had never told her that he was an artist, but she had heard that he was a gifted painter from a friend she had mentioned him to. Because he had not revealed that information himself, she didn’t say that she knew. Maybe he wanted to surprise her with his artwork. She didn’t think she would have to feign being impressed. The charming Earl appeared to be the kind of man that excelled in everything he did.


“It is my favorite room in the house, which is why I received you here instead of the main parlor on the first floor. It does remind me of home, but I am rarely homesick anymore. As soon as I set foot in London, I knew this was where I belonged.” She wrinkled her nose and added: “Despite the dreadful weather.”


Anne-Elisabeth had thought that he was going to sit down on the divan, but he followed her over to the table instead. She already knew that he was not opposed to women delving into the usually taboo areas of politics and science, so she didn’t have to worry that he would be appalled at her interest in astronomy.


“Very well. A drink it shall be.” She nodded to the servant hovering by the door and he left to fetch the rum. Lord Chichester commented on one of her star charts and she swept aside the sketches that were partially covering it so that he could view it in its entirety. “Yes, it’s one I bought a few years ago and I believe it is the most accurate one I own, though far from the most elaborate.” She gestured toward the telescope. ‘I am attempting to make my own and on most clear nights, I work on it. It’s an ambitious project but I am determined to see it through. When I’m done with it, I hope to find an artist who can illustrate it for me.”


The rum arrived on a tray with two crystal glasses. Anne-Elisabeth handed one to George and took the other one herself. The servant poured the clear liquid into the goblets. “They make this coconut rum in Barbados. If you like it, I can give you a bottle or two to take home with you.”


Sipping from her glass, she crossed the room and sat down, hoping he wold follow. “So tell me about this dilemma of yours, my lord.”

Edited by Anne-Elisabeth Devereux
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  • 1 month later...

He was an artist himself but not publicist there of, Anne Elizabeth might not be surprised at all to hear that any acclaim he enjoyed at Whitehall was due to his sister.  Mirtel had seen one of his artworks hung in the remodelled Queens apartments.  George Hardwick was surprisingly modest about his own art (even if a touch arrogant when it came to critique of other peoples works).

“I am pleased to hear that.” He smiled as she spoke about his pending art show, “It shall be fine to have some young blood there. Lady Habersham shall surely see to it that courts matrons will attend – but I should not want it to become an over serious affair. Art, or any sort, ought elevate the heart and lighten ones life, wouldn’t you agree?”

“You have quite a flair for decoration.” He commended, “why that might be an artform too do you think? I wonder if other ladies, seeing such a marvels interior, might beg you to help them decorate their own mundane parlours too. Well, those that are fortunate to have management of their own households at least…”

He looked at the young lady as his mind worked through this thought, “did you have a mother in law tempering your creative notions previously, I wonder? It would have been unbearable I do suppose.”

Her claim that London had instantly enchanted her was met with amusement plain and true. “Heavens! What and advertisement you are. But tell me what was it about our grey capital that enamoured you so?”

Rum arrived on a tray. “Thank you.” And the Earl took a warming sip of that sweet and dark liquid, it was a little less refined than his usual drink but the second sip softened it down.  

“How marvellous.” He commented with a blink of his eyes, “you might be surprised to learn that there is another bent upon a venture that is more similar to your own than not. Do you happen to know Lord Henry Grey? He had engaged me to illustrate his star charts for London, it was my concept to set them within relation to the rooftop skyline view…”

“… I wonder if you might join in also upon our project, rather than rival it our result shall be the more glorious for your involvement too.”

Taking a third sip he nodded his thanks, “I would not deprive you of your treasured brew, keep the bottles here, and I can look forward to revisiting it again on my next visit. By the by, best you do not mention brining in alcohol in your trunks, for by rights you should have paid taxes and had a licence to even do so!” he clicked his tongue and gave her a wink. Best to keep that on the down low. 

“Hmm… but when you run out, I happen to know a chap with the right connections, who might be able to import some for you cellar.” He moved to sit with her, and she drew him back to the topic he’d hinted towards. 

“… well.  It is upon the matter of marriage, namely that of Lady Frances Cavandishes.” Feeling momentarily nauseous and lightheaded at the same time, he took a deeper sip of his rum.  

Was he really trully going to give voice to his wild idea?

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“Oh, I’m sure that not only stuffy old matrons will attend your exhibition. Some courtiers will come just to be seen and they will be glad they did because your art will impress them. I wouldn’t be surprised if your talent isn’t already known, especially if this isn’t your first exhibition.”


Anne-Elisabeth tilted her head to the side. “Yes, art should be uplifting, but serious pieces have their own appeal.” She grinned at George playfully. “However, I cannot imagine anything you paint being somber. They say the art reflects the artist. I look forward to seeing what your work says about you.”


She shrugged when he complimented her decorating skills. “I suppose it could be a form of art, but it’s a skill that anyone can learn. Though the ideas were my own, I did hire a professional decorator to help me make my vision a reality. My preferred form of art is writing, both poetry and prose. Limericks are my specialty.”


The young Countess ignored Lord Chichester’s remark about mother-in-laws. Anne-Elisabeth didn’t want to think of that wicked old harpy in such pleasant company. She was pleased that the subject was quickly changed to the allure of London. “I will sing London’s charms to anyone who will listen. As long as I sing figuratively instead of literally. I wouldn’t want to scare anyone away. I think it is the potential that thrills me the most. You can do anything, be anything, achieve anything here. The city practically oozes with possibility. And that’s exciting.”


The elegant Earl seemed grateful for the rum. Again, Anne-Elisabeth wondered what was bothering him. She was particularly interested in what it had to do with Lord Dorset. Were the two old enemies? If so, she hoped she would never be called upon to take sides. She liked them both, but in drastically different ways.


She grinned when he mentioned Lord Grey. “Yes, I know him and we have talked about working together. We met at Norrington’s on the first day of the season. Neither one of us knew that it didn’t have a men’s department.” The raven-haired girl chuckled. “He’s intrigued with the moon and I’m fascinated by the stars. We have spoken about combining our projects, but not in any great detail yet. With your help, it will be truly spectacular.”


He refused her offer of a bottle of coconut rum. Could it be that he was not all that fond of it? “I did bring several crates with me from Barbados but they were all lost in the shipwreck. These were procured from an importer who lives close to my estate in Cornwall. I assume he has a license, but I never asked to see it, so I can’t say for certain. Perhaps your friend can give me a better deal. I would like to meet him.”


