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Fine dining with a Change of Plans | Wednesday evening

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#34 - Newcastle  House - Residence of Lady Oakham

The stone townhouse sits behind manicured hedges. Its front yard boasts a fountain sculpture of cupid hovering over a pairs of lovers. Built in the last ten years, the trees in its yard have yet to reach their fullness, a wide path leads arrivals directly to ominously large double doors. A very small garden, now unkempt from a lack of attention, lies behind the townhouse.

Inside the front door was an entry set with hall table with vase of fresh blooms. Springing from the entryway were two small rooms. To the right a study with bookshelf and comfortable mismatched chairs with a writing desk set near the window. To the left was the parlour, with cream settees with occasional tables scattered about. An English landscape sits above the fireplace.

Beyond the entry area was a formal room of grand proportion with broad staircase arising from it, though the room itself is minimally decorated with a scattering of chairs around a mat near the fire, and a piano at the far end. Passing through the grand room is a dining room with large table with an eclectic assortment of chairs, and beyond the dining room is the kitchen. There was a separate backstair in the kitchen for the servants.

The second floor contains three bedrooms. The third floor is for servants. There is a half cellar and half attic for storage.


All the lights were on at number 34, sparkling it's readiness for guests to decend

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  • 3 weeks later...

Victorine knew she had her maid to thank for her turn out.

Her maid had taken an unusual and careful toilette of her person, and had also taken stock of the wine bottles Victorine intended to gift to Darlene to complement a lush and delicious menu. Meanwhile, Victorine was able to add a few extra flourishes: she swapped her Ballater hippocampe for a pearl necklace, pinned back (where possible) her bevy of apricot curls into a rustic coiffure and added a pearl broach. 

As her hired coach finally came to a stop before a number 34 (it looked primed for a party), she felt a small adjustment to her own feelings about her insipidness. Her voluminous dark green skirts were an excellent foil to her own gaudy hair, and she had decided to primp a little more than she would, opting for creamy lace edges at her bodice and at her small waistline. Her only concern was a wayward movement, given the tight lacings and somewhat indecorous neckline. How had Darlene made it look so effortless? And was she so sure she would not be a breadcrumb amongst the marchpane?

The creative genius for this particular party was surely inside the dazzling house. 

'Lady Ballater to see Lady Oakham,' Victorine announced before she - and her wine - were seen inside.



Edited by Victorine Folle
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  • 1 month later...

While it was Darline,'s man who saw the door, the vivacious brunette was not far behind him - her smile bright and eyes glittering as they a alit upon her guest. "Darling you look glorious please please come and quickly the evenings chill might disturb your hair. For I surely no it does no good for mine!" Curly haired Darlene crooned happily even as the Butler took the ladies cloak. 

As for the hostess's ensemble, she was dressed in a soft green silk detailed with needleworks of hummingbirds around the hem, great puffy sleeves that then bound in tightly at the elbows.  Her stomacher was a tapestry of a forest and bound in tightly. And of course there was her  trademarked duo of matching broad ribbon about her waist and in a bow about her wrist.

"You are so brave again My Lady, to be the first to arrive! Oh I know how scary it is. I myself have been known to wait in the carriage for a good 15 minutes before I was certain there were enough people in the house, before I dared to go in!" Scooping her hand through the crook of Victorine's elbow she let her through the archway to the left into the great room where a piano stood on show in the far corner. 

"But I hope you shall not be too terribly upset when I reveal the good and bad news later. Not just yet. I want to wait to announce it until Sophia arrives also. These things are all about timing you understand."



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There was probably something self-defeating in leaving the house of a Duke whose daughter you wished to wed, and who therefore you must convince of your respectability, and heading directly out to take two other ladies on a disguised trawl of dockside taverns. (Arguably an unsuitable environ for you yourself to linger, never mind well-bred ladies.)

Charles would have done it nonetheless, but the invitation to Rochester's (and the Royal expectation that he and Kingston should wring the prize money and an admission of defeat from their seniors in sin) was an unfortunate obstacle. (There was a deep irony, Charles reflected, that a night drinking with the Merry Gang might therefore keep him from scandal.)

It says a great deal about my susceptibility to feminine charm , though, that I am still deeply loathe to disappoint them, and intend to propose a truncated venture rather than cancel entirely.

That bit of reflection was worth a small, self-mocking smile. Even a truncated venture was, objectively, an unacceptable risk, and the sensible thing to do would have been to plead unexpected commitments, hint at the Royal involvement, scant as it was, and fob Darlene and Sophia off with promises.

But Charles strictly rationed his sense, and he had already reached his daily allotment. His blood was singing at the thought of a little dockside adventure.

First, of course, he had to explain to Darlene and Sophia that this little outing was going to have to be shorter and smaller in scale than originally planned, and that meant he probably had to interrupt their dinner. He disliked the indecorous nature of it, but he had brought a bottle of a particularly good claret to soften the blow, and he did not think he had much choice besides.  (He was likely going to be caught for time as it was, but thankfully he did not imagine the Merry Gang likely to be sticklers for punctuality.)

Whistling softly to himself, and casting an admiring eye over the fountain, Charles sauntered up the path and rapped smartly at the door.

