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Lady Problem Number One Sunset September 15

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Having been directed to the quarters of Captain Herbert, Charles drew himself up and made sure there was no obvious lint or thread loose on his uniform before knocking.  Hoping that the Captain had returned to his rooms to freshen up before dinner, the Life Guard awaited an answer.  He preferred that this conversation not occur in the presence of the King.  It was best to resolve things privately. 

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Lord Langdon was indeed pointed toward the quarters of Captain Herbert, but the servant neglected to mention that he was hardly staying by himself. Instead, a number of the members of His Majesty's household were staying together: some of the grooms, some of the ushers, and some of the younger gentlemen without other family staying were all crammed in together. Since many of them would be on duty at separate times, it was not as tight as it seemed. When they were at Whitehall and attending overnight periods, they often slept in close quarters adjoining the King's, so it was little bother for Herbert and Ashburnham to share a bed. 


There was little room for servants, but given that it was before the dinner hour, there were a few present, John Ashburnham's man being one of them. He always required help with his opulent attire. That was who answered the door. He knew who Lord Langdon was and greeting him by name.


"Good evening, my Lord Langdon. Is there someone in particular you are looking for?"


From inside the room, Ashburnham's voice could be barely heard saying, "Did he say Lord Langdon? Either someone is to be arrested, or Herbert has a visitor." There was a chuckle and then an "Ouch, Tom!"


The servant pretended he didn't hear a word from inside and looked at the pristinely uniformed man expectantly.

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Charles wanted to sigh at Ashburnham's remark, but it was witty and true.  So, he felt compelled to play along.  "I have come for the latter, but I have not ruled out the former if there is skullduggery afoot."  He tried to adopt a more jovial attitude, understanding that one should not take offense easily from one's peers.

It appeared that Herbert was present, given the elbow that was likely delivered to Ashburnham.  "Captain Herbert, might I see you about a matter in the hallway?" he inquired in a loud enough voice to be heard.

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Thomas Herbert emerged, sometimes captain, but lately nothing but courtier and servant of.......his.......King. He was dressed in a baby blue and silver brocade justacorps with wide embroidered cuffs and copious lace. He was sans cravat, so either he hadn't finished dressing or was going without one until the last moment. 


He took in a breath through his nose, before he said, "Of course, my lord," with a politeness Ashburnham hadn't evidenced. Herbert might be the heir presumptive to a double earldom, but he did know how to deport himself even when he was discountenanced about something.


"Though perhaps we might adjourn elsewhere than the hallway. It is doubtful any private matter will remain private when this is the hallway that also services the royal household. Perhaps the battlements might provide more quiet. There is a shortcut nearby."

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Grateful for the courtesy Herbert showed, Langdon gave the man a nod.  His suggestion was a good one.

"Of course, let us tour the battlements.  There is no better view in Windsor," Charles agreed.  With a friendly nod to Ashburnham, Charles let Herbert lead the way to the shortcut.  "Thank you for accompanying me.  If I could ask one courtesy when we reach the battlements, I would appreciate the opportunity to say something before you respond."  He expected the courtesy, but wanted to seem the supplicant for the sensitivity of the issue.

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Herbert was not sure he quite cared for the friendly approach, but he could hide his feelings behind a rather impassive face. It was important not to show reaction on one's face when one was attending the King for an audience or any number of things, so he was practiced.


"I am not my brother," was Herbert's reply to allowing Lord Langdon to say his piece. Whether that meant he had enough self-control to allow him to do so or meant that Langdon sufficiently outranked him to to so was not clarified. Perhaps it was both.


He led the way in relative quiet until the final door gave way to darkness creeping over the dinner hour, stealing color from the sky. He walked to the ledge and then turned to hear what Langdon might say in defense of seeing his sister so very often. Perhaps others knew nothing of the other man's...exploits...but His Majesty was not quiet about such things. York knew. The King knew. All of the King's Household knew about Catherine Sedley.


Herbert would not see his sister ruined, because all it took was appearances. Nothing actually had to happen; that part of immaterial to the point.

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Langdon was thankful that Thomas was not his brother.  One would not wish to go up to the battlements with an angry Lord Pembroke unless one enjoyed getting thrown over the edge.