Lord Chichester followed her over to the divan and sat beside her, finally revealing a bit about his quandary. “Ahhh, yes, she’s going to marry Lord Dorset.” So that was where her partner in rhyme came in. “She is a friend of yours? Does she not want to go through with it? I suppose I can understand her hesitation. He’s not the kind of man who will be faithful to her.”


Her dark eyes widened as a thought occurred to her. “Or … are the two of you in love? Does she want to marry you instead?”

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“It is not my own work in the exhibition.” George was hasty to clarify, “well, except one piece.  No the artworks are from artists I am promoting from Italy. Not all of them Italian of course, Florence is something of a melting pot when it comes to aspiring young artists.”

Her comment gave him pause to wonder though if perhaps his own artworks might be generally well received? He did not usually self promote, and felt a bit uncomfortable, perhaps even nervous, at that thought.

“Still, you’ve given me something to think upon.” He added in a quiet tone, cheeks pinking as she said such a nice thing. He was embarrassed, but also happy at the same time.  

Conversation flowed onwards, weaving around to her announcement of art form she favoured for herself. “Limericks?” It was not at all the cliché.  He tried to make sense of it, then asked, “have you an example perhaps?”

“Then I shall plan a supper and have a you both invited; and I shall propose a threefold collaboration!” of Grey it made perfect sense.

Making a mental note to introduce Anne-Elizabeth to Kingston (who imported foreign commodities  regularly) George took another sip of the rum as they settled to the divan.  Yet loosed an ungracious huff as she stated the publicly know marriage plans.  “If you mean that is what is agreed between Dorset and her father yes.”

Women were uncanny clever intuiting about these sorts of things, and by his comments, awkwardness and disposition Anne Elizabeth drew the conclusions without his even stating it.  “Please do not appear so shocked, but yes, that is the truth of it. Lady Frances even promised to wait for me till I might win around her father. Alas, Dorsets plans quickened over the recess, and I now find myself at a difficult point.  Never to mention the fact that Lady Frances faces a life of misery. She and I.  We…   Well, we would make the perfect match you see.”

He was not going to actually say he loved the young lady, but he did enjoy her company a good deal, and… and she was a goddam Cavandish if you please. Such a lofty match was enough to lubricate any gents juices!

“You must keep this a secret.” He dropped his voice to a hush, “but I contemplate stealing her and an elopement. From how I see it, it would be for the best.”  The earls dark and serous eyes met her own… seeking her opinion on that.

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“Well then, the courtiers will be impressed with the painting of the artists you are supporting.” Anne-Elisabeth grinned. “Are they still in Italy or are they staying in London?” Italian men were said to be amorous and handsome, and she wouldn’t mind admiring them along with their art. She could seek out the ones whose paintings she liked most and praise their talent. Flattery sometimes did get you everywhere.


Lord Chichester’s blush was adorable. Was he not accustomed to compliments? “Will you show me your one contribution to the exhibition, or will you make me guess?” Her tone of voice was playful, teasing.


The young Countess hadn’t expected him to ask her to recite one of her limericks and she racked her brain for a poem that wasn’t off-color. Most of her limericks were downright bawdy. The poem she had recited to the King at the New Year’s ball came to mind. Yes, that one would do quite nicely.


“This is one of my favorites, based on a true story.”


A tall friend is always complaining

That he's tired of people proclaiming

'How's the weather up there?'

So without any care,

He spits on them and says that it's raining.”


The conversation meandered to astronomy and she was pleased that the Earl was willing to work with her and not just Lord Gray. When they had met, she had been hesitant to mention her interest in science, afraid that he was one of those pompous gentlemen who believed a woman should not try to expand her mind but that she should be content doing nothing but managing a household and raising children. She had been elated to find out that he was broad-minded instead.


Anne-Elisabeth was more worldly and experienced most girls her age. Her supposition seemed like the most logical explanation for him mentioning Lady Frances’ marriage. And she had predicted correctly. She didn’t say a word while Lord Chichester outlined the problem and a possible solution, waiting until he had stopped speaking before offering her advice.


I’m not shocked at all,” she assured him. “And I promise I shall not breathe a word of this to anyone. I will take this secret to the grave with me.” If the young lady didn’t want to marry Dorset, neither of them would be happy. They both deserved a spouse that would compliment their personalities and lifestyles. Had she been the marrying kind, she wouldn’t have protested marrying Dorset herself. Yet why would she wish to marry again when widowhood gave her so much freedom?


I think your idea is a good one, as long as both of you are aware of the possible consequences. Have you spoken to her about it yet? She needs to be aware that her family may disown her, that they may refuse to speak her or even acknowledge her existence for the rest of her life. She will be rebelling against her father's authority and he will be angry in the extreme. All Dukes are powerful men. Both of you could be ostracized from court and have to move to another country. The Duke will always be your enemy.


“Also, I remember what you said overcoming your past troubles. This course of action will bring you new ones and may even extend to your little nephew. If you decide to elope, you must both be sure that it’s the right choice and that your affection for each other will be able to withstand difficulties of epic proportions.


“That said, there is a snall chance that her parents will want her to be happy above all else and will accept her choice and welcome you into the family. I don’ t think there is any way you can know in advance what their reaction will be.”


Anne-Elisabeth reached over and squeezed George’s hand. “I’m not trying to dissuade you. I support whatever you decide to do, and will do everything in my power to ease any strain the two of you may experience. Sometimes, if you know in your heart that it’s the right thing to do, you have to take the chance, no matter the complications that stand in your way. Nothing worth having comes without risk.”

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“The artists remain in Florence.” George revealed simply, “and yes it is my hope that the collection I’ve curated will be well received.”  He was in fact fairly confidant in it’s success with the fine Lady Habersham as spokesperson – still as mentioned, he hoped that some of the younger crowd would also attend.

“I shall let you guess.” He replied upon his own singular input to the exhibition. Since his (unlikely!) love life became topic du jour he further revealed, “it was a commission of a sort, for the young mystery lady who bid on me at the bachelor auction. Truth be told I was quite inspired by her. Please do not consider me a cad to keep kind thoughts of not just one but two ladies.”

George did come across as a rather proper fellow at times, and on the matter of ladies especially.  Then at other times he showed a more relaxed side – such as now and with her limerick.  The serious faced Earl broke into laugher! 

