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A Gift For Style | Saturday September 17th, morning


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Sophia twirled around in front of her full-length mirror, admiring the way the fabric of her gown swirled elegantly around her. She was wearing one of Ellen Doolittle’s creations for the first time and she had to admit it was very comfortable. Instead of a skirt and bodice, it was constructed in one piece, like a robe, with a stomacher inserted into the front of it. It was very loose and flowed over her blossoming belly. The back was loose as well, forming an interesting and unusual silhouette.

 

Made of pink silk embroidered with yellow flowers, the neckline was moderately cut and trimmed with white lace and yellow ribbon. The sleeves were consisted of four puffs also adorned with ribbon and lace. A pearl had been sewn into each embroidered flower and more pearls had been stitched in a floral pattern on her yellow stomacher, hemmed on all sides by lace. This one was one of the fancier gowns and suitable to wear out as well as around the house.

 

Sophia had invited Ellen to tea this morning to thank her for the maternity gowns she had designed for her. What better way to show her approval than to wear one of them? The daughter of one of her former guardians had a gift for fashion and the quality of the cloth was impeccable. As Ellen’s father was a merchant, she had access to the best fabric he was able to acquire.

 

She felt guilty now for treating her so badly when they had lived in the same house. They had been enemies then, and while they weren’t friends now, they were at least civil to each other. Sophia would never have believed last year that she could design clothing or do anything other than whine and complain. Now she was beginning to see Ellen in a different and more flattering light. Maybe becoming friends was no longer impossible.

 

After Anna fastened a necklace of pearls around her neck and matching earrings in her earlobes, she went down to the parlor to make sure everything was ready for Ellen’s arrival.

 

Edited by Sophia de la Cerda
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In the past five months much had happen in Ellen's Family ....

The Easter Miracle of her father's recovery from Death's Door and the chastisement by same to her own attempts at "Business" to the mysterious death of her sister Ophelia in Scotland. Her brother-in-law Lord Melville had returned so she had heard but had not seen him in London or even at the rented house here in Windsor Town where she as well as her father and younger sister Natalie were staying. There were so many questions about her sister that she had to have answers for but little information had come. Her father had hired men to investigate but they too had found nothing.To say that things had been hard and rough would be an understatement.

Perhaps the ONLY high point had come when she had made the acquaintance of Lady Chambrey - a Countess by Title but in truth much closer to her own self in that she was a 'business woman'. She had spoke about the possibilities of a venture in which she would use the Doolittle ships to establish a Rum trade from Caribe. But alas they had not been able to meet again as The Season was abruptly cancelled by the arrival of the Royal Baby. But Ellen had her own ideas about this and she intended to try to seek out Lady Chambrey if possible.

But today she was about to revisit a former nemesis - Sophia, the Countess of Toledo and wife to the Spanish Ambassador. She had been the ward of Lord Kingston who was suddenly thrust into the Doolittle household. It was not well received and had created much animosity between the two. But that was years ago now and they had resolved the issues. She had extended an offer to have made some maternity gowns for Lady Toledo and today she had been invited to that Lady's Windsor residence.

Arriving at that said place she rapped on the door then giving a tug of her glove to settle back into place. She was dressed more somberly in a plum brocade gown with a triple row of cream lace at each elbow and round the neckline of her bodice. Jet beads made swirling patterns over the fabric with grey pearls at the centers. Her jewelry were grey pearls as well and she wore her hair braided into a coil at the back of her head. She intended to mourn her sister in her own way despite her father's demands not to - he had after all a 'Major Plan' to put into place and she knows it's to be another version of him trying to marry both her and her younger sister off - again. It had failed the last time but now she was older and not afraid to use her own voice.

She knew that Lady Toledo must be near to her going into confinement but was glad that she could see her before then. She wonders how she will find her   .....

 

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  • Sophia de la Cerda changed the title to A Gift For Style | Saturday September 17th, morning

The butler let Ellen in, took her cloak or other outer garments if she was willing to relinquish them, and led her to the drawing room where Sophia awaited. Like most of the house, it was decorated in neutral shades of white and cream, but the young Countess had added her own personal touches to the décor. There were pastel colored pillows printed with flowers on the two couches and chairs which sat close to the fireplace on a matching rug. She had brought the pillows and the rug from her London residence, as well as some of the paintings hanging on the wall, mostly lovely landscapes brimming with flowers.

 

A table was set up for tea near a large window with filmy curtains pulled back with ribbons and fabric flowers. Two finely upholstered chairs with pillows embroidered in a floral design sat on either side of it. The tablecloth was adorned with the same design. Porcelain vases on the tables had been filled with late-blooming roses from the small garden. A low fire flickered in the hearth.

