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Darlene Hamilton

A romantic picnic | Knightsbridge, midday Thursday

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"But you must." Darlene stated simply.  There had never been any question on that point to her mind.  "But it is Walter dont you see, this would be an ideal way for me to lure him back to England. He's been gadding about the oceans for far too long - and what if anything happened to him. That would make Percy the familers new heir, heaven forbid he should ever become the Earl." 

"Yes quite so." she agreed with a bounce of mist-damped curls, "I shall win her over just as you say. Perhaps she shall be a spy for me and report on the other ladies if they break any of my rules. Not that I shall have many rules, only the sensible ones."

It seemed to be working out very nicely indeed. 

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Darlene's logic seemed foreign to him.  Charles preferred that he handle the Smith money rather than Walter.  "Wouldn't it be better if we oversaw the Smith fortune rather than Walter?"  Frances was too young to marry anyway, though she might legally.  Maybe it was greed, but more likely it was loyalty to Frances and her mother.  He thought to let Frances mature from a girl into a young lady before she was married off.  To do less seemed disloyal.  Although she vexed him at times, he still cared for her and felt guilty about her mother.  "There is time enough to consider such things."

There had been a danger in mentioning his lady friends.  He had thought that Darlene would have an ear for it, immediately quizzing him as to what lady friends he might have.  The young beauty missed the hint, just as she missed the fact that Charles had a semi-public mistress who was the former mistress of the Duke of York.  Perhaps Darlene was blind to the fact that Charles was like other eligible men at court.

This caused something of a dilemma.  He needed to bring up Catherine Sedley before Darlene learned of her.  "Yes, I suspect that you will succeed better than Catherine Sedley.  When I invited Catherine to dinner one evening, Frances insulted her and made me promise not to bring her over to my house again while Frances was there."  He could go on but decided to stop there.  It was best to act nonchalant and let Darlene think everything was normal.

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So she told a white like regarding the urgency:   

"Yes yes we have plenty of time to work that all out..." Darlene had practically forgotten about any money involved in the Frances matter, but was focused upon her interest in the Dorcheter, and this newest realisation that she needed to coax Walter in off the sea (and it might take rather more than some brat heiress to do so.) Now that shed thought of it, it seemed of highest priority! 

Even though Charles seemed to not want to talk about his ward and her property any more, he continued the conversation, adding that Frances had been difficult before.  "Catherine Sedley?" Darlene blinked, her pretty head puzzled. "Well I hardly blame Frances for having some good sense, I'd have said the very same thing Charles."  

Why on earth had Charles invited Catherine Sedley to dinner, it was hardly as though the lady was pretty even. Darlene did not even know her, which must mean that Catherine was also dull.  Some manner of wall flower she supposed. 

"Thank heaven I shall be handling your guest lists soon enough."  Charles would surely be relieved that Catherine Sedley would not be on any such list! 

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Why is this so hard?  He had thought Darlene would be extra perceptive when it came to a potential rival.  Instead, she was dismissive of Catherine as if she had visited to seek support for one of her father's plays. This was going to be tricky.  How was Charles going to make a disclosure to Darlene in a way that she would appreciate what he was saying?

With a troubled look, he pondered different approaches.  He would not apologize for it or Darlene would use that as a way to get what she wanted from him the rest of her life.  He had nothing to apologize for.  He was not under an oath to her.  No, the best way was to be nonchalant.  Surely, she would realize that he was almost 24 years old and, as such, would have had many romances.  He lett the part about her controlling the guest list lie unanswered as he pondered the right words.  He worried that she would cut him off from any lady he admired, which seemed horribly unfair to him, mostly because he viewed each of  his lovers as his friend or sweetheart.

"Do you remember how innocent we both were when we arrived at court in '75?"  He offered a sweet smile of remembrance. "Though seemingly fated for each other, you married my friend Thomas, and I went on to console myself in the arms of others until I married that old French wine sack."  So far so good.  In fact, it dawned on him as he spun it that he could blame Darlene for breaking his heart.  That would be very useful in the future for trying to manipulate Darlene instead.  Then, a stroke of genius occurred, changing his plan to casually mention his lovers. 

"Then, Jeanne died and I was left once again to seek comfort in the arms of others.  Then Thomas passed.  While some might think that you might be seeking the comfort of my arms because of his passing, I know there is a bond between us and there always has been, even when we were both married to someone else.  You did send me that letter after all," he offered with a smile but then gave a glance to her servant.  Perhaps Darlene would send away Maise so they could be more candid.  "So, here we are older, wiser, and experienced.  Do you see me with the eyes of '75 or do you love the man I have become?  I am not that lad you first met anymore."  The brilliance of his plan was to put the burden on Darlene, rather than himself.  Now, he could only pray that her response would make easier the revelation that he had many lovers and was to become a father soon.

