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Louis Killington

The House Guest from Hague Monday Afternoon

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Louis had returned from the visit with le Duc and his paranoia had been

inflamed against Margetha.  Could she be a Dutch spy?  As far as he was concerned, the girl hardly seemed to have the requisite wits, but perhaps she was a fine actress instead.

In search of his wife Elizabeth, the Earl suggested they go for a walk alone in their garden, where they might have little opportunity to be heard.  They needed to design a plan to watch her, neutralize her, or send her home. 

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Lisa was pleased to walk with Louis in the garden. She had been constantly pondering what her mother had told her and Nicci last night, picking each sentence  apart and trying to read between the spaces. She had not asked her husband what he had discussed with her stepfather, but she assumed it was much the same. Perhaps he had been mulling it over as well.

 

She strolled beside him, her hand resting lightly on his arm. The afternoon sun cast a golden glow upon her blonde hair. It was arranged in its usual bun, but a few curls had come loose to becomingly frame her face. Lisa suspected that Louis had brought her out here to compare notes, which she had expected he would do sometime today.

 

Until he decided to speak, she was content to simply enjoy his company.  In her opinion, they never had enough time alone together.

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He had spoken with Buckingham, Norfolk, Worcester, and le Duc, so he was ready to share the thoughts with his wife about things.  It seemed that the Dutch had been meddling more than he had imagined.  They were not free from blame about the attempt on the King's life and may have been involved in other plans against the Kingdom.  Danby had been in league with the Dutch in trying to ruin York's chances at succession, and fomenting the Papist plot.  He had conjured a false act of Irish treason to throw off the support of the older houses and had betrayed the King by fanning the flames of intolerance against all Catholics, allowing himself (and Shaftesbury) to weaken the monarchy's hand to defend York against exclusion.  It had been a brazen act.  Hill had knowledge as to the falsehood of the Irish affair and was a threat to reveal it, so Danby had seized his grandchildren.  That explained the kidnapping of of the two boys. 

Typically it was fear of the French that drove London, but the King was now fearing the machinations of the Dutch and his nephew.  King Charles was pulling in his old advisors to help root out which courtiers were complicit in the Danby plot.  It seemed as if the Dutch might want to kill Danby to silence him.  That was a surprise to him.  The Somersets and Worcesters had been denied a place in the inner circle because of three factors -- Louis' connection with Danby, Lisa's connection with Princess Mary in Amsterdam, and the arrival of Margetha, who is suspected of being a Dutch spy.

"Buckingham and Chevreuse both think she is a spy and believe the King has excluded us from trust because of her.  We need to do something my darling.  Send her home, marry her off in the next few days, or have her watched and her room and possessions searched with care every day.  I think we do the latter for now and look for ways to distance ourselves from her.  She does not seem smart enough to be a spy, but it could all be a ruse.  Just how well do you know her?" 

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Lisa listened as Louis spoke. A lot of things were clearer to her now. Pieces of a complicated puzzle were falling into place. It made perfect sense that the King would be wary about trusting the Basildons because of their connections and the fact that they had a Dutch guest in their household. Anyone could be a spy, even a child, but it was difficult to fathom that the innocent and pious Margaretha would be involved in a nefarious plot against the English monarch.

 

The young Countess sighed. “I can understand why her presence raises suspicions, but it’s hard to believe that she has been drawn into Dutch intrigue. Margaretha is not adept at hiding her emotions. She’s not the least bit sneaky. I got to know her quite well in Den Haag. Her mother died in childbirth and her stepmother hated her. She needed an older sister figure to give her guidance and advice, and I filled that role for her. We became very close. I have to admit that I get a bit annoyed by her piety, but her deep faith in God might keep her from being corrupted."

 

Stopping to pick a bright red flower, she began to twirl its stem in her free hand as they continued their stroll. Lisa always thought better when she was fiddling with something. “However, she did practically beg me to bring her to London. I was planning to ask her anyway. She felt that she would have a better chance at happiness here, and seeing the way she was treated at the Dutch court, I agreed with her.”

 

She looked up at Louis. “I suppose it’s possible that she was pushed into it, but I can’t imagine what she would get in return. If she’s involved, we can’t send her home or she may be harmed or even eliminated. Neither of us wants the death of a sixteen-year-old girl on our conscience. We can have her watched, as you suggest, and search her room when she’s away. Margaretha is always accompanied by a chaperone when she leaves the house without me. Perhaps the chaperone might be able to tell us more. As far as I know, she only goes to the Chapel to pray.”

 

Lisa squeezed Louis’ arm. “You are wise to be cautious, my love, but I honestly don’t think she is collaborating with the Dutch. You don’t know her like I do. Still, we should take precautions. Lucy asked her to lunch tomorrow as she doesn’t have to serve the Queen. Perhaps I should go with her. I ‘I’ve also arranged to meet Lady Lucas on Wednesday to discuss marriage options for Matgaretha. I will watch her carefully. Maybe you should also talk to her yourself, Louis I admit I might be a bit biased toward her. You might see signs that I cannot.”