“Hah hah! That is fine, so clever and witty! I love it!” his expression was warm, almost jubilant.  He downed the rest of his coconut rum in a happy gulp. “Have you another?!”

Yet it was with a sober disposition that the pair talked about Lady Frances.  “Thank you.” George accepted her promise of secrecy.

“No I ha not told her of the idea yet, I do not want to upset her emotions, I am keenly aware she is trying to be very stoic about her families choice for her.  I do not want to give her a false hope, for should I fail a second time her spirits may never recover.”

George knew a good deal about the death grip of depression, and would not wish that on an enemy let alone a gentle kind soul like Lady Francis.

“Yes the family will be furious, yet I am sure that their feelings will soften in time, most particularly once there are children.  And Dorset, well he is a clever fellow, he shall find some other place to poke his ambition.” There was a notable coldness to Georges tone when he spoke of Dorset, due to no fact other than the others successful bid for Frances hand.  “I am not deterred at thought of Dorset’s enemy.  I hardly expect that he will be heart broken by it, and believe that the ladys happiness will outweigh his anger.  Or at least…

He listened closely to her advice, she brought up things he’d not thought about, such as his little Whitgrove.  George nodded slowly as he considered it. “You have a point that the extended family may frown upon it.  While just last week they have invited me to take Easter dinner with them. Which was a very pleasant surprise, believe me. “

He had to think long and hard about this, the Ashburnhams, Lord Bedford and Lord Russell, were valuable connections.  

She saw that she’d perturbed him, and with womanly instinctiveness Anne-Elisabeth reached over and squeezed George’s hand.  He squeezed hers back.  “This is exactly why I need advice… I am uncertain what is the best thing to do.”

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  • 3 weeks later...

Oh well, so much for seducing amorous Italian artists. At least there were still English fish in the sea for her to bait with her compliments. In truth, Anne-Elisabeth didn’t think she would be dwelling too much on romance in the splendid company of Lord Chichester, though she doubted he would be able to spend much time with her. She had no idea who Lady Habersham was, but if she was a friend of the Earl, she hoped the woman hadn’t heard rumors about her libertine ways. She might warn him to stay away from her.


“Very well. I shall guess. I’m a fairly good guesser but ...” a playful wink, “hints never hurt.” So his artwork was a commission for another lady, one who had inspired him but was not the one he wished to run away with. Anne-Elisabeth didn’t remember seeing him at the bachelor auction and had no idea which masked lady had won him. She’d had her hands full extracting promises from Master May and had not even glanced at the other couples.


Lord Chichester’s merry burst of laughter and lively expression enchanted her. The young Countess hoped she could make him laugh more often. And he wanted to hear another limerick! “Of course,” she smiled. “This one will be about you. Let me think for a moment.” She studied him in a purely platonic manner as she turned over verses in her mind. “I have it ...


“There once was a tall handsome lord

So pleasant he was always adored

He met a lady one day

And swept her away

By his eloquence and charm she was floored.”


Anne-Elisabeth shrugged. “Perhaps not my best, but the ones I make up on the fly rarely are. It’s all true, though. You really did sweep me away on the day we met. I’m so glad that I dropped my parcel at your feet. If I had known anything about you then, I would have done it on purpose.”


So he had not yet told Lady Frances about his plans. If she was the proper sort, which Anne-Elisabeth assumed she was, she might even refuse his offer. A libertine would jump at the chance to marry a double-Earl unless, like herself, she wasn’t the marrying kind. Then again, it wasn’t as if she had a choice. The Countess had been unable to protest wedding a man she hardly knew either. Had he lived, she imagined that their lives would have been miserable.


Lord Chichester seemed quite optimistic about his chances of being accepted by Lady Frances’ family, and it was indeed possible that their attitudes would change once they had grandchildren. Anne-Elisabeth chuckled when George spoke of Dorset poking his ambitions elsewhere. That was a rather apt way to put it. There were other unmarried daughters of Dukes he could wed. Maybe he was against marrying too, and would like to sow more wild oats before taking a wife.


It appeared that her entrancing companion had relatives of his own that would be affected by the elopement as well. They must be fond of him to invite him to spend Easter with them. He was lucky. Nobody had invited her to dinner. She didn’t relish the thought of spending the holiday alone, but it looked as if that would be her fate.


Yet that didn’t matter right now. It was George’s problems that needed addressing. “Then I shall give you some more,” she said when he said he appreciated her advice. “Do you think that her family will accept you if you don’t have children? Lady Frances will be under a lot of stress if she’s at odds with her parents. She may not be able to conceive or carry a child to term. You must think of that as well. What will her family think then? That God is punishing the two of you for going against their will?” She squeezed his hand again. “I’m sorry. I know even thinking of this is hard but you must be prepared for every eventuality if you do this.


“And you must be absolutely certain that this is what you want. The other lady you mentioned … your muse for the painting you are going to display at your exhibition … is she of sufficient status to marry? Are you sure you won’t regret not giving her a chance? Perhaps her parents would accept your offer. You must think of yourself, my friend, and do what is best for you. If your main motivation for marrying Lady Frances is to save her from a loveless marriage, you are doing both of you no favors. If you can't stand the thought of living without her and she is the lady you wish to spend the rest of your life with, then tell her about it. If you have any doubts at all, then eloping may not be the best choice .  You are contemplating an action that may will serious consequence.  You must be sure that it's the right thing for both of you."


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It was an odd surprise that he now had two ladies interested to view his artwork at the show. George grinned in an abashed manner.  Elizabeth Anne had been insightfully on-the-mark when she’d guessed he was unused to such praise.

Conversely he was more comfortable with laughter (as rare as that had been in recent years), although her next offering was really just an excuse to flatter him! “Ho ho, Lady Cambray, you put me to the blush!” he protested, “Here, give me a moment, and I shall try concoct an apt ‘retaliation!”

Drawing a breath, George begun a limerick on the fly…

There is a lady from Barbados ... Island,

She’s smarter than most and … not vio-lunt

George frowned cause this was not easy!

“She’s got beautiful hair

And eyes that never glare.”

It was starting to get a bit easier, but now he was up to the trickiest punch-line verse!

“She’s sparkling fine just like a di - mond.”

As far as limerick go, this one was redeemable only for the effort made. “Oh I am sorry, that was a hash, good grief! Lets leave the limerick making u to you!” George was laughing.


