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Charles Audley

You, Me, and Euclid Makes Three | Royal Library, Afternoon Thurs April 7th

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Charles nodded and leaned back into his seat. Henrietta's deep blush was distracting, and it would not do to ruin things now.

How far down does it go, I wonder...

He dismissed the errant thought and focused. This was an entirely unexpected development, but the more he thought on it, the more it made sense. It would be a challenge to persuade her father, of course, but not an impossible one. 

"Of course Selene," he replied, smile widening. "I have questioned you a great deal already today, but is there anything you would know of me?"

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What did Henrietta want to know of him? Everything! But if her father agreed to let them marry, they would have a lifetime to learn about one another. He probably expected that her first question would be about his family. Instead, she decided to surprise him. What she was truly interested in was what made him tick. She didn’t think that he was nearly as wicked as he made himself out to be.

 

“Who do you most admire and why? It doesn’t have to be a person who is currently alive. It could be somebody who has been dead for centuries.”

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Charles cocked his head to one side and smiled slowly.

"An interesting question," he said at last, studying Henrietta's face. "Hmm. I shall have to think on it."

There was no word of a lie there. He genuinely did have to think on his answer, admiration not being an emotion that Charles had overmuch familiarity with. (At least in this context - he was a great admirer of beauty, as he would cheerfully admit.) 

"Sulla was a bloody-handed tyrant," he began, speaking slowly, considering each word carefully, "but he was also brave, clever, outrageously audacious, loyal to his friends, and always true to himself and his roots. There is as much or more to admire there than there is to revile, I think."

Charles smiled ruefully. That answer probably said a great deal about his character.

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Sulla. An unusual choice. Henrietta was fairly knowledgeable about ancient Rome, and she knew who Sulla was. He was, indeed, a bloody tyrant, but as far as she knew, nothing he had done was for nefarious reasons. And while she had never heard him characterized the way Charles described him, she could see how that description could apply to him. Except for the ‘tyrant’ part, those traits described the one-eyed Earl as well. Perhaps that was why he admired the man.

 

She smiled. “I think that I should like to read more about Sulla, if you know of any books about him that can be found here in the library.”

 

Henrietta leaned back in her chair. My second question is this: Of all the places you’ve been, which is your favorite and why?”

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Henrietta was smiling, at least, so his answer could not have shocked or appalled her too badly.

"Plutarch's Lives would be your best bet, I think, if you have not read it already," Charles offered. "Sulla's own memoirs, alas, are lost to us."

Her second question was in a similar vein to the first, and he found himself once more having to consider his answer.

"I am well-travelled, and I have seen much of the beauty of the earth," he said at last, "but it is people in all their infinite exotic variety and their glorious hubris that fascinate me the most. And so my answer must be Venice. All human life is there."

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“No, I haven’t read that one. Mr Potts should know where it is. I do hope there is an English translation.”

 

Henrietta liked questioning Charles in this way. He took her inquiries seriously, considering each one before he answered. She watched him, thinking about what he would be like as a husband. The idea was taking a bit of time to become accustomed to, but so far, he had given her no reason to flee. She was gaining more insight about his character.

 

She doubted that many gentlemen would consent to her unusual queries. They all wanted to talk about their family connections, how close they were to the King (even if he had no idea they existed), how high they were going to rise at court, and how lucky a lady would be to marry them. Perhaps that was what most ladies wished to hear. Henrietta had never been like most ladies.

 

Venice. She had heard much about that part of Italy. If she traveled, that was where she would go. Maybe he would take her there. During Carnivale. They could wear masks and dance in the streets. Since when have I become so fanciful? “I would love to hear stories about your travels to Venice, and to all of the other places you have been,” she remarked.

 

“This is my second to last question: If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be and why?”

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"Amyot wrote a French translation, and I think that has an English version written by... Thomas North, if I recall correctly," Charles offered, "but Mr Potts will know better than I."

This was turning out to be surprisingly pleasant. Henrietta had, by chance or intent, steered away from insipid, cliche questions, and Charles found himself enjoying answering her. He smiled.

That smile became a trifle rueful as she voiced an interest in hearing about his travels. He had some stories that she would find interesting and entertaining without being scandalous, surely, even if he could not think of any at that exact moment.

"I'd be delighted to share," he said, in spite of that inconvenient fact.

She did not linger on the subject (perhaps fortunately) but pressed on to her next question. 

"What kind of animal would I wish to be?" he said slowly, and laughed. "I must confess, I have never considered the matter. Hmm."

"Some sort of bird, I think," he decided after a moment. "I should like to be able to fly."

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“I will look forward to it.” Henrietta said with a sweet and genuine smile. Lord Chatham had a lovely way with words. His tales would probably make her feel as if she was really in the places he described. Which might be as close as she would ever get to them unless her father allowed him to marry her. Women generally did not travel outside England. It was strange how he had awakened a wanderlust inside her that she'd had no idea she possessed.

 

Charles wasn’t alone. She doubted that most people thought about what kind of animal they would like to be, except perhaps those who believed in reincarnation. And they probably wanted to be human in their hypothetical next life. Henrietta was not certain that she could answer her own question. A wild horse, maybe, so that she could run fast and free. Or a majestic lion. Or a bird so she could soar through the sky.