"Lord Chatham to see Lady Oakham."

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What did one wear when skulking around the docks looking for trouble?


Sophia had no idea, and even if she did, she probably didn’t have the appropriate attire in her closet. Maybe Darlene had gathered some suitable clothing for them to dress in. Her new friend always thought of everything and the petite singer wished that she could be just like her.


She did have a few peasant dresses she had used while disguising herself as a commoner during her first season in London. How long ago that seemed now, though barely a year had passed by. So much had happened during that time. She had impressed the King and Queen with her voice, she had made many friends, and she had fallen in love with her very own handsome Prince. Now she was the wife of the Spanish Ambassador and pregnant with his master’s child. Unless Henry was the father. She had been thinking about that possibility more often lately, and now believed that a plan should be made as how to handle that scenario should it occur.


But she could forget that worry tonight and simply enjoy a forbidden adventure with Darlene and her dearest Eros.  The thought of seeing Charles again made her tremble as Anna dressed her in a beautiful violet silk gown liberally trimmed with beaded Venetian lace. The hue was a bit darker than what she usually wore, and she was surprised that it didn’t make her porcelain complexion look even more pale. Then again, her cheeks had a rosy glow these days and her pale blue eyes sparkled with contentment.


Sophia peered in her full-length mirror while Anna fastened her lavender silk stomacher in place and adorning it with a stomacher brooch that nearly covered it and was made of artfully-arranged pearls with a large amethyst set in silver filigree in the center. Her necklace, bracelets, earrings, rings, and hair ornaments matched the stomacher brooch perfectly.


As the evenings were still cold for a lady who had spent so much time in Venice, she put on a white hooded cloak lined with fluffy fur before she stepped into the brisk night air. The young Countess nearly rolled her eyes when she saw Karl sitting with the driver of her carriage. At least her bodyguard would be confined to the servant’s quarters and would be unaware when she and Darlene left the house.


She hummed softly to herself while the carriage moved down the streets. It wasn’t long before the Oakham residence came into view.  What she could see of it was quite lovely.  Perhaps Darlene would show her around during the day sometime soon. The most intriguing sight, however, was the fine figure of her Eros standing at the door waiting to be admitted. Sophia’s heart skipped a beat when she beheld him and delightful sensations rippled through her small form. 


The carriage slowed.  He would probably be inside by the time she alighted.  It was definitely best that way.  Anna had warned her that Karl suspected that she was spending too much time with other gentleman and she didn't want those suspicions to fall upon Charles.  She adored him beyond all reason and didn't think she would be able to bear it if they could no longer see each other again.

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But Lady Ballater did not mind so much to be a breadcrumb with such a welcoming hostess. Quite without knowing it, her fingertips brushed lightly over one of her gaudy apricot curls at the mention of her hair, but after a brief moment of distraction la baronne quickly got to the divestment of her cloak. And she surrendered her many bottles of cultivated choices in wine.

Pleased that Darlene had noted her small act of bravery (and thought kindly of it) Victorine gave a small gasp of laughter. Her life in Calais had none of the breeding of the noblesse either in France or England, but the petit bourgeois who frequented her Father's parties upheld such societal graces staunchly. It was easy now to defy that particular stricture knowing the Lady Darlene was inside. Besides she was quite hoping to find the party a little more cozy than formal - considering the lady's allusion to a nightly adventure. 'It is easy to be brave in your company,' Victorine said after a small soft peal of laughter, her pale blue eyes likewise twinkling, 'but I daresay I may do different on another night. Per'aps even an heure, or two? Then, there will be no need mourn the heels on our slippers and we may smoke our champagne and drink our cigars to the content of our 'earts!.'

Les oiseaux-mouches about Darlene's hem danced prettily as the two ladies passed through the archway into the great room. 'Timings, si,' Victorine echoed, leaning close towards Darlene, 'but now I am very curious.' Knowing the wine, the meal and company were settled, Victorine considered that it could indeed the nightly excursion that would be the topic of the bad news. But still, she was uncertain. So said: ' I cannot be un'appy, but you - will you be un'appy? Are we still to venture sous la lune?'

A short determined rap sounded behind them. Perhaps this was the lady Sophia after all, and Darlene could reveal her mysteries?

 OOC: sorry for the delay, I think my computer saved the error page as a go to (had to munch some cookies!)

Edited by Victorine Folle
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Perhaps it was that exotic accent (even if it was not so exotic being from only across the channel), but Darlene thought her guest was anything but plain. The little turns of phrase, the laughter at all the right moments, the playful tease in her tone. Lady Ballater seemed so refined that she might even come to be Darlene's rival (a thought that was pleasing)

It was only a matter of time before Victorine rose to the height popularity.

"But what an array of wines you have brought, there are too many for just one sitting. There. I have decided you must return again for an exclusive evening of wine tippling!"

Darlene's man silently took the ladies cloak, he would brush it down before hanging it. 

"I know just what you mean," she nodded of how bravery one night might be different than another, "though the greater of fright,  the greater the thrill of doing it. I try to do something I'm petrified of as often as I can. What is the saying?  Something of 'preferring to be caught out doing for something daring, than to be never seen for plainness'... Or at least there should be a saying like that, for it is my preference."