 

Sophia’s embroidery stand had been set up next to a smaller window. When the door opened, she heaved herself off the bench and walked over to her guest. “It’s delightful see you again, Mistress Doolittle. I cannot thank you enough for the beautiful gowns you sent to me. They are a pleasure to wear.”

 

She twirled around slowly so Ellen could see the full effect. “You are a genius at designing clothing.”

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She was taken in and once there was greeted by Lady Toledo who was clearly very near her term.

"Countess." Ellen gave her a curtsey and the smiled at her words. "Please Please be easy! Even that slow of movement might well cause labor."

"Your praise is welcome'd but I can not claim it all. I have in my employ several pairs of talented hands."

"I am glad that you liked the design and I was right in thinking that you would chose colors best suited."

"But shall we sit? I am not 'giving orders' so do not think such but rather out of concern."

She had no real experience with pregnancy let alone childbirth but she had a younger sister and remember her late Mother's issues at the end of her term. 

"I suppose everyone must be saying that to you?

"But I am sure it must be annoying at times as well."

She smiled at the other.

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“I am not as far along as I look. I still have two months to go. Either I am having a large baby or I just look bigger than I should be because I’m so short. I appreciate your concern, though. Turning around slowly will not harm me. I just can’t twirl the way I used to.” Sophia missed twirling, and riding her horse, and many other things she could no longer do. She missed her energy too, as she tired easily these days.

 

“But you were responsible for the design, Mistress Doolittle. Your seamstresses simply brought it to life.”

 

Sophia did not complain when Ellen suggested they sit. Strolling over to the table, she sat and waved her guest into the opposite chair. “Tea and refreshments will be here soon.”

 

She was quite surprised that Ellen seemed to understand how aggravating it was to always be told to sit down. That comment would have been expected from a mother, but Ellen had never had a child.  She was quite perceptive.   “It is, but I try to remind myself that my friends and acquaintances are just worried about the child’s health and my own. And many of them also think I might go into labor at any moment."

 

Sophia leaned back on the fluffy pillow. “I think you might be able to make a fortune designing maternity gowns. Ladies may balk at first, but once they put them on, they will be sold.”

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"Two months ..." Ellen was surprised by that. "Are you having twins then? What does your midwife say?"

Said as she took the offered chair.

"I think that it is a natural reaction by all toward an expectant mother. And for some, who have husbands or family that are too overly cautious, I myself would probably be as you."

"But having said that I would still use caution and heed advice from women who have already had a child."

"Well tis possible I suppose that your child could come early but how are you to know? You do not seem in distress beyond the apparent I mean."

"Do you have your confinement place ready just in case? I suppose Spanish birthing is the same as here - rooms set aside for it and only your chosen married ladies in attendance and a few women servants. And the midwife and her attendants as well."

"Have you selected who will accompany you? I do hope that you will not be too strictly controlled. I am not even married nor with child but the idea of spending a month closed up in a few rooms with hardly any light or fresh air despite all the books or needlework I might have not a cheering idea."

"Yet that is the Way of it and so I shall no doubt do as every other woman has and accept.'

"As long as the child is born without issues and I survive then it will all be worth it."

She smiled at the unexpected praise.

"Really? I had not thought of it in those terms. Perhaps I should! But I am not as you Countess. I can not simply start something because I wish it."

"I have a Father as you well know and of late, well, let me just say that while his recovery is indeed a Miracle his way of seeing me is not the same."

"And now with Ophelia's dying under mysterious circumstances in Scotland  ...... Things have not been good."

She had revealed more than she had intended.

"Do forgive me. I should not be speaking of such distressing things around you. It might affect the child."

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“I have been afraid to ask, but I think if the midwife suspected I was carrying twins, she would have told me already. The baby is certainly active enough for two. I spend considerable time outdoors. Puppies and monkeys need to be walked. Maybe my child is extra healthy because it is getting lots of fresh air and sunshine.”

 

Ellen had a lot of questions about her plans for childbirth. “The child will be born in this house.  I have chosen a room for my confinement chamber and am furnishing it to my liking.” Her former enemy didn’t seem as set on tradition as some of Sophia’s friends, but she decided not to show her just how unconventional it was.

 

“My friends will likely be back at their estates before the baby comes, so I doubt there will be anyone but the midwife and her assistants to attend me. I may choose a different midwife. I am not very happy with the current one.” This was said because Henry was going to find one who would help them in the event that the baby was not Juan's, and  if she told everyone she knew she did not trust the midwife, she could call on them to vouch for her if Esteban put up a fuss.  Sophia also hoped to mention it in the hearing of a known gossip once everything was settled, so that it would reach her husband's ears.

 

It didn’t surprise her that Sir Cedric did not approve of Ellen's creativity. He had married his middle daughter to a nobleman and would expect to do the same with Ellen and Natalie. Natalie was too silly to protest, but Ellen had a good head on her shoulders and would probably not be content to be nothing but a wife and mother. She had ambition that should not be stifled.