Charles had practiced his speech many times over the recess, and even on their walk up to the battlements.  He had one chance to deflect the cannon ball flying towards him, at least with the Herberts.  Other cannonballs in the palace likely had his name on it.

"Thank you for your courtesy in hearing me out."  He did not slouch against the battlements as he might have preferred.  Rather he stood at military attention in hopes that it would reflect well on his sincerity.  "It came to my attention over the recess that there were whispers about my relationship with your sister.  First, I wish to apologize to you for being blind to possible suspicions.  As a member of the King's retinue, you know we of the Guard, especially those of us in the Queen's Guard, see the Queen's ladies multiple times a day.  Many times it is in the hallways or in our rounds of the palace.  Conversations are had freely with the ladies of the Queen and friendly relations are formed in casual ways.  We do not avoid speaking to the ladies we know merely because they are not accompanied by chaperones.  It would be unnatural.  Your sister and I became friendly, just as I am friendly with other ladies of the Queen, over the years."

"All of our encounters have been at the palace.  I do not believe I have ever encountered your sister outside the palace.  We have never gone riding together.  Never had a picnic together.  We have never done anything together that would been viewed as an attempt at courtship or anything more than friendship.  I do not believe we have ever danced together at a ball.  Our encounters have not been of the kind that require chaperones typically.  Thus, I blinded myself to the fact that someone might get the wrong idea."  He was speaking with a contrite voice.

We have encountered each other in the royal library where she has helped me research lords and ladies from the Tudor years because I found a golden dagger that belonged to one.  Your sister is one of the smartest courtiers that I have encountered, including men by the way.  I sought her help in reading old books because she is good at it  She seemed genuinely interested in solving what may be a century old mystery.  It is not every day that you can collaborate with someone on an exciting project."
"Second I apologize to you and your family for not seeking your permission to continue the collaboration after the initial encounters.  I suppose I had wrongly thought your sister had spoken with you about it.  I respect your family, which is one of the great houses in England.  I would never wish to do anything that would ever compromise your sister or your family in any way.  Rather, I would prefer to do everything to win favor with your family. I have failed miserably in that regard it seems."

"I give you my word as a gentleman that I have taken no liberties with your sister.  I have not done anything with her that I would not allow you to do with a sister of mine.  I hold her in high regard and would defend her against any that would cast any shadow on her honor.  It grieves me that it is myself that seems to have cast this shadow unconsciously."

"I am not blind to the fact that I have a reputation of sorts as a ladies man.  I flirt occasionally, and, at times have taken a mistress.  You know of whom I speak.  There are ladies for that, but not your sister.  She is on a pedestal for me, to be honored and protected.  There are no shortages of other types of ladies at court and it is in that libertine pool that I swim for other purposes.  I know you understand what I mean."

"Again, you have my sincere apologies for the shadow I have created.  It would be impossible in the future to not encounter her again in the palace from time to time.  I should like to continue to speak with her again from time to time with your approval.  I seek what terms you deem fair.  I will see to it that we are not alone in the future.  I will abide by your wishes.  The mystery of the dagger is almost solved.  I would like to continue to pursue this mystery with her assistance, but with your blessing.  I would never put her in danger.  Tell me what you would have me do to attempt to atone for my shortcoming."

"I am happy to answer any questions you may have and I thank you for affording me the courtesy to apologize and offer to make amends."  With that, he stood at attention and prayed silently for understanding from the more reasonable Herbert brother.

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Herbert had grown into himself at court in the last year and a half. Something about how Mistress Wellesley had toyed with him, requesting meetings with him and not showing, then gaining his company in that game of masks which thankfully never came to fruition, followed by what she had attempted (or been solicited to attempt) with poisoning the Queen and the heir. He had thought her no-showing had been some joke of the Queen's ladies to laugh at him at first, but after the string of the rest he feared what her motives had been in trying to keep his company. If she had been successful in getting close to him, he could have lost his head into the bargain with her nefarious associations.


He had learned how easy it was to be put in danger and ruin one's life. Through no fault of one's own. He had also found his voice with the King when he had said, mask or no, he was absolutely not sharing time with that lady. Jack had told him to do it, that His Majesty would allow it, would allow him to say no, and now he understood the favor Ashburnham carried. 