Briefly Darlene wondered if she should tell her new friend about the night she had been apprehended for trying to murder the Master of Revels in the ballroom - but she hoped her fame/infamy of it had not yet past and the lady would still otherwise learn of it.

Instead she gave a squeal of delight at Victorine's tumbled turn of phrase on smoking and drinking, "Oh I love it!" She wriggled her toes within her own slippers, and was almost sad that they would not feel the squelch of mud.

But before Darlene could answer the ladies question, there was a rap at the door, and with the footman being stood right there - he immediately answered. It was a male voice that wafted through, carrying as far as the Ladies ears. 

"But he is entirely early?" Darling told Victorine with a look of surprise on her face. Then dropping her voice to a whisper she explained, "the Earl Chatham is, was, to be a guardian and escort. And speaking of daring, I think it is his middle name."

Which was all of that warning that Lady Ballater had, before the footman introduced the now decloaked Charles Audley thru the arch into the great room. 

"Lord Chatham," Darlene greeted warmly, "is it exuberance that brings you here so early?! A welcome surprise surely, don't you agree my lady. It is like opening a present on the day before your birthday!" 

"But Lord Chatham have you met the exquisite Lady Ballater? She's only recently arrived and I had the good fortune of discovering her at the Red Lion. Which is where all the best people are arriving to London of course. Why really if I could offer one social tip to you lord Chatham, it would be too frequent the red lion often." Darlene grinned. 

"Given the rather common plans we have for the evening, perhaps tonight we should use our given names rather than titles, in which case, Victorine Folle, do meet Charles Audley."






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Darlene had lost none of her nigh-maniacal energy, Charles saw, smiling and bowing his greetings. (And taking the opportunity to flick a discreet glance at her unknown companion. Not a stunning beauty, perhaps, but attractive and pleasingly full-figured, and Charles would always have a degree of fellow feeling for one who also had features of character rather than refinement.)

"My lady knows very well that I am enthused both by your company and our planned venture, but alas it is not an excess of exuberance that brings me so unconsciounably early. Please say that you forgive me for the imposition."

He intended to explain just why he was so early but Darlene pivoted to making introductions. Charles gave a mental shrug and followed along. He might not switch tracks so swiftly as Darlene, but he liked to think he did so almost as smoothly.

"I have not had the pleasure, no," he said, turning to Victorine and inclining his head to flow through the formalities. "At your service, my lady."

He met her eyes as he straightened. It was a game he sometimes liked to play with new acquaintances, seeing how they reacted to the patch. It was frequently telling, he found.

"I used to lunch at the Lion," he offered in response to Darlene's advice, "but my new cook is frightfully jealous, and so I have refrained. I think I shall have to risk his ire, though, if my restraint is depriving me of the company of all the best people in London."

He had slipped into one of his favourite roles, the amiable, energetic, self-mocking cavalier, all warm humour and genteel flirtation by implication. It was almost always an appropriate mask, and particularly so here, he thought.

In that vein, he waved an uncaring hand at Darlene's suggestion.

"Oh, I've never been able to care all that much about how a lady might choose to address me, so long as she was addressing me, you understand?" He allowed just a hint of roguishness to leak into his voice. "And in any case, it is not all that long since I was Charles Audley to everyone, and so I shall simply say —again— that it is a pleasure to meet you Victorine."


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Shortly after Charles disappeared inside the house, Sophia’s carriage slowed and stopped. The driver helped her out and her bodyguard preceded her to the double doors and knocked (or rang the doorbell, if there was one).  As she waited, her teeth worried hr lower lip and she wondered if she might get the chance to speak to Darlene alone after their adventure was concluded.

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  • 1 month later...

It struck Victorine that Darlene's mind for mischief could be also academic, as passion-filled. With such grand insight as to character, and the surfeits of action achieved by courage, Victorine could not resist the impulse to admire such Darlene's fertile mind. The invitation to mop up whatever wines remained untouched by this evening's party was generous, and accepted heartily. Victorine chuckled: 'but I 'ave bullied you with presents, non? Mais non, if you are not so plagued by my person and the wines please you, then I would return in 'aste to tipple the wine.' 

Then, the current in their conversation switched course like the turn of a rudder. Victorine was not as swift as Darlene but she found herself able, with the necessary pause for greetings, to catch up discretely. The Earl of Chatham looked like a man well met by all vagaries of life; and his manners were suitably flirtatious. As for his appearance, there was a harshness about him that became more and more refined, more elegant under her regard. Victorine surveyed Charles Audley with an air of mild discovery, as he gave her his address and she gave him hers. However, being quite familiar with an eye-patch, her eyes swept over it and instead worked their way up the long line of his nose to his good eye. Piercing blue. 

'Enchante Charles' the frenchwoman responded pleasantly as his name curled in her mouth. 'But I dare not lure you out of your loyalty to your cook, not even for the wide palate of delicious company and cuisine at the le lion rouge. And I dare not speak', she raised teasing brows, 'of the merry time we three - or four - could 'ave there.'

In truth, Victorine had been waiting impatiently to catch sight of Lady Toledo. And knowing that she was to be the fourth guest, Victorine turned her head towards the doors in expectation.