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She was pleased when he left the topic of Catherine Sedley behind, instead he was moved to romance, with whimsy recollections of their times past.  Though yes those thoughts involved others... "I'd always thought that we'd make  perfect third husbands and wife’s." Darlene squeezed in with a romantic sigh. 

Neither had actually been married a second time yet, but she was prepared to overlook that. That was mere semantics. 

It was then, upon some unspoken cue, that she realised what was about to happen.  Charles was going to finally and properly propose.  At last!  It was his glance at Maisie that really confirmed it.  Yes he was about to bend knee in the mists to propose. Darlene's eyes flared, and she flicked her hand at Maisie to go away. 

"Oh yes Charles, I remember those days too. Ours was an impossible love, were we even star crossed? We were so young, too young maybe, and I was distracted, especially as my brother was threatening to marry me off.  We did not have enough time did we Charles.... and our hopes were lost. 

"It is not everyday that people get to have a second chance." she looked into his darling eyes, while a goodly part of her wished he was still the innocent he had been. The Charles she'd first metin 75 was easy to manipulate. But Charles of 78 - not so much.  She and He were both different, she figured, and she hazzarded a guess at why that was:

"Have our separations grown us apart Charles? Then let togetherness draw us nearer. Let's rediscover the naievity.  I must admit that when I look at you I still see you as you were, though you are more of course, you are still the noble and passionate adventurer who gave his heart so freely to me, and mine to his.  Perhaps the world has scarred us since then Charles? Let us mend ourselves together, to become a magnificent new whole."  

Any moment now he might kneel to make his pledge, Darlene tugged off the glove of her left hand in prepare for his token. A ring.  (She hoped it was gold, for however much he'd told her Silver was good too, she just did not buy it.)  

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It was good that Charles did not know what Darlene was thinking.  He was a man uncomfortable in the face of matrimonial pressure, not unlike so many other young men.  He had enjoyed his freedom from his first marriage and, even though he was convinced that Darlene was his destined mate, it was hard to close the door to everything else.  That Darlene might think that Charles had a ring and speech readied when it was she that sought him out, might have been a curiosity to note.

Darlene heard a profession of love and devotion leading to marriage.  Charles heard that she was fine with his past dalliances and only wanted to end up his spouse one day, though curiously after their next marriages.  "Third wife? " He took it as a jest as it was likely intended.  "So, who should you marry next before we dispose of him and who should I marry until we are ready to dispose of her?" he jested.  He liked playing games with his lady loves.  He was thinking she wanted to share some jesting about intermediate spouses.  "I'm thinking of someone old with a hoard of money for you," he laughed as he started the game.  He waited to see who she might suggest if she was wanting to play the game.  He was thinking of mentioning Killigrew and then laughing that she could finish the job with a knife; but, even he realized that she might be upset by his mention.

Ironically, he had married Jeanne because she was old, rich and dying.  It seemed perfectly reasonable to him at the time in Savoy, when under the influence of holiday drink.

He took her hands in his to show he was not distancing himself from her, finding himself nodding at her romantic declarations.  A slight frown crossed his brow as he tried to understand how one might regain their naivete.  That seemed logically impossible, but there was little time for analysis in such a florid moment.  "And I can see you as that young adventurer so full of life, confidence and charm, whose very presence is and was like a lamplight against the darkness.  Can we remain so even though we are older and wiser? I suppose so."

"And I am so glad that you have no jealousy for all the ladies I have ... been with because you are so confident in us."  That did seem truly great. Maybe she would let him carry on with a few in the months and years to come.

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"Oh no Charles, I was only playing. We don’t need anyone else now we have properly found each other." She did not like the sound of marrying some old person for his money, she was far too romantic minded to see it's appeal. While her actual life might have made some question, she saw goodness and fine intentions in any of her past liaisons (eg her kindness and generosity of indulging the Duke!)  

Darlene's past gleamed with a bright halo in her viewpoint. 

So Charles took her hands, and there was a brightness in his eyes.  This is the moment - surely!  But instead of popping the question he talked of other woman as though there had been multitudes.  

Darlene’s brow faltered, and she withdrew her hands. "Oh don’t talk of others Charles, you upset me so."  Where was his declaration that she was his one and only?!  "I thought you were going to be serious."