"That was a soliloquy longer than one in Shakespeare's tragedies," Herbert said. They were both young men, but both should understand responsibilities. Both had military careers. Herbert was not titled, but he was their heir to one of the riches, oldest noble families. Both were not new to court. 


"Let us speak plainly, my lord. I have limited time for I am to attend the King at dinner," he began. "We both know you do not wish to have this conversation with my brother. You are perhaps lucky that the affair with Dorset has caused His Majesty to order him away from court, perhaps indefinitely, because he is enraged. That was over property, not a beloved sister and her life."


He allowed that notion to sink in.


"You speak to your views and intentions and that is all good and well, but those are your perspectives. Courtiers do not see things that way. Separations exist for a reason. If you allow your Life Guard leniency in social protocols, it does not change them. It does not make it okay for these casual associations - friendships -  to form. The Life Guard is all gentlemen, perhaps, yes, but they are mostly younger sons or simple gentlemen of good birth. They are not of the same station with Ladies of the Queen or her Maids of Honor.


"Her Majesty is the benefactor and protector of the women in her household. She should need not watch over those there to stand guard and protect their persons physically, so your excuse that being in proximity leads to such friendships is frankly alarming. You yourself are one of few with whom it would be appropriate for these ladies to speak to on an equal manner. Maids of Honor are there for their families and to be seen so that they might make good matches with peers. 


"That said, you are an earl, my lord. Do not tell me you are ignorant of how this looks. If you are, let me school you on the danger you have put my sister in. You have been seen to keep her company frequently. The public sphere, the library, it is public so people might 'know' that you have not dishonored her, true, but that does not make it safe for her. Courtiers will think my brother has sanctioned a courtship. Now what shall it look like if it appears there is no courtship any longer and no marriage happens? It will appear as if there is something undesirable about my sister! Why else would an earl who has spent so much time with her not end up marrying her?!? That is what the public sees. The reputation you speak of does not help. That is what courtiers will say, and it will all end in tears for her and hurt her chances of a match worthy of her station.


"Because clearly if you wished to actually court her, you would have asked for permission, first. Or at least far before it came to our attention in such a way."


Lord Langdon might now know that while he was the reasonable brother, he was no pushover. He might also know that Herbert's mother was a Villiers and that he had that blood too; this cub also had teeth, even if he was not the epitome of the bad hot-blood of Herbert and Villiers combined that made his brother sociopathic in the heat of conflict. Herbert had gotten all of the good qualities of both parents, yes, and he was a poet-romantic, but he loved his sister, and let it not be said that his inheritance of blood did not come from two bloodlines who were fiercely protective of their family.

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He had asked Herbert's indulgence in hearing him out, so it was only fair that he allow Herbert to share his concerns.  The man was a bit more pointed than he expected.  While the arguments were sound, the evidence was lacking in the Earl's mind.  The unfairness of the situation was welling up inside of him.

"I regret I do not have some Shakespearian quote to counter you," Charles began with weak humor.  "I fear I am no student of the theater."

"All of your concerns are valid, but perhaps you did not know that I met your sister in the library maybe three or four times in the past year.  On only one occasion was anyone in the library,  I do not think we have ever met in a public place except the hallways from time to time.  Perhaps we spoke once or twice at a ball.  This notion that courtiers have noticed us together frequently is a falsehood.  It now dawns on me that this may be the work of one of my enemies or rivals.  I urge you to find one courtier who could bear witness to seeing me with your sister more than two or three times per season.  I see many other ladies far more frequently.  Now that I think on it, I find it strange that this slander was brought to the attention of your brother.  If you ask your sister, I suspect she will confirm that we are rarely together and that she has said nothing to your brother or anyone about the occasional encounter.  All a rival need do is whisper to your brother that there may be something improper happening and my career, if not my life, is in jeopardy.  I shall need to think on who might be behind this slander.  Conduct your own investigation to learn the truth of this matter."  His face might have become crimson with his growing anger.  He needed to check his angst.

"This is my problem to address. I apologize.  Even if contrived by enemies, the harm is done, so let me reply to your concern."

"Your sister would be a wonderful match for any lord, even a duke.  She is likely the most eligible lady at court.  Newcastle might challenge my statement, claiming one of his daughters is more eligible, but who else could hold a candle to your sister?" he asked truthfully.  "Frankly, being seen in my company is unlikely to diminish her luster.  None could find fault with her."   A bit of flattery should always be welcome.  "Captain, the word in the hallways  is that you are looking for a match as well."  He decided not to mention the part about him suffering ridicule for wanting to marry for love.  "Tell me truthfully who you think might be more eligible than your sister, even today."  He paused for an answer.