OOC: I'm so sorry for the delay!

Edited by Victorine Folle
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"Oh now that is a fine idea Victorine," it seemed to Darlene that her French friend parried prettily with the English Earl, "We must certainly dine as a quartet there, and see what new company we come across. We could always provide you [Charles] with permission slip to give your cook." 

Hearing the knock at the door, "Oh but this must be our fourth now. Excuse me." So yes Darlene contrived, leaving Charles and Victorine for a moment to move just through to the passage to greet the latest arrival. 

"My darling Sophia, do come in," she gushed giving air kisses, then dropping her voice to a whisper to add, "I invited a new friend, a darling French woman to join us, she's already arrived and so has Lord Chatham. Do you know they seem to be hitting it off. We are sure to have so much fun tonight, I'm not sure if there will be enough dinner to go around. Which reminds me I had better have Maisie set another place at the table!"


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Behind his eye Charles noted Victorine's lack of reaction to his eyepatch and smiled his approval, lips curving in genuine pleasure and his head inclined the minutest amount, so that one might not be certain that it had moved at all. Lady Ballater, he decided with his customary (impulsive) swiftness, was worth getting to know. He liked her frank, curious appraisal and the fact that the patch did not bother her. He rather liked her form and figure, too, but that was a wholly separate thing.

"I am not sure a note would suffice to avert my cook's wrath," he said drily to Darlene, because however interesting Victorine was it would have been churlish in the extreme to slight their hostess, "but if one or both of you were to explain in person then I am sure he would understand."

He laughed.

"And I would not ask you, Victorine, to speak of the merry times we might have, for merriment is a thing of time and place and people, and must be lived. To speak of it is to describe only its shadow."

Charles feigned a wince and laughed again, all rueful self-deprecation.

"Forgive me. I have a frightful tendency to veer towards the overly verbose, which is not helped by my occasional pretensions to philosophy. Dinner is really quite the best time to meet me, for the food occupies me."

Another knock sounded at the door, and Darlene left to greet her latest guest. Sophia, presumably. Charles pointedly refrained from turning towards the door, as much to prove to himself that he could as to help conceal their affair.

Instead his attention rested on Victorine.

"Have you been long in London, Victorine?" 

Far from his most inspired conversation, but it had been a long day.

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Surprisingly, Darlene answered the door herself and Sophia smiled and returned her little air kisses, which she had once thought a strange custom but now saw it as an affectionate way for close friends to greet each other. In her hands she held a pretty porcelain planter painted with scenes of butterflies and flowers. A variety of potted multicolored picotee begonias grew inside it, one of her favorite flowers. Aware that Darlene enjoyed gardening, she hoped she would like it. Maybe she would replant it in her own garden if the gift pleased her.


Sophia could hear a conversation taking place further inside. Her heart fluttered again as she recognized the voice of her beloved Charles. The other was female. Ahhh, so Darlene had invited another lady to join them. Would she be coming along on their adventurous quest to rid London of hooligans, or would she just be staying for dinner?


And she was getting along well with Charles. Most ladies would be furious at the thought of sharing their lovers, but Sophia didn’t have a jealous bone in her body when it came to romance. As long as she was the one they kept returning to time and again, she was content. It wasn’t as if she could marry them anyway, as she was already wed.


“I look forward to meeting her,” she said. “Any friend of yours is definitely worth knowing.” She held out the potted flowers. “These are for you. I planted them myself."  Her gardener had done most of it, but she had watered them regularly.

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Darlene's eyes were drawn immediately to the unexpected item within Sophia's hands: and the explanation was quickly suplied. "Oh they are beautiful," she crooned, hands reaching out to take the planter from her friends hands, "and you know that I love gardens, what an otter darling you are - such a precious and thoughtful gift." 

Darlene was amazed, it was a very rare for somebody to give her a gift that she actually wanted. It took a level of consideration that, frankly, very few had. "Oh and even the pot," she lifted it higher to afford a better view, "this is what I would have chosen for myself." Perhaps Sophia had noticed Darlene penchant for wearing dresses with a embroideries of flowers. "I absolutely love it, thank you."

She was moved. And after setting the planter down carefully, abandoned ladilike habit and fully embraced Sophia!  

Thus there was a delay before they went through to congregate fully as an adventurous quartet.

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But neither Darlene nor the lady Toledo returned from their welcomes, leaving Victorine with the Earl of Chatham. 

As he directed a question towards her, she settled her merry pale eyes upon Charles.

La baronne took his lack of interest in their fourth guest as a sign of his manners, rather than any particular interest in her. Had she been entirely new to England, his self-deprecatory wince and laughter might have washed over her mind as an oddity of person. But she had five years to educate herself on such English customs, and understood this to be an attitude of a playful gallant. Just like his manners towards Darlene, and herself had likewise showed. Perhaps she had time in Darlene's absence to garner a further small smote of his attention. 