It had been practically weeks since his first talk of marriage, and Darlene was not known for her patience.

“Aren’t you going to propose to me Charles? If you are going to be silly like this, I shall change my mind of my answer.” rosebud lips pouted. 

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"I have no desire to upset you," Charles exclaimed.  This was true of course.

"I worried that you will not love me anymore if you knew of ... some ... follies of mine.  I cannot propose if I suspect you will regret your answer later.  I love you too much to mislead you as to the man I am and have been.  If you say now that you care not to know now or ever such things, then I am at peace.  We can then plan our future together and I shall keep us naive as to each other's follies, as you have just requested." 

While he had sought absolution from Darlene, he was coming to understand that it might be better if he could just hide his womanizing from her.  It seemed deceptive; but, if she did not care, the guilt could be lifted from his shoulders.  He had his own doubts about Darlene and her antics with Killigrew, but this would mean he could not ask her.  Surely she had nothing else to hide.  Surely.

 

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Darlene blinked, her perfect brow troubled at his evasive reply.  "Well no. I shall want to know of all of those things, when we are married we shall have no secrets. Why really we should have no secrets in courting either." 

Withdrawing her hand from his Darlene sensed (finally) that he had something horrible to tell her.

"How bad are your follies Charles? Tell me it is noting more serious than..." here she paused, for even now it was too hard to imagine him doing anything less than noble.  Like Thomas.  If Thomas had ever erred, it had been upon the side of caution, and also over diligence to his work. Those were the sorts of follies she could easily forgive. 

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Just as he was feeling free to bury his indiscretions, Darlene, at last, decided to show interest.  He had planned a long explanation but, somehow, in this moment, he forgot the words that he had rehearsed for this eventual meeting.  Blazing Cannons!

If given enough time, he might have waxed poetic about his womanizing.  Perhaps he could find a way to flatter Darlene in the process, or so he thought.  The pressure caused a near ringing in his ears as he struggled with what to say.

"I have had many trysts and assignations with ladies over the years.  A little folly in that I guess," he said quietly though with a guilty look.  "However, in the past year, I have managed to impregnate one.  Just one.  That is the only serious bit.  I hope you will understand. It was what I wanted to reveal to you in private."  It all tumbled out of his mouth inartfully.  As a defensive move, he began to tell himself that all would be forgiven and forgotten.  It had all been done before she returned to court after all. Maybe she would laugh it off.

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'I have managed to impregnate one.'

Those words set her mind to spinning. And then he added the 'Just One'.  She felt very lightheaded, and paled visibly.  "Oh just one." Darlene repeated as dizziness did not help her to make any sense of or understand it.  "Who, who is she Charles? Are you still. Still seeing her?" 

Tears might be close, or anger, but worst of all the memory of Francis Cavandishes scathing impression of her courtship flashed into her mind. 

“… no don’t tell me, I don’t want to know.   So, you shall have to marry her.”

If Charles was the gentleman she believed him to be, then that was the obvious outcome. Turning her head from him she wished she had the energy to run from this suddenly awful scene. How can I have been so stupid?  There had probably been many signs, and she’d not noticed.

“I think you should leave.” Darlene told him.

 

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It was hard to see Darlene so sad.  It was what he had feared most.  It was not the pain to himself, which he could manage, but the pain to his love.

"I shall not be marrying her.  She is my mistress and no more.  Prior to that, she was the mistress of the Duke of York.  She has no expectations of marriage.  We are merely friendly companions."  He would not call her a whore.  Leave that to narrow-minded persons.  Catherine was a lady but ladies that chose to become mistresses were treated differently.  "She has a child by the Duke," he thought to add.

"She is no obstacle to marriage unless you see it so.  She knows I will marry another."  He did not leave as she asked.  He awaited her reconsideration in response to what he hoped was welcome news.

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She is my mistress

Present tense.

Darlenes usual manner had vanished, as though it had been torn away by this blast. She was a skeleton of her own self. 

"Mistresses are for men who are in loveless marriages." her voice was weak, though her words spoken from firm viewpoint.  Whatever Thomas's faults had been, he'd never taken a mistress, he'd never shamed her like that.  "Mistresses give men in impossible situations that which they cannot already have.  This woman carrying your child is not a mistress Charles, don’t delude yourself to say that she is. Don’t delude yourself to say she does not want to give her baby his fathers name."

"Now, please leave. I don’t want to look at you."   

Darlene remembered what it was like to carry a baby with it's future unknown, she still carried a host of repressed feelings on that subject. 