"I do not know even if your sister would be interested in me if I was looking to marry."  He was trying to be careful to avoid saying that he was in the market for a wife.  He still held out hope that Darlene would come to her senses, though he was suspecting that to be less likely.  There was also the possibility of a Cavendish daughter to consider if he was pushed to choose.  Ideally, he might like a wife that would be understanding of his philandering.

"As you note, if I were to consider courting Susan, I would seek your permission first."  Attempting to end on a humorous note, he added "some might think her even more worthy for rejecting someone like me."  He offered a smile.   No one would believe I rejected her."     

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Herbert's blue eyes narrowed as the gentleman tried to blame it away on his enemies for starting a rumor. He wet his lips, ran his teeth over then, and then took a breath through his nose.


"You are an experienced courtier and high in the Life Guard, Lord Langdon. You know there are people who see even if you do not see them! You know the passages. You know the holes people can look through as well as I. Who do you think His Majesty takes back there, who also know of them?" Herbert threw up an arm in frustration, not willing to take the 'my enemies' as the answer. It was passing off the blame.


"There are servants who talk. There are people who linger for moments in doorways hoping to see something worthy of repetition. It need not be an enemy for someone to repeat what they see and for someone else to repeat what they see and so on until even the smallest of patterns emerges. Then the talk starts in earnest with its own reality. It is your reputation of spending time with ladies that gives even more weight and credence to it, enemies or not." He huffed. 


They were both young, it was true. Both needed to get out what they had been thinking. What they had been rumination. It was only natural. Then perhaps sense could be spoken.


"If you hold her in such high esteem, then I would wish for you to protect her reputation by not giving further fuel to this, enemies or not. It is what it is now. She has not deserved any of it. 


"And it is clear by your words that you do not seek to marry and you are not asking permission to court her. Does she realize your feelings in this or do you simply assume she understands your mild association for what it is?"


Then he added in after though, "As for me, I will marry when I wish to, when I find love. I am not looking as if in a meat market." Nevermind that most men were doing just that. Herbert was strange in his romantic notions, and he was teased of it enough. It was His Majesty who needled him about marriage. And his lady mother.

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"What you say is true.  The walls have eyes," Charles admitted.  "I only ask you to consider two things.  First, your sister and I spent very limited time together last season.  More importantly, if the concern was valid and in good faith, why was it not presented to Susan as a cautionary note, or me.  Why was not the Queen told first, or you?  Do you not find it strange that the first person to be told was not any logical person at court?  Not even your mother?  No, it was whispered to the one person that might act against me without pause.  Tell me that is not curious," he challenged.  Surely Thomas would see the wisdom in that.  In fact, Langdon told himself that he should conduct his own investigation to learn the identity of the snake.

"You are correct that Susan deserves none of any scrutiny.  I have not discussed a courtship with her.  I'm not sure it would be appropriate to do so without speaking to her family first.  If it is your brother that holds the familial authority to consider any suit, it would be a waste of my time to speak with him."  That seemed like a good enough excuse to purchase additional time.  "He might strike me before I drew close enough to speak with him," he added in gallows humor.

"I have yet to decide if the time is right for marriage.  I applaud your search for love.  It has appeal to me."  He paused thinking about the failed attempt with Darlene.  "I am being pressured to marry.  I have no doubt that you are the same.  Perhaps we can help each other.  You could find out quietly whether your family would consider a possible courtship by myself, if that were the path I wished to take.  And, in return, perhaps I can help you find your lady love.  I do not jest, I truly wish to help if I can.  I know a good number of eligible ladies at court, some of which could melt a man's coldest heart."  Only a few names floated in his head but it was important to create the illusion that he was well acquainted with many.  "You do not need my help, as you are one of the most eligible men at court, but I would offer it should it ever be needed.  The challenge is to know which lady loves you as opposed to your wealth and fame.  Sometimes another eye can assist."