'I 'ad the great fortune of meeting Darlene on my first day in London. And now you, Charles, on my second.' As she delivered her own playful feint, she allowed her  amused smile to quirk upon her lips before she tucked it away. 'And, the lady Toledo of course. I 'ave 'eard she is Euterpe* in the flesh.' In fact, Lady Ballater had heard the opposite but had chalked this up to the preference of Lady Cavendish rather than any ill intention. And it had certainly increased Victorine's curiosity. Just as the Earl of Chatham declared he had pretensions to philosophy; Victorine had her own pretensions (although it was perhaps more truthfully categorised only as promise) to the arts. 

'Darlene,' Victorine gestured towards where the two ladies were secreting themselves away, 'shared with me 'er philosophy of daring this evening.' It had equally amused and impressed the baroness, and only continued to endear Darlene to her. 'Per'aps you can share a secret with me Charles. Where are we to venture tonight?' 


*Giver of delight; muse of music

Edited by Victorine Folle
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"I would say that I am the fortunate one at our meeting," Charles demurred, eye glinting merrily, "but I was taught not to argue with a lady, so shall we simply say that Tyche smiles on both of us?"

'Playful gallant' was one of his favourite masks, and it was superlatively relaxing to don it now, after the rigour of meeting with Ormonde. It was a much more natural fit and, he reflected, watching Victorine's lips curve briefly into a swift smile, more immediately rewarding.

I have always prized a woman's smile.

He nodded as she spoke of Sophia, feeling his lover's presence like a needle felt a lodestone. He held firm against the draw and kept his attention on Victorine.

"You have heard, then, that she was prima donna in Diana and Actaeon last season? A magnificent performance. Euterpe can take no insult in the comparison."

(Euterpe would in fact be flattered by the comparison in his honest opinion, but one could not come out and say that.)

He cocked his head quizzically as Victorine continued.

"A philosophy of daring?" he asked delightedly. "I can well believe that Darlene has such a thing. She is a force, is she not?"

His face fell into a mock pout.

"Oh, but it is cruel to ask me that! How could you trust me if I gave up secrets so easily, hmm? But then again, it is only a small secret, and I am frightfully susceptible..."

He gave her the particular waggle of his eyebrows that served him in lieu of a wink and then raised a finger to his lips.

"The docks," he whispered, leaning just a little closer.

(In the moment, Charles had quite forgotten just why he had arrived early.)


Edited by Charles Audley
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Sophia was pleased at how delighted Darlene was with her gift. Even the pot received praise. Its design had been chosen because she knew that her friend adored flowers as much as she adored butterflies, and when she had spotted the planter in a shop window, she knew that it was perfect.


Her eyes widened when Darlene hugged her. She truly did love the flowers. It had been a much better choice than the usual bottle of wine or plate of desserts.


“I’m so glad you like it!” Sophia exclaimed. “I’ve been trying to improve my gardening skills, but there is no garden society to give me advice anymore. It withered away while you were gone. Are you planning to revive it? If so, I would love to help you with it.”

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Victorine caught herself musing on being a breadcrumb after all. And on her wondrous fortune to be welcomed to cozy with such illustrious pieces of marchpane. 

There was no doubt in Victorine's mind that Charles reputation would also shine as brightly as their illustrious host and guest. But she had yet to understand what his glory could be. Political, certainment. Military, c'est possible. The Earl looked as if he kept a rigorous pace in whatever his pursuits might be. 

'Both, les merveilleuses. I am overcome in my admiration,' Victorine responded. And it was truly, and honestly meant. La baronne wondered if there was an upcoming evening where she may indulge in the voice of this prima donna, though a small piece of her hoped that it could be this very evening. Lady Ballater's anticipation continued to rise for every moment the ladies did not return to the fold.

As Charles leaned in to satisfy Victorine's curiousity, he delivered her a small shock. Surprise caused her to move back slightly, as if Charles had frightened her. The amber flecks in her eyes flashed briefly as she blinked, and then faded back into her insipid blue-gray wash. In vain, she tried to comport herself. But it was near hopeless. Her mouth opened and then her shoulders began to shake. She felt herself succumbing to laughter. Had she a fan, she might have brought it up to cover her mouth. Instead, the knuckle of her slim and slightly curved index finger had to suffice. After a moment of open amusement, the French woman began to gain control again of herself. 'Of course,' Victorine continued through her involuntary chuckles, 'I could not 'ave thought of a better destination, nor one so... salubre.' 

The pieces fell into place. A madcap scheme. A roguishly handsome lord. A gaggle of ladies. A grand midnight adventure. In Calais, one was never a stranger to the docks; and they were Victorine's playground as a very young child. But they were certainly not safe in Calais, and she imagined it was much the same in London. But that was the draw, was it not? 

The Earl of Chatham would have known the infamy of such a place at midnight, and likely expected his revelation to shock her. And so, Victorine decided to give into this folly whole-heartedly. 

'Then you, Charles,' she said, 'must be then our grand shepherd of mischief.'

Edited by Victorine Folle
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Tokens of friendship like this, treasures, were entirely rare in Darlene's life.  What was not to love!

"That's a fine idea, oh do you know what we might do to relaunch, is that idea Lady Lismire and I were planning. A gardening fete to be held out at Chelsea." She linked to your arm through Sophie's with intent to move through to the others, "the idea was to have a certain size planter box, upon wheels, like a low cart really, for each competitor..." 