But on the serious things, it was serious – and Anne Elizabeth posed an alternative point of view. 

“You make a good point that my vision of redemption, in her family’s eyes, is based upon Children. Further, I previously omitted mention that I had written to her father and he’d made it plain that I held no favour.”  George sighed.  “That was the entire reason I wanted to wait to petition for her hand. I thought that given some months, perhaps a year, I could change his mind.  But then bloody Dorset swooped on in.”

He’d said as much before, but reiterated now buying himself time to further process the new thoughts.

“I’d talked to my friend Lord Beverly about it last year, and he, he did not sound… well I mean he discouraged me more than anything else.”  

He had not wanted to accept what the universe was telling him. “It is precisely that sort of thing I want to avoid.”  There were a good percentage of  marriages that were not so blessed with children, and Frances was bound to take it as a sign if that fate was theirs.

Georges eyes lowered to an examination of his glass, turning it over in his hands as he thought. “I fear I have something of a knack for lost causes.” He quietly admitted, “Which is half of the reason I no longer trust my own judgement in any of this.”

He fully relied upon the insight she offered.

“My masked lady, my Swan?  Well I know very little of her at all, but that she is literary minded with a ready smile and cheer. Also, I think her to be charitable, for that she saved me from embarrassment at the auction.”  He paused then added, “If she is pleased with my painting, she has agreed she will meet me unmasked.”

“Until then, I do not know if she is available or not.”  George needed to repress any sort of optimism he might feel, for he’d not been so lucky in love till now.

“Might I have a refill perhaps?”

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Lord Chichester’s cheerful laughter always delighted her. “Perhaps that was my intention,” she replied with a grin. Anne-Elisabeth was both surprised and pleased that he wished to give her a limerick in return. She watched as he struggled for words that rhymed, having been there many times herself. The end result, while not perfect, was better than the limericks of many gentlemen who mistakenly believed that they were excellent poets.


She applauded when he was done. “Not bad at all,” she said. “And now it is you who flatters me. I must admit that I adore the idea of sparkling like a diamond.”


So he had asked for Lady Frances’ hand and her father had refused him. That was not a good sign at all. Anne-Elisabeth had no doubt that, given time, he could have impressed the Duke, but that opportunity had been taken from him. Who had initiated the betrothal, she wondered? Had it been Dorset or the lady’s father? If the latter, she doubted that anything could change his mind. Unless the libertine Earl did something to disgrace his daughter, which was not at all impossible.


The next time she saw Dorset, perhaps she could find out what he thought of his future wife. Most likely, he had realized that he was getting up in age and needed heirs. She doubted he cared much for the lady herself and had no intention of giving up his philandering ways. In truth, she hoped he didn’t, for he had promised her that they would be doing more ‘christenings’ in the future. Where, she wondered, would their next tryst be? More importantly, when?


Lord Beverley was charming, but he was the proper sort. Anne-Elisabeth believed that George should have anticipated his disapproval. She didn’t disapprove at all. What he wanted to do was romantic, but she felt that, as his friend, it was her duty to point out the obstacles that stood in his way. She hated to be discouraging, but she didn’t want him to ruin his life because he had not thought everything out thoroughly. The dark-haired Countess truly cared for him.


It sounded as if at least part of his motivation was to save Lady Frances from a miserable future. He sounded much less sure of himself now, but perhaps that was a good thing. If the elopement didn’t go as planned, both he and the lady would regret it for the rest of their lives.


Anne-Elisabeth noted the way he spoke of the mysterious woman who had won him in the bachelor auction. She was his masked lady, his Swan. Even though he didn’t know her identity, he thought fondly of her. She didn’t believe for a moment that this lady had only bid on him to save him from embarrassment. If she had known who he was, Anne-Elisabeth would have tried to win George himself.


“One refill coming up,” she said, leaving the divan to fetch the rum. Seating herself beside him again,, she refilled his glass as well as her own and then set the bottle on the small table beside the divan. “I think you should wait until the situation with your muse plays out before you make any decisions. Only single ladies and widows bid at the auction, so she must have been available at that time. If she reveals herself to you, then you can be certain she still is. She will keep her identity to herself if she is betrothed or married. There is always the possibility that there will be no spark between you or she is too low in status to consider wedding, but you should at least give her a chance.”


She took a sip of rum. “You must be curious about her. Before your exhibition, you should also talk to Lady Frances and subtly discover how she feels about her betrothal and whether she would be willing to run away with you if that is what you ultimately decide you wish to do.”

Edited by Anne-Elisabeth Devereux
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"Ha, you are being soft on me, I can tell!" George chuckled still, what a fine thing it was to have found a true friend.  Each gesture, comment and expression she made told him that she was that one in a million.   

"In that case I shall buy you one." It would not be the first time that George was over generous.  But what was it to have means, if one could not spend it upon those most precious to him.  "A brooch perhaps, if that is not too bold? Or... what about a tiara, those are en vogue, and you would suit the display so very well."  George, such a creature of fashion, would never steer a lady wrong.

Yes every statement she made resounded with notes of truth and good sense, good sense that he might not have gleaned on his own.  "You might think me a tad ignorant." he apologised at one point, "the thought is that the subject is so gravely intense to me that I find it difficult to hold perspective on it. Yes yes, that seems just the thing to do. I would not want to be one of these 'fools that rush in'.  And, yes I am intrigued of Lady Swan, there was a sense of of... ah... complimentary spirits, when I spoke with her." 

While Anne Elizabeth's balancing thought was to try find out how Frances herself was feeling.   "Well in fact, I have this note from her, I found it yesterday"  having known he wanted to ask her advice, George had brought the note with him.   "Here it is."  drawing the scrap of paper from pocket, he held it a moment longer then passed for her comment. 


I know tis a foolish thing yet I could not help. How many words will I treasure we exchanged in so short a time. Yet ever did I feel how well-suited yet now proven untrue. Not by want of trying on either part yet Fate is unforgiving and even God seems to have not thought it wise.So let us not weep or cry for that serves no purpose. I now onward to what has been decided and You to what ere is also Planned. Yet will I always think of You with affection and you can read plain that tis truth. I shall think of You from time to time and Pray that Happiness will soon find You and give what is so deserved. Be Well. And when we meet know that I shall be in manner as one 'friend' to another. And I should like to think that the Lady above that keeps our secret would have approved



Note from Frances, found on the 6th

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“No, I’m not,” Anne-Elisabeth insisted. “I would never lie to you. That limerick was much better than some I’ve heard from people who claim that they’re amazing at composing them.” She narrowed her eyes playfully “Of course, it could just be beginner’s luck.” She marveled at how comfortable she felt in Lord Chichester’s presence, how easy it was to tease him. His friendship was more valuable to her than gold.