"Despite this incident Captain, I would like to think we could be friendly.  We are both young men and soldiers on the rise that are likely to be about the palace for many years to come.  The palace has few people that one can trust and I think we each should look for opportunities to cultivate friendships with other worthy men.  I would work hard to earn your trust and friendship and I would hope that you give me that opportunity." 

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Herbert huffed.


"You know that court does not work by cautionary tales, my lord," Herbert replied. "You have been here some long time to be ignorant of that. You have a great position. Many would love to see you have trouble simply to have something to talk about. Do not seem so surprised that it catches up with you." Perhaps he surpassed himself to say it. He did not have a title, nor some grand position. He was one of the King's gentlemen only because his brother could not be, and someone need represent their family; he was the only one without a title. However, who was going to chide him? The King? "You have heard the whispers and rumors that have existed about yourself long before this. Own that you bear some fault, because if you did not this would not have happened to my sister."


That was the greater point. Langdon's actions could have threatened his sisters reputation. No matter the evidence. No matter the reason. No matter the actual scarcity of the actions.


"My brother is exiled from court, and it is unlikely he shall return any time soon. He would need to approve of a marriage, but my lady mother could approve a courtship if you wished it. Or myself in my brother's stead." Honestly, one would need get by his lady mother either way. 


"I do not wish for help. Everyone wishes to help," he said. "My lady mother, His Majesty, my sister-in-law...I tired of hearing of this lady or that lady. I wish only to be given leave to seek on my own and for it to happen by God's will. When I find a lady who suits me, I shall be happy. Until then, I just wish to live. It is not as if I am an old man. My brother may yet have a son or five, especially now that he has nothing else to do."


"If you wish to win my trust and friendship...take care over my sister's reputation. We are close. She has a high opinion of you. I will bend to her intuition and give you a chance I should not. You cannot allow her to be wrapped up in business of a man with illegitimate children. They will laugh at her or say she is next to have your child. We cannot assume these rumors my brother has heard will not be heard by any others. If you wish to see her, I must be with her." As to his own romance, he did come up with one thing that he could be helped with, though. "And, if you hear a lady is trying to trick me or is falsely representing herself to get close to me, I should like to know. It would not be the first time. They see only riches, a double-earldom, and an old name. They know my lady mother is a Villiers. They pretend, these young ladies of court. I wish for something real."



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It was time for Charles to huff in return, but he withheld since he was in the role of the supplicant in this setting.  Had the situation been different, it would have been Charles accusing Thomas of being naive.  In Langdon's mind, court was full of intrigues that involved cautionary tales.  The key was to delve into the motives to divine the truth, at least in his young mind.

"I own that I bear fault in this matter," Charles conceded.  "I would not have sought you out to apologize otherwise.  I had hoped that was clear.  I suppose I am saying that the route of the rumor may tell us something about how widespread the concern might actually be."  Maybe another tact would aid him.  "If this concern about your sister was widespread, would not she have heard of it?  Or the Mistress of Robes, the Queen, your mother?  I heard nothing of such slander other than your brother believed that there was something afoot.  It just seems curious that the first to hear was Pembroke.  I have heard it repeated nowhere else.  Perhaps you have."  He waved off further challenge by saying "I know we both seek to kill such a vile rumor before it takes root anywhere else."  It was an admission but only after an attempt to try and weigh the potential harm.

The man wanted no help in match-making.  In fact, his response was almost comical.  Charles waved his hands in surrender.  "I did not realize you had so many offers of assistance.  I withdraw my offer," he announced with a chuckle.  If only I had such help.  Perhaps he should ask the King's advice.  "I will warn you if I think a lady seeks to fool you," he pledged, wondering what sort of woman would find such a suspicious man to be attractive.

"I must take exception to your insinuation that any proper lady in my company is having her reputation harmed."  He did not take well Herbert's insult that he, as a father of an illegitimate child, was not worthy of being in the company of proper ladies.  Perhaps he would like to say that to the King, Langdon imagined. "I should ask you to think carefully on that."

His conditions for meeting with Susan were outrageous to Charles.  "I had been planning to seek a meeting with your sister in the near future, with proper lady chaperones.  I find it extraordinary that you would not permit such.  In the hope that we might, one day, become friends, I ask that you arrange for a meeting with myself, your sister and yourself at your earliest convenience so that I might apologize to her formally."