As much as darling loved flowers, butterflies and bumblebees - she liked organising others even more!

"You must come and see me in Whitehall office and we can discuss this more." She added beneath her breath as a came upon Chatham and Victorine.

As they paused will the new arrival Darlene spoke,

"Here at last is our fourth," and she turned towards Sophia with a theatric gesture like an unveiling, "the lovely Lady Toledo who is hardly a Spanish as spanish name sounds, and not nearly so German as her heritage, possibly more Italian for her vibrancy what you are no doubt about to discover Lady Ballater."

For Darlenes introduction was primarily for Victorine's benefit, as she knew Chatham and Toledo were already known to each other.

"Oh but we are upon first names this evening, Victorine, please meet Sophia." Darlene smiled towards Chatham, as a gentleman she knew he would understand.



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Charles would not deny that he had wanted to elicit a reaction from Victorine with his dramatic reveal. A shocked gasp, perhaps, something of that nature. Merry, shoulder-shaking laughter was unexpected.

But not unwelcome.

Far from it, he would concede. Appealing, rather. There was something charming in her unrestrained mirth, to say nothing of those flashing eyes or the artfully raised finger that (purposefully, he would like to think) failed to hide her merriment. Charles could not help but join in, his own laughter boiling out of him. There was no denying it now — he liked Victorine. She was entirely too alive for him not to.

"Salubre would perhaps not be my choice of words," he said, a laugh still bubbling in his voice, "but it is technically accurate, I suppose. It will be good exercise, if nothing else."

He had to laugh again at her description for his role, a softer, more restrained chuckle this time.

"Grand shepherd of mischief? I rather like it," he mused, eye twinkling, "though as you doubtless realise, that is a little like setting the wolf to watch your flock. I am more than passing fond of mischief."

And of the three sheep in this metaphor, but that should remain implied for now.

Discussing his role in the outing, however, reminded him of why he had arrived early. His grin shrank a minute amount as he considered. It would be best, he decided, to let all three ladies know at the same time, once an opportunity presented itself, and in the meantime keep playing the sporting gallant.

"Now that I think of it, I do not believe that the label of sheep suits any of you ladies. Perhaps we should tweak the metaphor a tad, hmm?" he asked Victorine, fully back in the moment.

"In truth," he added, lowering his voice, "I almost expect to have to save some poor sailor from Darlene." He grinned conspiratorially.

Joined by Darlene and Sophia

Their conversation was interrupted as the party was made complete. Charles stepped slightly and politely to one side as Darlene made the last of the introductions, one hand idly adjusting his cravat. He smiled back at Darlene as well, for, while he did not know exactly why she was smiling at him (not that Darlene needed much of a reason to smile, he suspected), he made it a matter of policy to always smile back.

Edited by Charles Audley
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“I love that idea.” Sophia was not as experienced in coming up with events as Darlene, but after organizing a few successful parties and this season’s concert, she wanted to plan more festivities. She was, however, perfectly contend to let her friend take the lead.


“You have your own office?” Her ice-blue eyes widened in amazement as they walked with linked arms toward the others. “I would love to see it. When may I come by?”


The petite Countess smiled at both Charles and the Frenchwoman, noticing with delight that her Eros reached up to adjust his cravat. She hoped they got the chance to speak privately before the evening was over. There was something she wanted his help with, something that already concerned him, though she had not yet mentioned it to him.


Lady Ballater had the most beautiful apricot hair. Not for the first time, Sophia lamented the lack of color in her own curly tresses. White-blonde hair was not uncommon for German children, but it usually darkened to a golden hue as the child grew up.  Nobody had told her hair that, for it was still the same childlike shade it had always been.


Darlene’s introduction made her blush. “You make me sound so much more intriguing than I am,” she remarked as she glanced over at her friend. So they were to call each other by their first names? Probably because they were going to the docks after dinner and it would be dangerous for the lowlifes to know they were nobles. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. Victorine.”


Turning to Charles, she tilted her head to the side and placed two fingers against her cheek. “I’m sorry, Lord Chatham,” she remarked with a disarming smile. “I’m not sure if I was ever told your first name.” This, of course, was a lie. She had whispered it often enough in the throes of passion during their tryst in the Catholic chapel.

Edited by Sophia de la Cerda
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As Charles succumbed to laughter, Victorine fell once again into unrestrained mirth. Tears welled, and she had to make do with small gulps of air until she recovered. And as Charles remarked on the exercise, she felt a gulp of laughter turn her lungs rigid. And quite without any intention to do so a happy tear slid from the corner of her eye. 

La baronne grinned as Charles admitted he might be called upon to rescue a sailor from Darlene's enthusiasm. Slanting her pale grey-blue eyes towards Chatham, she could not help but remark with feeling: 'and rob this sailor of an amusing tale, and us of 'is intelligence? We should allow Darlene to impress 'im into our bande of rogues, non?' After all, Victorine had bought enough wine that one bottle could be used as a baton, and would not be missed. 

Joined by Darlene and Sophia

Although Lady Toledo had spoken but a phrase to her, Victorine already believed her charming. And artlessly, and cheeringly gamine. La baronne could not sense any taste of 'diva' in the air about her. Her dress was ethereally sweet; amethyst, lavender and pearls. It was the kind of garb that could get a sheep truly devoured. At last, Victorine's mirth was truly quenched, and replaced with unease. 