Or diamonds. “Oh, you don’t have to,” she said, and realized that it was true. Usually she subtly manipulated gentlemen into purchasing gifts for her. She had even blackmailed one lover into buying her a telescope. George’s cheerful presence was the most precious gift he could give her. He seemed insistent, though, and she didn’t want to insult him by refusing his generosity. Maybe he bought things for all his friends. “I do love tiaras,” she remarked with a grin. “And I don’t have one made of diamonds.”


He received her advice well and agreed that the path she had suggested was one he should take. If this Swan, whoever she was, had a personality that complimented his and her father considered him a fine match for her, then there would be no dire consequences as there would be if he ran off with Lady Frances. The mysterious woman must be intrigued by him too, or she would not have bid on him. Maybe when he met her, he would no longer wish to elope with a lady whose father had already turned him down.


Again, she reached over and squeezed his hand. “You are not ignorant at all. There is no doubt in my mind that your feelings for Lady Frances are genuine and that you want to do the right thing for her, not just for yourself. Weddings take time to arrange. You have time to decide what is best for both of you. Has a date been set yet?”


That George kept a note from Lady Frances in his pocket attested to his fondness for her and Anne-Elizabeth saw that he seemed reluctant to part with it, even for a few moments. She read it when he handed it to her. It was quite obvious that the lady  was fond of him  from the note’s wistful tone. But she seemed to have accepted her father's decision, believing it was God’s will, and there was nothing to indicate that she would be willing to go against her family’s wishes. She even hoped that Lord Chichester would find happiness without her and that they could one day be friends.


But was what she really wanted or did she hope that he would swoop in and carry her away? It was difficult to discern emotions from a note. With a little sigh, the tanned Countess handed it back. “She seems resigned to her fate, but maybe that is only because she thinks she has no other choice. And since she did not insist on meeting face to face, maybe it would have hurt too much. Or perhaps she doesn’t want you to see in her eyes that she would much rather marry you. She is trying to spare you the sorrow of losing her, that much is apparent. Maybe you  should approach her at a court event and see if she is willing to speak to you. I don’t believe that any relationship should end with a note.”

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“Beginners luck? Strewth! Must I now attempt another to test your theory out!” George laughed, with no such desire to try for a second limerick, the thought alone seemed a funny enough joke.

Like any true lady she protested at first, but prettily relented as he insisted. “How marvelous.” He beamed as the idea took flight in his mind, “I shall design it myself, and commission it’s construction by that clever Jewish jeweller in the town.”  It was a well known fact that the Jews had closely guarded secrets and were the very best in the world at their craft.  (One might pause to wonder if the likeness of jewel and jew were no coincidence for that very fact!)

The more serious topic, that of potential Lady Chichesters, meandered a rather long and winding path.  “I do not know if they have a date, but the match having been announced during the recess, cannot be that long off.” 

Anne-Elizabeth’s advice, her warnings, her prudence, was sinking in and having quite a balancing effect.  “Perhaps I can show my friendship to her in some other more enduring way, a way that will not wrench her from the comfort and security of her family.” He gave a small shrug and smile, “With a Husband such as Dorset she is bound to need a shoulder to lean upon at times.”

Because just everyone at court knew that Dorset would not make any woman a contented wife.

“I thought it odd really, that her family, which you’d not have thought challenged to make the very best of matches, were so set upon him.  Don’t you think they would have heeded her petition against? But then, she has such a sense of duty, perhaps she did not actually speak up. I do not know.”

Was he just trying to talk himself out of it now? In favour of the barely met and identity-unknown Lady Swan.  Lady Swan who might have her own judgemental father who'd protest.  Was this just another resetting of the marker, then there would be another, and another.  At times it all just got a bit too much for the Earl, a fellow far more sensitive than was acceptable in a man. His throat caught and his eyes threatened to betray him. Looking upwards he blinked and uttered, “I wish the whole mess was just over.”  He squeezed her hand in reply, “ I sick of feeling so, insufficient.”

Drawing a breath he slowly released it, trying to find his equilibrium again. He mustered a smile, if it be a glassy eyed one, “You are a little angel my dear, forgive me my lapse in composure there, you’ve seen into the rather too delicate heart of me.” He lifted her hand and pressed her knuckles to her lips. Giving a kiss, and a smile of thanks. “Now tell me something cheery. You’ve a party planned? Or some other fun in store no doubt.”   

Edited by George Hardwick III
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 “No need for that.” Anne-Elisabeth narrowed her eyes playfully. “Perhaps you should quit while you’re ahead. However, if you would like to try your hand at poetry, I’ll be happy to give you some pointers.”


Lord Chichester was not just good-natured and charming, he was generous as well. Her eyes widened as he promised to design her tiara himself. “I shall be the envy of court for wearing a genuine Chichester original,” she remarked. “You are too kind to me, my lord.” In return, she planned on combing the stores of London for a gift that he would adore, not because she believed she needed to but because she wanted to please him as much as he had just pleased her. As she wished it to be a surprise, she didn’t reveal her intentions.


If the engagement had been arranged during recess, then the wedding could be sometime this season. She remembered the banns being read in church and thinking that any lady would consider herself lucky to marry a double Earl, even if she had to put up with his libertine ways. Instead, the lady he had chosen was unhappy with the match and had hoped to wed a handsome single Earl instead … one who would love her and not view her as a necessary inconvenience to be tolerated if he wanted heirs.


George seemed resigned to giving Lady Frances up and trying to forge a platonic friendship with her. That had not been the purpose of Anne-Elisabeth’s advice. She wanted the best for him, whatever that turned out to be. Perhaps running away and eloping would be what he ultimately chose. Speaking to the lady was important and she hoped that he would find an occasion to meet her face to face.


“Most fathers see daughters as bargaining chips.” Her voice was tinged with sadness. “We’re told that we will not be forced into a marriage we are set against, but if a potential suitor can offer our fathers advancement in power, wealth, or influence, they will not heed our protests. I knew better than to make any waves. My father never wavered once he made up his mind. Perhaps Lady Frances knew her pleas would fall on deaf ears, just as I did.”