 

The petite Countess was pleased to hear that Sir Cedric had recovered, though she gasped when told of Ophelia’s death. She had not known Ophelia well, as she had already been married by the time Sophia had moved in with the Doolittles. Sophia was better acquainted with her husband, Lord Melville. He had helped her avoid a serious mistake by translating a song for her.  He had most likely not come to court, but if she saw him, she would offer her condolences.

 

“I’m so sorry,” she said, reaching over the table to squeeze Ellen’s hand if she would permit it. It must be difficult to lose a sister. Ophelia had not been much older than Sophia. Though she wanted to know what had happened to her, she refrained from asking. As Ellen had said, it might upset the child, especially if Ophielia had suffered a horrible fate. 

 

“I meant to visit your father while he was ill, but the season ended before I could do it. Is he here at Windsor? I should offer him my condolences and while I am there, I can sing your praises as a clothing designer. Maybe that will help to sway him to your way of thinking. Have you other goals as well or is that your main interest?”

 

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"It must seem strange to you - this conversation about babies and childbirth - but I suppose it is a sign that Time has indeed moved forward as have the two of us."

"But you must have a midwife that is reliable as well as skilled. And she will also help you to find a wet-nurse if you do not have once amongst your own household."

She accepted the offer of comfort. She had grown quite skilled at it even tho her whole being wanted to cry out at the injustice and unfairness. But they would get to the bottom of it all.

"Thank You. It has indeed been hard. Lord Melville has returned so I have heard but we have not seen him. If he is here at Windsor then I hope he will come to us  ..... I can think how he must be suffering. And my niece reminds in Scotland. I had hoped that she would come to us here but she knows us not so it would be foolish to think it."

"I would suggest you come after the child is born - you know him and his ways. He will not think it 'Proper" for you to even be outside in your condition."

"You may send him a note if that is acceptable?"

She had to smile at the others questions.

"You could sing them for 40 days and nights and he will only see me as he wants. I am a 'woman' after all and I should know my place - wife mother and keeper of the household."

"He forgets that I have kept accounts for him for years and well managed his house. I am a familiar presence amongst the docks and have never been harmed. A head for business I do indeed have but again tis my sex that prohibits me from business."

"It would not matter if I were proper widow who wished to continue my dead husbands Trade or even to run an Establishment."

"But things might be changing. Something New may be headed my way. Tis early days yet so I can not say more."

"Have you a name for this child?"

The conversation was steered back away from her.

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“Oh, I’m quite accustomed to it now,” Sophia replied, patting her blossoming belly. “And I do like talking about it. Mothers tell me about their own experiences and give me good advice. Positive childbirth experiences make me less worried about going through it myself. My lord husband already makes sure I have the best of care. I’m sure the midwife has brought many children safely into the world. There’s just something about her attitude that I don’t like. I’m not even sure what it is.”

 

Ellen graciously accepted her sympathy and revealed that Lord Melville had returned to England, but perhaps not to Windsor. “If you do see him, then please give him my condolences. We don’t know each other well, but hopefully, he will remember me.”

 

As for Sir Cedric: “You are right, of course. He would probably send me away as soon as he saw me. I shall send him a note and tell him how talented you are and how much I appreciate the gowns you designed for me.”

 

It sounded to Sophia as if Ellen wanted to take over the family business. She wondered who Sir Cedric planned to leave his shipping empire to since he had no sons. His eldest daughter would most likely run it more efficiently than most men, and would probably expand it as well. It would definitely be an uphill battle to convince her father that she was the best person to succeed him, but Ellen was stubborn and clever and if anyone could do it, it was she.

 

Maybe the new opportunity Ellen spoke of would make her father sit up and take notice of her. The petite blonde wondered what it was.

 

“We have not discussed names yet. Maybe it is better to wait until after it is born so we will know whether we have a son or a daughter. He will probably want to give it a Spanish name, which I have no problem with. Perhaps its middle name can be German. Or maybe we can find a name that is used in both languages. Like my own, which is also popular in England as well.”

 

A servant entered with a pot of tea, two pretty porcelain cup, and a tray of sweet and savory snacks.  After everything was set on the table, Sophia poured the tea herself, handing one cup to Ellen.  There was also a bowl of sugar and a small pitcher of cream.

 

“Did you take care of the business while your father was ill?” she asked. “If so, I’m sure he has noticed. Just keep showing him what you can do and eventually, I think he will realize how skilled you are. He has to leave his empire to somebody. Why not you?” Sophia shrugged. “I suppose another way is to marry a timid, unambitious man and let your father believe that he is in charge when in reality, you take the lead.”

 

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"I suppose the name is an important thing - I know I should not like my son to be gifted with some name that would make others laugh or my daughter to have to carry a name from some ancient ancestor."