Returning from these black thoughts, Victorine smiled fulsomely at the pair. It was a marvellously clever introduction, one even a master of ceremonies could envy. 'And, English in your modesty?' To Sophia the Frenchwoman said: 'I 'ave 'eard you command beauty with your voice. I am truly 'onoured to have made your acquaintance.'

The question from Sophia to Lord Chatham seemed slightly teasing, announced by the tilt of her head. But Victorine read nothing further into it. It was she who the unknown invitee amongst this affair.

Edited by Victorine Folle
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As her guests settled amongst themselves, butterflies disturbed Darlene's tummy. She had news to break, and was worried that her guests would all be upset, and no amount of leek and potato pie could compensate for it.

It was terrible. Worst of all because everybody was getting along so fantastically. The last thing this inspired hostess wanted to be was a party pooper. 

Oh dear.

"Has everybody got a glass of something to drink yet?" Darlene's busy servant moved about with a tray of sparkling wine, each glass with a strawberry in it. "Let's raise our glasses in a toast, to adventure. And then my darlings, I must make a wonderful announcement." 

Even Darlene, who was an uncannily fine actress, could not hide her concern that the pending announcement was not near so wonderful as she claimed it. 





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"A point," Charles conceded, nodding to Victorine, "but I think we will need at least a modicum of discretion, if we are to gain anything other than minor amusement from this venture, and Darlene in full flow is... well, rather noticeable, no?" His eye twinkled. "Though the sight of her conscripting some weathered old salt into our company might well be worth it, now that I think further on it. Hmm."

(In truth what Charles was thinking was that such an event would make for an excellent excuse to cut their outing short. Probably not practical, he concluded, all things considered.)

Joined by Darlene and Sophia

It was a struggle not to break into a satyric grin at Sophia's coquettish little tease, but he managed. It would not do to give the game away. Instead he smiled the vaguely rueful smile of a man who had just taken a shot across the bows of his self-importance but was determined to see the funny side, and inclined his head in a nod.

"Charles," he told her, "and there is no need to apologise. I do not think you have ever been told my name, or had reason to remember it if you had." (And if there was a momentary flash in his eye as he straightened, well, it had only been momentary, and who was to say what it meant?)

Charles flowed back a step, to let Sophia and Victorine become properly acquainted, and took a glass of the offered wine. His gaze flicked to Darlene as she proposed a toast and spoke of a 'wonderful announcement.' He frowned internally even as he raised his glass. Something seemed a trifle off with their hostess to him. She was not quite so effortlessly effervescent as usual.

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Sophia was disappointed that Darlene said nothing more about meeting to discuss reviving the garden society. Then again, they were quickly approaching the other two members of their group, so perhaps she had decided not to divulge their private plans. Maybe she would mention it later in the evening if they had some time to speak alone.


Modesty was not a term usually used when describing Lady Toledo. According to rumors she had heard, she was arrogant and vainglorious … a typical diva. She was sure she seemed so when she sang, for she had ultimate confidence in her voice, but in other areas of her life, she was as anxious, uncertain, and afraid of failure as any seventeen-year-old trying to fill shoes that were far too big for her. Teenagers were not generally cast into the role of an Ambassador’s wife.


Sophia beamed when Victorine complimented her voice. “Thank you,” she said sincerely. “I hope there will be more opportunities to sing this season. I may not be able to perform for much longer.”


Her darling Eros supplied the name she knew so well, and the flash in that beautiful blue eye caused her body to tremble with delight. Of course there was no need to remember it. It was forever etched upon her heart. “Charles,” she repeated with a smile. “I promise I will never forget.”


Darlene proclaimed that she had a wonderful announcement to make, but to Sophia, her new friend looked a bit worried. As she took a glass from the servant’s tray, she wondered what it could be. Did it have anything to do with the reason she had not commented on meeting in her office? Hopefully, she had not been called away from court. No, that couldn’t be it. There was nothing wonderful about that.


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Victorine could not help but smile wistfully at the rounding of Lady Toledo's belly. A baby would indeed interrupt such a career. Victorine said: 'I wish you and your 'usband every 'appiness and joy of your babe.' 

Victorine took her strawberry bejewelled wine from the tray, just as those about her did so.

'Aventure!' she exclaimed with gusto to Darlene's toast. 

La baronne hoped the big secrecy of the evening might finally be revealed. And as she had expressed to her newest friend in England, that she hoped that -as the hostess - that she might not be disappointed by whatever announcement there was. Victorine delicately drank the sparkling wine, feeling the fizz burst deliciously upon her tongue. The strawberry was a final sweet note, and she gave a small 'mmmm' of approval. 

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It was true, Darlene had a touch of nerves. And they were not the usual nerves of excitement that she relished, but rather an actual fear that she was about to disappoint just everyone.

All the pleasantries that she here expedited, were merely a stall!   She easily eased introductions between these barely (and some never) met persons, but her mind was hardly even focussed, as she fretted over her 'spin'.  Did anyone realise just how desperately Darlene was a people pleaser? Oh she might seem self absorbed, but this was in fact only to her companies benefit as she sought to enliven their otherwise dreary and grey English lives. And yet here she now stood, with a pending cloud.