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"I trust your judgement, as always, my love.  Our problem is that the truth does not matter.  If she is perceived to be a spy, she will be treated as one regardless, and we will be suspected of harboring a spy."  As they both knew, perception was more powerful than reality at court.  "Buckingham and the Duc were convinced she is likely a spy.  Can the King think any differently?  As long as she stays with us, she will exile us from the inner circle of the throne.  It might even negate Nicci's growing influence."

"We could put her at Dorchester House instead, though that would be but a partial remedy.  We could send her to Basildon to help ready the house for the summer.  She could look after things there and clean up the chapel.  I think that is our best move.  She might not like leaving London, but she might like the country.  She would be protected there and we could still seek a match for her.  She can hardly refuse us."

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Lisa listened attentively to her husband’s suggestions. For about five minutes she remained silent, mulling over the solutions he had presented as they strolled companionably through the garden.

 

“I’m not sure that sending her away is going to help, Louis.” She stopped in her tracks and turned to face him, taking both of his hands in hers. "If we send her to Basildon or even back to the Netherlands, there will be rumors that she has spies in our household who report to her. Servants can be easily bribed. We know that our servants will never betray us, but the King and Buckingham have undoubtedly had servants betray them who were eventually discovered. They will expect our servants to be equally corruptible.

 

“We are associated with her now. She isn’t the only reason that we are excluded from the King’s inner circle. As you already pointed out, your connection to Danby and my extended stay in the Netherlands is hurting us too. It might be assumed that the Dutch won me over and that I’m now sympathetic to their cause. If that is what they believe, will you send me away too? And how do you know that the Duc isn’t trying to cover up France’s involvement by planting doubts in everyone's minds?”

 

She paused for a moment, considering her words. “If you still wish to send her to Basildon, I will make sure she is ready to leave at the end of the week. However, I think that it may be more beneficial to us to prove ourselves to His Majesty … by either confirming that she is, indeed, a spy, or establishing beyond a shadow of a doubt that she has never been in contact with the Dutch conspirators.”

 

Lisa smiled. “It will take some investigating, but when have we ever refused a challenge?”

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"Lisa, my dearest, if you think our servants will not betray us for a sliver of gold, you are far too trusting."  Louis was paranoid, of course, but he also had reason to believe that the King and Buckingham had an informant in their household.

"To the contrary, I think we would gain credit in the eyes of the court for sending her away as an additional security precaution."  He could tell that his wife was unable to judge the situation fairly because she had befriended the girl.

"Here is my challenge then.  You have to the end of the week to search her, her possessions, her acquaintances, test her, and have her followed.  I want to employ an actor to pretend he is a Dutch spy working for DeVries, the Dutch Ambassador, and ask her for intelligence on our family.  Check every nook and cranny, every floorboard and mattress in her room or adjacent rooms.  If she is not absolutely cleared of everything, she goes to Basildon at the first of the week.  Agreed?"  

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“I have no doubt that we have unwittingly hired a professional spy or two,” Lisa shrugged. “All powerful families are covertly monitored. We should consider it a point of pride that they have been placed in our midst. It means we are rising in prestige and influence.” Those informers would find out nothing that they wished to hide, only what they choose to publicly reveal. She was a bit paranoid herself. “What I meant was that our servants have been carefully selected for loyalty. Of course they would do the King’s will if he asked them for information about us, but I don’t think they would accept bribes from the average courtier.”

 

Louis disagreed with her about sending Margaretha away. Perhaps it would be a step in the right direction, but it wouldn’t solve the problem. The suspicions would still be there. They weren’t going away unless her Dutch ward was proved innocent. Lisa had promised the girl a new beginning and a better life, things that were impossible in the Netherlands simply because she had been born on the wrong side of the blanket. Now she was being accused of something that had nothing to do with her illegitimacy but everything to do with her nationality.

 

The fact that some of those allegations had come from French lips did not surprise her. The rumors had possibly originated with the Duc and moved up into the royal circle to deliberately put distance between the King and his most loyal gentlemen. Lisa didn’t think that the Basildons were the only family being lied about. Maybe their latest plot involved isolating the monarch from the courtiers he trusted, save those like Buckingham who were trusted implicitly. She could not even guess at their plans. They would  probably not try to kill him again, but perhaps influencing him to take their side against the Dutch was their goal.

 

Louis agreed not to send Margaretha away immediately.  Most of the responsibility of proving her ward’s loyalty would fall on Lisa, but that was as it should be. Margaretha was more likely to confide in her than in him, and it wasn’t proper for a gentleman to search a young lady’s room and go through her possessions. His part would consist mainly of hiring an actor to impersonate a spy who would naturally report back to him.