Anne-Elisabeth had never contemplated how a gentleman felt when his suit was refused. George took it hard and she held his hand tight after he squeezed her own. “It’s not your fault,” she reassured him. "You are not insufficient in any way.” Her low sultry voice was colored by anger. “I think Lord Newcastle is an pompous fool for favoring Dorset over you. And if I ever meet him, I swear I will tell him to his face.” She sighed. “No, that will only hurt you more. I shall have to keep my low opinion of him to myself.” Or express it in a suitably subtle limerick.


She could tell he was trying to calm himself, and she held his hand until he had mastered his emotions and released it. It broke her heart to see how much George was hurting and she wished there was more that she could do. “I think you’re the first person to call me an angel,” she said with a quirky smile. “I must say that I like it.” He lifted her hand to his lips and she could feel his warm breath whisper over her knuckles. Reaching up with her other hand, she briefly patted his cheek in a sisterly manner and then dropped her hand to her lap.


“Actually I would like to show you something. It will take me about twenty minutes to prepare, if you don’t mind waiting.”


Edited by Anne-Elisabeth Devereux
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George responded with a warm chuckle, grateful of the offer though not inclined to take her up on it. “Each to our own artforms my lady.”

His chuckles took an embarrassed tone at her next flattery around the tiara, “You might be best to omit the designer out when suffering the envy of your lady friends.” George considered of his somewhat infamy grown around his noble name.  Perhaps he’d become surprised on that score, though currently that seemed unlikely!

“Yes I understand.” Said he when it came to the pawn piece mentality over matching young ldies.  “I confess I was even that way inclined myself, with my sister. I promoted her match to my friend Lord Toledo.  But I had the decency to consider her views on that note.  In the end, I think she made the better choice for herself, even if.”  Might Mirtel still be alive if she’d not married Russell? Yes perhaps she[‘d have lived, but it might have been a life of misery.

“It is surely better to be exquisitely happy a short while, than longevity with unhappiness.”

His comment was made, and with it self reflection, it was not ladies he was thinking of though, but Sam.  

But he was done with introversion, and turning back to Anne Elizabeth heard out her own sad tale.  “Then I am happy for you that you survived him, and have discovered a life of liberty and freedom now. For the ultimate prize is a full and rich life of marvellous challenges and experiences. Surely that is what you may now have.”

“Heh heh, yes do not tell him that to the face, however narrowminded he is he is still a Duke.” Still he’d enjoyed hearing her say she’d give Cavandish a piece of her mind!

Then the sweet lady that she was, received his compliment with a delicate fragility – George tipped his head and met her eyes as she lifted her hand and brushed his cheek. “Then the world has not looked at your closely enough.” Said he, and for a moment fancied that she might like a kiss. His eyes slipped briefly to her lips. Did friends of the opposite sex ever just do that.  

But then the subject was changed

“Oh yes, I have no other plans.  I”ll take a look at your str charts while I wait.”

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  • 2 weeks later...

Anne-Elisabeth wasn’t surprised that Lord Chichester turned down her offer. She would have done the same if he had suggested that he teach her how to paint. They both knew their own weaknesses and painting was one of hers. Singing was another. “Very well. If you ever change your mind, you know where to find me.”


He certainly wasn’t accustomed to compliments and didn’t want her to tell other ladies that he had designed the tiara he intended to gift her with. He looked so adorable when he was embarrassed. She cocked her head as if considering his request. “You may be right. Ladies will be beating down your door wanting you to design one for them. You would never get any peace.”


The raven-haired Countess nodded. “I’m glad you listened to your sister and let her marry a gentleman she cared for.” She wondered what advantages marriage to a Spaniard could offer. Perhaps George had wanted to marry his sister to a friend because he knew that he would treat her well. Or maybe Lord Toledo was more well-connected than it would seem. She had seen his wife, a pretty little blonde thing who was rumored to have lungs as large as her bosom. Supposedly she had broken a glass with her voice. A talented beauty probably had had more than her fair share of suitors and yet her father had given her to a Spaniard. Maybe she wasn’t a virgin when she married.


“Her happiness was important to you. Most fathers are not so open-minded. Maybe the marriage between Lady Frances’ parents is unhappy and they believe that love has no part in an advantageous union. Therefore, they are not considering her feelings on the matter.”


Anne-Elisabeth smiled when he congratulated her on her freedom. George was a proper gentleman but also a progressive thinker. It was a delightful combination. No wonder Lady Frances was smitten with him. “I shall not tell the Duke to his face, but I shall think it whenever I see him.”


His compliment pleased her immensely. As her fingers brushed over his cheek, she noticed the way his eyes strayed to her lips. Was he expecting her to kiss him? It was tempting, she had to admit, but she was not about to ruin a precious friendship by delving into romance. She didn’t doubt that he would make a fantastic husband, but being ostracized by a Duke, cast out of court, and living childless with the woman he eloped with would be preferable to a life with her as his wife. Her very nature went against the concept of fidelity and she was libertine to the core.


The moment passed and he agreed to peruse her star charts while she was away. “I’ll be back soon.” she said, and walked out of the room with a smile.


Twenty minutes later, the person who walked  through the door looked to be a gentleman, dressed in a plum, teal and gold brocade justacorps over a teal waistcoat and plum-colored trousers. His stockings were deep gold and his shoes were black and shiny. A lace cravat completed his ensemble, fastened with a bejeweled pin. Atop the man’s head sat a black periwig.


The outfit looked quite nice from a distance, but up close, a discerning eye would be able to tell that it had not been made by a professional tailor. It looked like the work of someone who was more experienced in making women’s clothes. “So what do you think?"  Anne-Elisabeth asked, knowing that her disguise would not fool George. “I’m hoping to attend some scientific lectures and I think posing as a gentleman would be the best way to get in. A male persona might also open other doors that are closed to ladies."


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"You have the wildest ideas!" George marvelled in a blend of aghast and just a little morbid interest.  "Ladies flocking to my door indeed -  sheer craziness! Or is it? Heavens, you have made my head spin!" he finished with laughter. 

While she praised him for letting Mirtel marry who she wanted, he felt compelled to correct her with the truth. 'You did not have the fortune of meeting my sister!" another laugh, "What I wished had very little to do with it, she was bull-headed I would say, I could only stand back and watch!"  George had basically sulked all through her subsequent engagement and marriage to some chap he did not even know. "But I would claim that I have the good grace to admit that I was wrong, and she made the best choice."