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Things were not going as Charles expected.  They were going the way he had feared.  He had abandoned his prepared remarks in favor of what he thought was plain speaking and he had made a hash of things.  Though he had learned a fair amount about ladies in his three years at court, he had not learned enough.

He wanted to object.  He wanted to remind her that he was the same person; but, perhaps he was not.  She thought him to be that naive soldier of May 1675.  He had a dozen retorts and questions in his mind, but he exercised caution as he thought through them.  He was blind and deaf to the words that had triggered Darlene's anger.  Had he said something wrong?  Should he have showered her with assurance and praise?  Probably.  Yet, for misguided reasons perhaps, he had thought a frank conversation was best, devoid of promises and romantic flattery.  In that, he had likely misjudged Darlene, a lady he should have known so well.  In emotional moments, sometimes one does not think clearly.  Yet, had he assured her of his love and devotion going forward, she might be swayed to pretend to forgive him, only to harbor resentment that would arise with regularity.

In his mind, he had expected Darlene to say something like, I am not happy about it but I appreciate your candor.  We will resolve any issues together and we will not let these follies stand in our way of happiness. That did not happen.  He should have known that Darlene was a romantic and not a pragmatist.

"I was not married and she was pregnant many months before you arrived back at court," he uttered to defend himself.  "It was only my love and respect for you that made me confess all to you, if you would hear it."  Again, he was sounding the pragmatist.  "You deserved to know."  There was a period of silence as he weighed leaving at that point.

"I love the Darlene I know.  You need to decide whether you love the man I have become."  He probably should have wooed her at that point but he had to know.  If she did not wish to marry him anymore, he told himself he could handle it.  He would lose himself in his duties and the comfort of others.  He had dreamed of marrying her many times, but perhaps it was nothing more than a dream.

"I will leave you to your thoughts," he announced hoping she would ask him to stay.

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"I deserved to know?" she repeated back to him. "No Charles, I deserve better."

Her mind had begun to whirl, remembering his mention of Sedley earlier.  Sedley had been Yorks mistress, yes it must have been Sedley he was in a relationship with.  But even after getting that woman pregnant he did not intend to marry her.  Charles was opening her eyes, that was true, he was not the man she thought he was. 

"I dont deserve half a heart, or a third, or a quarter - how many others even are there?" He'd said he only got one of his 'follies' pregnant so far. "I deserve a whole heart, and to be the centre of the world for someone. Plainly that is not you. You cannot know me at all if you did not already know this."  

Though even as she spoke she wondered of the truth of it. Perhaps she didn't deserve the all encompassing sort of love. Thomas had spent so much time at work. Perhaps shed not been enough for him either. 

"Leave, leave. You are not the noble gentle man I thought you were. Leave. If you are even half the man I thought you were you'd make an honest woman of that poor Catherine Sedley -  York did not do right by her, and now you dont either."

Darlene squeezed eyes shut, tipping her face to the mist, the coolness did a little to cool the hot tears that streamed.  

It all made sense to her suddenly, this was why he'd not wanted her to tell friends about their courtship - she'd been just another dirty secret for him. 

Was he still there?  'On my god, go already'  With a gasp of breath she yelled,  "LEAVE!"

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It all seemed horribly unfair to a young man such as Charles; but then, how many men really thought that an emotional outburst of a lady was fair?  Were not men creatures of reason and ladies creatures of emotion?  That is what Charles was taught to believe.  Was it just another Mars versus Venus lack of understanding?

To Charles' way of thinking, he did not need to hold himself chaste on the off chance that Darlene would return to court and want to get married.  Surely she was not holding him to that standard, or so he thought.  She wanted all of his love, but what had that to do with his past loves?  Again, that seemed unfair.  He was willing to love her above all others and marry her.  Why was that not enough?  His mind was trying to defend his actions that were then under assault.  As for marrying Sedley, this was no ordinary debutante.  If he had impregnated Davina, in contrast, he would have had to do the right thing by her.  Catherine was different.  Charles was frustrated that Darlene could not see the difference.

He should have been calm, like every English gentleman should, but his emotions were boiling over in self-defense.  "I suppose I should say that I am sorry that I do not live up to your expectations.  I apologize for being a man with occasional weaknesses and shortcomings.  You deserve better Darlene."  Maybe there had been a hint of sarcasm in that statement, but his tone softened after that.  "Frankly, you deserve the best Darlene, and I will always wish it for you."  

When a lady screams, it is time to leave; so he did.  "Farewell."  Turning on his heels, he was a bitter and confused man..  He ignored the drizzle on his face and marched back to the stable where he had left his horse.

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