Whatever they were all chattering on about, she hardly heard. Rather, at the soonest pause drew in a breath, offered a magnificent smile and announced! 

"Darlings, you may be the first in all of Whitehall to learn a clue to the good Major Langdons future intentions ... for now I would reveal that he has banned me from leading this expediti0on down to the docks with intents to route out the Savoyard plot against the Duke of York.  It is far too dangerous. And if you happen to have overheard Lady Francis Cavandish at Chapel the other day, you can now see that her allegations are entirely incorrect. Quite the opposite in fact. And it would do me a great service if you were to tell her precisely that."

Whoops, but she digressed.

"Yes so there it is my sweet and daring intriguers, my magnificent and fearless schemers of schemes. We are practically housebound this evening, it is an unfortunate effect of an eternal sort of excess of love."  She said rather sadly, and with a slight hope that some alternative might be had.  Afterall her Charles could not really expect her to obey did he? When had she ever done that.  


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There were times when Charles could not only just about believe in a higher power orchestrating the universe, but could even stretch his credulity to encompass the idea that said higher power loved him. This was one of them. He would not have to cry off and face the disappointment of the assembled ladies because Langdon had somehow applied brakes to the runaway carriage that was Darlene. (And was it not deeply and pleasingly hilarious that the agent of his deliverance was that pompous prig? Proof, perhaps, that this potential higher power had a sense of humour!)

It was a mark of how reluctant he had been to call off or cut short his part in the outing that it took him a moment to process the important part of what Darlene had said. His brow creased in a thoughtful frown.

"A Savoyard plot against York?" 

He was barely aware that he had spoken, too caught up in the twin worries that every continental power seemed to have taken leave of their senses, and that he was apparently the only one at court unaware of it. It might make slightly more sense from a Savoyard point of view, he reluctantly conceded, if you accepted the assumption that York was inclined towards France and both willing and capable of expending influence in their favour. (Charles did not, as it happened,  but he could see how a rational mind might make such a calculation from a distance.) Savoy had less of a relationship with England to ruin, after all. It still seemed rum to him.

He gave himself a mental shake and returned his attention to the immediate present. 

"Well, we cannot let that put a damper on our evening. If nothing else, we can at least plot a more secret venture, hmm? Langdon cannot complain of that of which he is ignorant, now, can he?"

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  • 2 weeks later...

Sophia was surprised that Victorine noticed the slight thickness of her waist. By her own calculations, it was too early for her to be showing, but she was so tiny and petite that it was possible. Or maybe she was carrying twins. Juan would be elated if she was. At this rate, she would be so large in her last couple of months that she would fall over whenever she tried to stand. Maybe she was just gaining weight from eating so much. She had been constantly hungry since she had found out that she was pregnant.


“Thank you, Victorine,” she replied, one hand moving instinctively to her belly.


Darlene’s announcement surprised her too. She and Lord Langdon were getting married? She didn’t know the Major well, but compared to her vivacious and adventurous new friend, he seemed exceedingly solemn and conservative. What could those two even see in each other? Then again, her own marriage must appear just as strange, but hers had been arranged … not by her guardian but by her royal lover. Darlene implied that she and Lord Langdon were in love. Why else would she allow him to restrict her activities?


Her thoughts echoed her Eros’ words as to the purpose of their planned mischief. Sophia had believed that they were going to stop people from being robbed and assaulted. Had she known that they would be investigating a plot against York, she would have never agreed, and she might have offered her assistance to the Savoyards, whomever they were.  She loathed the King’s younger brother. ‘It is rude to ask questions of royalty,’ he had said last year. The gall of that man, thinking that he was so much better than everyone else! (In truth, he had only been teasing her, but like any typical teenager, she had blown his comment completely out of proportion).


“Perhaps it is for the best, since I am with child. I agree wholeheartedly with Charles. We might not be able to go to the docks but we can still plot and scheme.” Sophia thought about telling them about the issue she wished to discuss with Charles. Four heads were better than two. Yet she decided against it, as it only concerned the two of them. She still hoped to get him alone for a few moments tonight so she could request his assistance.


Smiling warmly, she stepped toward Darlene and squeezed her hand. “Congratulations on your betrothal! I am so happy for you!”


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  • 2 weeks later...

OOC: trying to bump things along here - Victorine please join back in when you can. 


Chatham handled the information well, for a man. She shouldnt hae really hoped for anything more. Still Darlene's eyes then swung to the ladies, in hopes that they would provide her desired reactions to the hinted at future engagement yet to come...


Darlene was disappointed again. 

"But that is not what Charles meant surely when he suggested a more secret venture?"  Spoken hopefully as it seemed their evening was to be filled with probably boring talk and no actual action. "After all a Royal's life is at risk. And I had so hoped that we'd spend at least a little of this evening aboard a ship. Perhaps in the hold. Thats where most villains seem to hang out. Sophia, your belly is hardly even full yet. You shall be perfectly fine on a walk all the way up to skipping speed if you need." 

Edited by Darlene Hamilton
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