They shared a moment. Or was it a moment? George was hardly sure, but she definitely had touched his cheek and that was not the usual sort of thing at all.  Yes he'd wondered if she might kiss him. But she did not. So he rued that he'd even thought that she might.  Luckly he'd not said anything out aloud!  And then she was busying herself away...

He looked at the charts, though thoughts rather distracted in a tangle that now included a third lady in the mix 

And when she returned she was dressed up like a man!  George laughed, "Well now see what I mean!" yes she was audacious!  He mentally removed her from the possible wives list (the young lady might have praised the saints if she knew of her near miss!)  The woman he married needed to be a more predictable sort. 

He quashed his amusement when she revealed she was quite serious. 

"Oh, my apologies for laughing then. Yes if you wish for a critique, I'd suggest you try dress up as a youth rather than a fully grown specimen. You have not the jawline of an adult male.  There is something that happens to a lad around the age whiskers grow in, the bones of face become bolder and... but a boy, yes your features might pass off as a rather pretty smooth-faced lad. Of say 16." George gave his comment from his artists perspective, one that commenced with an understanding of anatomy.  

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Anne-Elisabeth chucked. “Are you sure it’s not my rum that’s making your head spin?” She honestly thought that other ladies would be interested in Lord Chichester’s designs. From what she knew of him, he didn’t do anything by halves. The tiara would be beautiful. Knowing how he reacted to complements, no matter how adorable he was, she decided not to give him another. He would see that she was right when women began begging for him to design jewelry for them too. She would tell them where she got it when they asked. Which of course they would.


“I wish I’d had the opportunity to meet her. She must have been a very interesting woman. Not every lady has the courage to go after what she wants. And not every gentleman is intelligent and compassionate enough to listen to her. I must commend both of you. If your nephew takes after either of you, he will one day be the envy of court.” The young Countess hoped that someday soon she would get to meet him. If he had his mother’s strong will and his uncle’s charm, he would be a force to be reckoned with when he grew up.


George laughed again when she entered the room dressed as a man. The young Countess sensed that he wasn’t ridiculing her for her disguise and so he was spared being kicked in the nuts. He was surprised, as she knew he would be, but not as disapproving as she had feared. “Don’t apologize."  Her voice, which was naturally low, deepened into what she thought sounded masculine. “I know I must look silly since you know me as a lady, but can I fool others into believing that I’m male?”


Had she known he had briefly considered her as a possible wife, she would have been flattered, but for his sake, she would have been forced to turn down a proposal. Anne-Elisabeth didn’t want him to be stuck with a wife who jumped from bed to bed like a flea jumped from dog to dog. Perhaps after a few years, she would want to settle down and live a proper life. Lord Chichester would probably be married by then, but if he was free, then maybe they could be happy together. She was the perfect choice if he wanted his nephew to be his heir, as she had no desire to ruin her figure by bearing children.


His advice was sound and she nodded. Her voice returned to its normal sultry tone. “I’m eighteen so I figured I would have to say I’m younger, though I did think of trying to get my hands on a fake mustache. I doubt it would have fooled anyone because fake mustaches look like fake mustaches. To pose as a boy, do I need to dress differently? Will I be allowed into scientific lectures? I suppose I should make up a history for my male persona too, as well as a name.”

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“Well perhaps.” Chuckling he put his glass aside (though not before quickly emptying it!)

Of Mirtel George was more reserved. “She was terribly popular.” He agreed to her comment. It was bad form to speak ill of the dead, so he did not say that he was pleased that AnnE could not meet his sister, or how he believed his sister had singlehandedly ruined his life.  He had renumeration of a sorts now, little Whitgrove, his nephew and current heir to all that he owned.

These charts were different to the ones supplied him by Lord Grey, which surprised George, as he’d have thought they would all be much the same.  While the lady was absent he tried to fathom why that was… and had just struck upon a possible solution when the young lady returned. As a man.

Luckily she was not too upset when held initially laughed. 

“Well that depends. How much inspection do expect to be under – say if you were a fellow onlooker at some event, nobody really pays much interest to another chap in the crowd.  But if you think to have one to one conversations… well, there is where the risk might come in. 

“It would usually be a compliment, but under these circumstances I expect you will think it the reverse, but: you are an especially womanly woman.  I myself would never mistake you for a man!”

But perhaps an adolescent boy.  “Attending with someone who might be your father would help, that would add a whole lot of credulity, and eyes would settle most upon the elder of course.” George suggested.  “Perhaps hire a 40 plus actor to play that part? Better still, enlist the support of one of the elder Gresham attendees, which will save you from trying to gain your own invitation.” As he thought more on it, that seemed the wisest idea.  "If you are truly serious to make this a career, then you will not jeopardise it by taking a rushed risk.  Find a respected scientist sponsor to help, and then, if you are discovered, you shall at the least have an ally who can vouch for your serious interest."   

“And no, definitely no fake moustache!” he laughed.

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“I figured I would stay in the background and try to blend in. I just want to learn more about science and new inventions. Sometimes I can’t stop myself from asking questions, but if I deepen my voice and stand behind a tall gentleman, maybe I won’t be scrutinized too closely. I have heard that some ladies are so good at pretending to be men that nobody questions their identities. If they can do it, why can’t I? It will take a lot of practice, but I’m willing to do whatever it takes to master the art of feigned masculinity."


Anne-Elisabeth smiled when George called her a womanly woman. “I shall choose to take that as a compliment.” She was quite pleased that he found her attractive, and wondered again if he had wanted to kiss her earlier. “You already know me as a woman, though. Maybe those who have never met me might be fooled?” For once, she was glad she was not fashionably voluptuous. Slender women such as herself could pass as a man more easily than one with fabulous … assets. How would you hide a massive bosom anyway?


He suggested that she find somebody to pose as her father. Now that was an idea she would never have come up with on her own. She had almost changed her mind about showing George her disguise, afraid that it would ruin their friendship. Now she was glad she had. He was quite clever to think of that option. “I think hiring an actor would be easier than finding a scientist to support me.” Lord Grey might have been amenable to that notion, but she hadn’t seen him for a few days and feared that he might have left court. “There are very few gentlemen who are as open-minded as you are.”