 

Her intriguing companion wished to be a bird as well. Both of them would like to fly. Henrietta almost said she agreed with him, but the purpose of these questions was to find out more abut him, not to reveal things about herself. That could come later, if he so desired.

 

“My last question is this: What is the one thing you want to do most before you die?”

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It was somehow fitting, that Charles did not have to think about his answer to Henrietta's last question at all.

"One thing, Selene? There is no one thing. I want to do it all, and I rage at the limitations of my mortal flesh that mean I cannot. The world is so very large, and I have seen but a small fraction of it. It is a trap, I think, to care for but 'one thing.' You miss so much of life when you limit yourself like that."

The fey near-madness that drove the very core of him shone in his eye and danced in his voice as he spoke.

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Henrietta agreed with Lord Chatham. She wished to do it all as well. Last year, all she had wanted to do was marry well and move to the country, never to attend court again. When her husband was gone, she could study and read to her heart’s content. Her mind slowly changed as she spent more time in the palace library. She would not have access to it on her husband’s estate and his own library would be limited. Now she knew that her place was here, where all the knowledge in the world was at her fingertips.

 

And Charles had just awakened her thirst for adventure. Why live vicariously through books when you could do so many things yourself? It was more difficult for a lady to travel than a gentleman, but everything was possible if you put your mind to it.

 

Henrietta grinned at the fervor in the intriguing Earl’s eye and voice. “You misunderstood my question, my lord. I asked what was the one thing you want to do most. Is there one experience that is more important than all others or is every adventure equal in your mind?” 

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"It is more that I do not consider the underlying premise relevant to me," Charles argued, recovering his decorum in typically mercurial fashion, smooth even tone swallowing his agitation without a trace. "All experiences are not equal, and it is possible for one of them to be more satisfying than any other, but more satisfying than all the others I would deny myself by focusing on it? I think not."

He shrugged fluidly.

"But, all modesty aside, I have an uncommon breadth of experience. Had I been asked that question a decade ago, I might well have had a different answer."

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Henrietta understood Lord Chatham’s reasoning. Perhaps she shouldn’t have asked that question. His honest answer did tell her something about him, though, and that was why she had chosen this type of questioning. He was something of a free spirit who took things as they came and appreciated each experience for the enjoyment it gave him.  How could one be compared to another when they were all so unique?

 

She wasn’t even sure if she could answer her own question. Unlike him, she had done and seen very little, and had no clue what the world outside England was like. How could she know what she wanted to do most when she didn’t even know what was possible?

 

“Your modesty is one of your most endearing traits.” she teased, startled at her own statement. What was it about him that made her so bold?  “I have no other questions, though that may change.”

 

Henrietta sighed. “I should probably be going now.” She began to gather up the tools he had told her she could keep. "Can I look forward to another lesson after Easter is over?"

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Charles grinned delightedly at Henrietta's sally, eye shining merrily.

"The world is full of those who would humble me for the merest hint of any flaw or failing, real or imagined. Why do the work for them?" He gave another easy shrug. "Modesty is a virtue only for the mediocre. In anyone else it is at best tiresome and at worst full as much a vice as arrogance."

He sighed along with her as she announced her departure.

"We have been awhile," he conceded, helping her gather the instruments. "As for your next lesson..."

He smiled.

"I am willing to continue as long as you have the interest and we both have the time. Shall we say this time Wednesday?"

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Henrietta liked the way Lord Chatham’s mind worked. He was unlike any gentlemen she had ever met. Everything he said was true. It was almost considered a requirement at court to point out the flaws of others. And modesty could definitely be a vice if one believed oneself superior to others because of it. Unfortunately, that attitude was often fueled by the men who expected ladies to always be humble.

 

He sighed too. Was he reluctant to part with her? It was an interesting notion, one that made her heart skip a few beats. They reached for the ruler at the same time and she blushed as her fingers brushed accidentally against his. She had nothing to carry the instruments in, so she stood up and tucked them in her petticoat pocket, hoping that the sharp end of the compass would not pierce her skin. I must remember not to sit down until I remove them. I must also find a place to hide them so that Lizzie doesn’t find them. Or worse, my parents.

 

“I will never lose interest in learning,” Henrietta declared with an enthusiastic smile. “Not even when I’m dead. Wednesday at this time is fine.” She patted the table’s smooth surface. “Here, in our corner.” She used to call it her corner, but now it was theirs.

 

She thought it unlikely they would meet before Wednesday with the Easter weekend coming up, unless an event was held on Tuesday that they both wished to attend. Henrietta was too timid to offer her hand to be kissed. Instead, she smiled shyly. “I shall see you then, my lord.”

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Charles smiled along with Henrietta. There was something delightful in her enthusiasm, and it spoke to some youthful part of him. There was something pleasing, too, in the way she spoke of 'our corner.' That would have been a triumph, and an important milestone, had he still intended to seduce her, but it was still... pleasant, he supposed, was the word he wanted.

And that blush whenever our fingers happen to brush against one another...

"Until then, Selene," he said, inclining his head in farewell. "Happy Easter."

 

 

(Fin?)

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“Happy Easter to you too, Lord Chatham,” Henrietta said. Turning around, she left the library, restraining herself from the temptation to look back.

 

~finis~

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