All sorts of thoughts were going through his mind, including challenging Thomas to a duel or swearing off speaking with Susan again.  The humiliation was too great and the Herberts were not important to him if they were to pass judgment upon him so easily.  Thomas had chosen words to insult him needlessly and Charles was too young and too headstrong to ignore it easily.

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"You may take exception if you wish, my lord. It may not harm a widowed or married lady, but it does not take much for an unmarried young lady's honor to be put in question by the company she keeps. Libertines are dangerous to keep company around, and unfortunately though you may not feel that you are such, you have fathered a child with a mistress of the Duke of York and the daughter of a favorite of the King. It is said, more than one child with her. If you have not heard that rumor, you do not spend enough time listening to the gossip, for I assure you his Highness is aware and believes it to be true. Why do you think he has abandoned her? It is a topic." 


Herbert would have repeated the self-same in front of the King. His Majesty was not known for ruining eligible young ladies of good noble families. How did Herbert know? Because he knew. The King did not make public many of his affairs for the sake of the lady or the lady's family. The King flirted with all, and the King could do as he pleased. Lord Langdon was not the King.


"A man's reputation recovers, but a lady become unmarriageable or loses her chance at a match worthy of her station by the company she keeps. Plenty ladies have fallen in such a way, even those who did not deserve it."


For a man of court, Lord Langdon was very naïve about appearances and the sensitivity of a lady's reputation.


"It is not all in my deciding, my lord. I have a mother and a brother, both with opinions they expect for me to heed. You may meet with her any time with my lady mother present if that is preferrable. The Dowager Lady Pembroke has rooms here, and you may make what arrangements you wish with her. If you would like me present, I shall be. If you would like for us to be friends one day, then let us work to make sure these whispers do not reach court and stay between us."

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"I understand."  There was no reason to argue further about potential damage to a lady.

"I do not view myself as a libertine but I associate with some libertine ladies at times.  I am an unmarried man after all.  Likewise, Miss Sedley was the former mistress.  He had cast her off already.  You need not say anything for I know that the truth does not matter at court, merely the perception.  So, I understand what you say."  There was a disappointed silence that followed.  The disappointment flowed from the Earl's lack of grasp that it was perception that ruled.  It seemed unfair to him.  Likewise, he felt it unfair that he be treated as a pariah because he did not hide a mistress at a time that he was unmarried.  He did not feel he had done anything wrong.

"As for a chaperone, may I ask permission to speak with your sister after Chapel Sunday, in your presence or the presence of your mother?" That seemed a safe enough request and an innocent place to meet.  Of course, he would weigh having the secret meeting with her on the morrow.  "I will work with you to see that nothing grows from this vile gossip."  Their interests were aligned in that regard.


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Herbert nodded. "I think my lady mother would find that agreeable."


His primary aim had been to make sure his sister was protected. He did not want her to lose the future she deserved because she was entranced by the notions and grandeur of the Merry Court. Many a young lady had made errors of judgement in what she engaged in there, and Herbert did not want Susan to reap the consequences of that whilst Lord Langdon could carry on with his life with little amiss for the trouble.


"Yes, it is in everyone's best interest. I shan't be able to exert any influence on my brother if this becomes a thing of court gossip."

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"Grand.  I shall look forward to meeting your mother then."  He was guessing that the dowager countess must be nice because Susan was nice.  It was said that the daughter would become the mother in time, so it was always wise to assess the mother and her behavior if one wanted a crystal ball into the future of one's wife.  A vague memory tugged at him that he may have met her at the New Years Ball briefly before he slinked off with her daughter in secret passages.

"I thank you for your consideration sir,"  Langdon's temper was ebbing.  "I will leave you to your errands.  If I can be of assistance, I hope you will call upon me."

The last time he had seen Pembroke, Charles had escorted him to the Tower for the fight he had caused in Lords.  He had little desire to meet the man again.  With luck, someone would murder him rather than the other way around.


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  • 3 weeks later...

Herbert nodded at Lord Langdon and then turned to take his leave so that he wouldn't be late for his rotation attending the King. He still needed to finish dressing properly. 


When he arrived back down in the room those who served the King and didn't have other accommodations shared, one of the grooms gave him a note from Ashburnham that said he was taking his turn and they could switch. It suggested having a large drink, and that was what Herbert did, drowning out his lingering agitation in liquor and a warm hearth. 



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