She grinned. “Would you by any chance know of one who might be willing to at least speak to me? I’d be dressed as a woman, of course.”

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George's eyebrows rose with surprise, "Truly? Well then, those ladies will be the best ones to ask how they manage to do it."  Naturally George did not know any men who were actually ladies, or at least he had not suspected any of his male friends were actually women. Now that the idea had been raised, he might review each fellow as he again came into contact. 

"Ah yes, call me a liberaltarian or some such, I think it is the realm of an artist that has me broadminded. Or at least board minded to other peoples pursuits.  I am far less permissive towards myself, but really isnt that just the norm. We all judge ourselves the harshest." And he'd been raised a catholic, hell fire and brimstone was not much to look forward to but it was hard to shake free, even now he was officially an Anglican. 

"Ack, I wish I could. I wrote to Isaac Newton some months ago now with some questions, thinking that he'd reply to my inquiry upon account of the Chichester purse having funded him to the measure of 200 pounds a season!  But to this date I've had no rely at all.  Frankly it was rude. And obviously, I have stopped any further payments." George's tone revealed he was rather miffed at that scientist's slight. 


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  • 2 weeks later...

“At the moment, I have no idea who those ladies are. If I do meet one, I shall definitely ask them for tips.” Anne-Elisabeth occasionally fantasized that one of the gentlemen who fancied her and wanted a fling would turn out to be a woman. Gender had never mattered much to her, and a lover who posed as a man might be willing to divulge some of her secrets. Maybe someday that fantasy would become a reality. She would have to be quite a bit older before she seduced ladies in disguise. No woman would be interested in shagging a mere boy.


Libertarian. Yes, that was a very good word to describe the delightful Lord Chichester. Though he shared some of the views of a libertine … he had not been shocked by her interest in science, her behavior at the card game, or her male clothing … he definitely did not engage in licentiousness. He was compassionate and honorable and cared more for others than himself. A rare creature, indeed, and one she was pleased to have as her friend.


“We are our own worst critics,” the young Countess agreed. “But it is possible to move beyond it and to look at oneself in a positive light.” She smiled playfully. “If you ever feel bad about yourself, just come to me and I’ll set you straight so quickly that your head will spin.” In her opinion, George had no faults at all.


One dark eyebrow rose slightly as he recounted his experience … or rather the lack thereof … with Isaac Newton. How dare the man ignore him when he supported his work! Two hundred pounds a season was nothing to sniff at. Anne-Elisabeth could have told George that Lord Grey had promised to bring her up when speaking with the scientist and to tell him that she would like to have both of them over for dinner, but nothing had come of that. She decided not to mention it because ignoring a woman was trivial compared to ignoring a patron.


“How rude of him!” she exclaimed. “Perhaps he’s busy but it’s completely disrespectful to ignore you for months on end. If I ever meet him, I shall kick him in the … shin.” Luckily, she was able to stop herself just before she uttered the word ‘nuts.’ “Perhaps he’s just an officious sort. Not at all like the amiable Lord Grey.”


The dark-haired Countess shrugged. “I shall ask around. If I do hear of a scientist who is not biased toward ladies, I will contrive a way to put myself in his path.”


This was the first time she had worn the periwig for more than a few minutes, and she was finding it extremely itchy. “I do have another question for you, my friend. Would you know of an artist who would be willing to paint my portrait? I will not be young forever and I should like to remember how I looked during this in my life.”


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George might have asked her how she could know that women successfully masqueraded as men, when she did not know of anyone who had actually done it. But he wanted to be friends with the fun and carefree young widow, and pointing out her lack of logic would be detrimental to that hope.

Besides, why focus on that, when they had so many other mutually  engaging topics to explore.

“Ah yes, perspective on one self, that is indeed a worthy goal. At court there are so many variants of this; and some whom see themselves rather finer than they actually are - might I add!  I would prefer to ear on the side of humility, but yes, appreciate that one might do oneself a disservice by not recognising how positively they could contribute.”

Which was frankly George to a tee.  

But he was trying to change. This quest of his to try to become the Queens portraitist, was an example of… an understated ambition.

Her indignance of Newton ignoring his letters was pleasing ot hear. “Be my guest.” The visual of Elizabeth-anne, dressed in her male garb and kicking the slight Scientist was pleasing indeed! “But yes, I entirely agree, Lord Grey is a far finer class of gentleman. Where has he gotten to, do you know, and how long until he gets back?”

George agreed with a nod to her planned tack, but this topic of Grey and the currently stalled plans, was stuck in his head.

“Perhaps we shall get a start on the task without him?” he posed the idea, dark eyebrows raising questionngly above his ever-intent eyes. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

If George had asked, Anne-Elisabeth would have told him that her maid had informed her that some ladies disguised themselves as men successfully. Gossip was rife among servants. No names had been mentioned, and she had tasked Bess with finding out the identities of these ladies, if indeed they existed. It was entirely possible that those rumors were untrue or had been spread because there were some gentlemen at court who were feminine enough to pass as women. She had seen a few of those herself. Most had been dandies, Maybe women found it easier to play the role of a fop. She wanted to portray a manly man, but her youth and her pretty face would work against her.


The young Countess laughed. “Oh yes, I have met quite a few of those, both in Barbados and in Cornwall. It’s so much fun to show them how utterly unimpressed you are by them. The expressions on their faces are priceless.” Lord Chichester’s humility was one of the things she adored about him. Perhaps a bit of it would eventually rub off on her.


“Humility is a virtue, they say. My mother frequently told me that the way you see yourself is the way other people see you. She also said that there was no shame in demonstrating your talents and strengths. How else will anyone know what you can do?”


The periwig’s itchiness was becoming extremely annoying, but she knew if she posed as a gentleman, she would have to become accustomed to wearing one. Some men preferred their own hair, but her mane of long raven curls accented Anne-Elisabeth’s femininity.


She shook her head when George asked where Lord Grey was. “I have no idea. He seems to have disappeared without a trace. Maybe he was called back to his estate for some reason. If so, the situation must be severe if he left no word with anybody. I do hope he returns soon. We have a lot of work to do.”


Anne-Elisabeth expected George to answer her question about portrait painters, but his suggestion made her forget all about immortalizing herself on canvas, as intriguing as that notion was. She waved her hand toward the table where her charts lay. “You wish to help me map the stars?” she asked with an enthusiastic grin.

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