"Not that that is a bad thing but imagine naming a daughter Elthedred or Agnesta  ..."

She had to smile for they were indeed two from her own ancestors.

The tea cam then and she accepted her cup and then sipped thinking how best to answer.

"I have been keeping accounts for years and years as well as running His house - as you know. When my Mother died it was just something that was expected I guess."

"He never complained or found fault. I suppose when he was so ill and thought to not survive and Lord Melville was not here I wanted to make sure that the Business would continue."

"I sought out the GuildMasters with the intent to continuing as before but I was too far ahead of myself."

"It was as it will always be. I am a woman and thus not capable despite of doing it for years. The 'objection' was that no one - meaning men- would take orders from me."

"I even went to Lord Kingston but in the end I was betrayed."

"My Farther recovered and I was then made to pay the price for my rebellious nature."

"Lord Kingston suggested that I needed a good beating to make me see sense."

She shook her head a bit and sighed.

"That was not done but I am now reduced to just looking after the Household and I no longer do accounts."

"So your thinking that my father will grow to appreciate me is indeed misplaced."

"As to his fortune -well Lord Melville has returned and I would guess that he will soon be made the 'Heir'."

She had to laugh a bit at the last suggestion.

"Ah. Now there is a thought! I have seen enough of that type and it would easy enough to find a husband that way."

"But I do not see myself as a 'fishwife' so that idea may well impossible."

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Sophia wrinkled her nose. “I definitely don’t want my children to be stuck with names they will hate or be ridiculed for. I hope they will like their names as much as I like mine. I also prefer that it is not so common that too many other people share their names. Like ‘Charles’ for example. It is fashionable because of His Majesty, of course, but I would rather my child not have such a popular name. I think it might confuse them or diminish their sense of individuality as they grow older.”

 

She listened with interest  as Ellen related her attempt to run her father’s business. It sounded as if she had done quite a good job and had even taken steps to ensure it would continue in the event of Sir Cedric’s death. Sophia wished she could have been a fly on the wall when Ellen talked to Lord Kingston.

 

Her eyes widened when Ellen revealed that her former guardian had betrayed her. He had always seemed like a progressive thinker to her, but apparently he was close-minded about women owning businesses. Yet that attitude made no sense. He was friends with Catriona, and she owned a tea shop. Could Francis be biased toward Ellen because of how she had treated Sophia when she had lived with the Doolittles? She had complained about the other girl many times, but his hands had been tied. There had been nothing he could do about the animosity between them.

 

Francis had only heard her side of the story, in which she painted Ellen as a bully and herself as innocent of all wrongdoing. In reality, Sophia had given Ellen a lot of grief too. Maybe he had suggested she needed to be beaten because of how she had treated his ward.

 

“If it’s any consolation, Lord Kingston spanked me once when I disobeyed him. Maybe that’s the way he thinks women should be punished.”

 

It seemed unfair that everything Ellen had achieved had been snatched away from her and she was now allowed to do nothing more than manage her father’s household.

 

As Sophia had hoped, the other woman found her suggestion humorous. “A fisherman is not your only choice. There’s quite a few dull and apathetic noblemen at court.” She grinned wickedly. “Maybe you can find one who is handsome and good in bed, so he won’t be a total waste.” Unambitious gentlemen would likely be very pleased with Ellen’s large dowry.

 

“Have you talked to Lord Melville about the business? Maybe he doesn’t share your father’s views and will be willing to either let you assist him or turn the business over to you when the time comes.” Sophia was a bit too optimistic at times, but Lord Melville was a good man and she believed that he might be able to help Ellen if she confided in him.

 

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"I must admit that my view of that Gentleman has been somewhat altered now. He is in business with my father so naturally he knew what my capabilities were and are."

"That he thought that my character was in need of such a thing does indeed surprise me. Perhaps he is, after all, more like all those other Men that hold certain views of us."

"But he can be of no real help to me now and I will not seek his help either. He shall have to work hard to get back into my good graces."

She shook her head about Lord Melville.

"Tis not the right time to speak of it. My sisters death has hit him hard and now my little niece has no mother."

"Besides his mind will hardly be on anything other than her. We are still searching for the 'why' of it all."

"But there is a good chance we will never know that."

"But let us talk of other things - it can hardly be good for your child to hear such things."

"Well as to potential husbands  ..... it is true that the only draw would be my dowery ...... unless my father decides to reduce it or even not provide one."

"He has that right. But he is now too eager to marry both Myself and Natalie off as quickly as possible. Natalie is not wise enough yet to understand how married life would actually be."

"She thinks of all the Romantic Tales and so imagines that it will be like that for her. He will not care if she weds afore me as well. There is no 'order' in his mind."

"I would like to marry a titled Gentleman just to spite him!"

"Perhaps you should play matchmaker Lady Toledo?"

She was teasing. 

Maybe.

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