 

“Agreed.” Squeezing his hands, she let go and again took his arm so that they could continue their slow stroll through the gardens. “I still think she is innocent of any wrongdoing, but we do have to be completely certain of her. Perhaps you can find other ways to test her too.   You might also mention to Buckingham that you don’t mind if he employs his own methods to test her.  He has the King’s ear and if he finds out that she’s loyal to us, the King will believe him.”

 

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She agreed as he knew she would.  After all, Louis had trusted his wife with the testing and the girl was her responsibility.  As such, he hoped she would be more motivated to vindicate the girl, or prove the French right.  If Margetha was betraying them, some suitable punishment was appropriate before sending her back.

"You do know that we shall never be able to prove that she is no spy, at least to other nobles at court."  He walked beside Lisa as they strolled through the garden.  "We can tell them we submitted her to five tests and ten hours of torture," he offered in jest, "and they shall think we may not have dug deeply enough."  He offered a wry smile as they paused to observe a brightly colored flower.  "We must convince ourselves first.   Then let's find some good Anglican to marry her as quickly as possible."

Pausing again at the fountain, Louis admitted "we shall have to accept this season will be lost to us as far as advancing into the King's inner circle.  By next season, this Dutch suspicion shall have waned, Margetha will be gone and the King will realize we are more valuable assets than he gives credit.  Nicci will continue to advance in his affections and he will be reminded time and again that keeping us at arms length is a mistake.  In the meantime, build our ties to the Dutch and I shall build our ties with the French.  William and Mary must know that we suffer from the affection they have for you and they will learn of Nicci's power, requiring them to make amends to us next season.  Meanwhile, I shall continue to cater to the French party, who also sees Nicolette as a key piece they hope to manipulate, requiring them to treat us well.  With the love of both the Dutch and the French we shall benefit greatly when this Sword of Damocles that hangs above us, thanks to machinations of Danby and the Dutch, is removed.  With support of foreign powers without and support of Buckingham and our families within, the King will have little choice but to embrace us again.  It requires mere patience, a commodity of which I have in short supply."  Louis had far too much faith in himself and his family to become saddened about their current situation of royal lack of trust.  The King was surrounded by mediocrity, in his opinion, and there would be a royal search for more talent to tap.  Until then, he would wait and build his credentials.

"Perhaps we shall spend some quality time together sparring with swords, and sparring in bed," he offered with a glint in his eyes.  "Have I told you how ravishing you look in this moment?  Perhaps we could retire again to our chamber to have a more intimate conversation?"

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“With every noble jostling for power at court, there is nobody who is not suspected of something, particularly those like us who are rising in esteem and stand in the way of their own ambitions.” Lisa leaned her head upon Louis’ arm. “Like I said before, some courtiers probably think that I am spying for the Dutch as well. Some may think that you know where Danby is hiding and that you report to him regularly. We are a threat to others and so they want to rid themselves of us and take our place.” Lifting her head, she grinned. “We do the same, you know.”

 

They paused before a vivid flower blooming early upon its bush. She thought about plucking it and tucking it behind her ear, but thought better of it. It was a tenacious blossom and deserved to enjoy its brief life in the sun rather than be cut short by an eager hand.

 

With her blonde head back against his arm, she listened to this thoughts. Maybe he was right and the King would distance himself from them for the rest of the season. Their best bet for remaining in His Majesty’s regard was Nicci, who could sing their praises and bring them back into his good graces. Unless she succumbed to the temptations of her own countrymen, who would try to pull her into a different direction. Lisa promised herself to spend more time with her and to remind her in subtle ways of her duty to her family. Nicci, though a year older, was new to court intrigue while Lisa had been playing the game for most of her life.

 

Building their ties with foreign powers would help as well. They would become more influential and therefore more sought after by the King. While Louis’ affinity with the French was natural because he was half-French, her connection with the Dutch had been serendipitous. If Princess Mary had not married William of Orange, she would never have gone to the Netherlands and made friends and allies there. There were people she knew she could count on if she needed them, including Mary herself, who saw her as more of a big sister than an attendant.

 

Oh, how well she knew his lack of patience! “You are right, my love,” she replied when they stopped by the fountain. “This is just a temporary setback and we will grow stronger because of it. His Majesty will see reason and will elevate us to his inner circle as soon as this current mess is over and done with.” Lisa had, of course, heard about the murder that morning, though only through secondhand sources. It was possible a foreigner had been planning to assassinate the King but had been killed before he do any harm.

 

She was about to ask Louis if he he knew more about it when he changed the subject and brought up a much more pleasurable way to spend their time. Her body flared to life with delightful sensations. “Do I?” Dipping one hand into the fountain, Lisa scooped out a palm full of water and tossed it playfully at him. “And now?”

 

Closing the distance between them, she wrapped her arms around his neck, raising her own so that she could nibble on his ear. Oh, how she loved him! “Let’s save the sparring for later,” she whispered. “I would rather you put your sword in its sheath … the sheath that is already humming with enthusiasm and anticipation.”

 

Now who is being impatient? she thought.

 

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