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Skullduggery or Seduction? | Saturday morning of the 17th

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Close to the turret wall that led to the Upper Ward was a waterfall that in summer provided the beautiful ladies of court with some refreshment in warm summer afternoons. Even now it called with soft murmuring sounds to passers bye. Framed by well filled vines it held an unearthly beauty which whispered of fae and other myths of a far past. During the night the owl living in the hollow apple tree nearby called out its weary warning before going on his hunt for mice.


The weather was perfect for an outdoor intrigue - mist lay around about adding to the exquisite drama of it all... it was better than the finest playwright might have written for his stage.  Well, no, maybe equally as good as Moliere. 

And of course Darlene was carrying a Moliere book "The Imaginary Cockold' as she appeared from the mists to the waterfall.  A red velvet cloak covered her bears-fighting-on-top-of-mauled-lifeguard gown, the hood up over her pretty hairstyle.  Bright eyes looked all about...

Lord Chatham might be wondering what Darlene was going to tell him, and equally, Darlene wondered the same.

It had occurred to her that soliciting one Charles to kill another Charles wife was a dreadful thing, even if it would be terribly interesting for her memoirs, it might land her in The Tower, again.  So perhaps she would be better to compromise, and marry this other Charles instead.  No doubt he already loved her, for he'd offered to shelter her, and she didn't need to be very clever to understand what that actually meant.

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Charles was waiting, slouching slightly directly beside the waterfall, so still he might have been a statue in the morning mist. He was holding up his snuffbox, apparently admiring his reflection in the mirror under its lid but actually keeping a careful watch for Darlene. Though, he mused, it was a reflection well worth admiring – Wodehouse had, with customary quiet, efficient competence, laid out a perfect outfit for a clandestine meeting in a public place. Burgundy justacorps, with golden scrollwork on the sleeves and collar, over waistcoat and breeches of pastel yellow and the de rigueur red-heeled court shoes. His stockings, cravat and eye patch were all burgundy too, and a golden cravat pin and pocket watch added their lustre at throat and navel, while his rapier hung in its restrained elegance on his left hip. (He had a pistol concealed in his pocket, too, just in case, but very much doubted he would need it.) The crowning triumph of the ensemble, however, was the (frankly magnificent, in his opinion) tricorn perched rakishly atop his head, bearing two ostrich feather plumes, one burgundy and the other pastel yellow.

(Wodehouse kept to very strict colour themes, and Charles had long ago learned not to argue.)

It is, in short, very noticeable, and thus ideal for avoiding notice at court.

The sound of footsteps reached him, muted by both the mist and the falling water, and he straightened. He was very curious to find out what this was all about, for Darlene's note had his instincts sniffing the air like an eager hunting hound. He had a wholly unwholesome love for intrigue and skulduggery, and this promised both.

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There was a figure near the fountain, so still he might have been a statue - but statues did not boast feather plumes like that...

The cloaked lady drew nearer, as though pass by the water feature, though in fact she was checking the identity of the man. (She'd gotten into a great bother of trouble over mixed identity, it was a lesson a lady only needed to learn once.) 

"It is you my lord Adventurer." she breathed as she became certain that the gent (who looked rather more dandified than memory served) was identified as Chatham via the very apparent patch over one eye, "praise the saints first for your swift, then again for your assuring missive, and a third time for choice of the waterfall to meet. Any spies shall be pressed to hear a word we speak," to do her part she moved her hand to adjust her hood. So as lipreaders too might also be stumped.  "Such a clever choice, you are plainly quite good at all this clandestine. Just as well, for it is a horribly dark subject of which we might speak"

"But first, it need be said Lord Chatham, that you look rather fine - I've ever been partial to a cocked hat, and yours is of such a fine size as to impress." a pause as lady further adjusted her cloak, "is that beaver or rabbit fur felt?"  

Tricorns were terribly fashionable items of course, but they also spoke of the level of a gents wealth, thus inquiring minds needed to know. 

Edited by Darlene Hamilton
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Charles caught sight of an approaching figure in his mirror and tucked the snuffbox away, then shifted slightly, as though adjusting his weight. Purely coincidentally, the movement ensured that his blind spot was covered by the turret wall, and left him with clear space behind him if he needed to open distance. He was almost certain that this was Darlene, but that was no excuse for poor tradecraft. 

The precautions were unnecessary, as it happened, for it was Darlene.

And, given that Wodehouse has not raised the alarm, it appears she was not followed.

"Lady Adventuress. You are a veritable vision. Why, in this mist, you might but have just stepped out from Avalon to amuse yourself among we poor benighted mortals," he greeted smilingly in turn, doffing his hat and sweeping an elegant bow, exactly as he would have were this a chance meeting. Straightening, he waved away her compliments.

"No gentleman could have been anything other than swift, having received such a note," he said, "and besides which, there is no secrecy comparable to celerity, and you emphasized the need for both."

(Francis Bacon had said that, he thought, but it was a good thought and better phrasing and Charles felt no shame in borrowing it.)

"I am glad that you found my reply reassuring. I would never doubt your nerve or your resolve, but such secret matters put a strain on one, I know." He laughed. "And I am doubly glad that you evidently have some skill in matters clandestine yourself, to know at once the reasoning behind our meeting place. It being outdoors and open, I had thought, too, that it would make it harder for anyone to observe us without being themselves observed, but the mist has thwarted me there, however helpful it is in other respects."

Darlene was quite good at this, he thought, breaking up their discussion with small talk, stretching the conversation and making it appear more natural. He grinned approvingly at her and doffed his hat once again, offering it forward for her perusal. He had spent some of his winnings from the Merry Gang wager on it, and judged it well worth the expense. The only good advice he had ever gotten from his father, after all, had been never to stint on hats, gloves, shoes or the wages of your manservant.

"Thank you for the compliment, my lady. My manservant will be most gratified to hear you think so – he goes to great lengths in that cause. The hat is beaver, to answer your question. It holds the shape better, I am told, and certainly it looks... crisper, which better suits me I think."

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Sometimes Darlene wished that part of her misspent youth had been spent in study of the classics. Mostly because people, well men especially, kept on coming up with reasons to talk about Greek (or other equally mystifying) highbrow legends to her. 

It was practically endemic.

It was almost as if there was some arc plot to try baffle her, so constant did it happen.

“Oh yes 'Avalon'.” Her lashes fluttered with no understanding.  Though was that something to do with Arthur and the legend of Robin hood?

Offering her hand as he swept into a doffed-hat bow, she drew ever nearer. “I must admit, I am quite frightened.” And in keeping with her theatre she looked behind her before searching Charles face for clues to what he meant when he said celebrity. Or had he said celibacy? It could not have been Cellery.

“Sometimes, I don’t realise quite all the gravity of what I was meaning…  one can never have too much Celler…” she mumbled the last half of the word she’d not understood.

“I noticed those other respects also.” She spoke quicker and more happily as he used words she understood again. “And thankyou for noticing my comfort with duplicity, it is something I’ve worked tirelessly to perfect. Why I really must tell you about Mortimer Brightwick one day – oh but not right now, when there are serious matters at hand.”

He too appreciated the essential nature of their time, thus wasted no moment removing again his hat and providing it for her inspection.  “Oh my…” she stroked the felt, “and likely more resistant to moisture I should think. Such a clever thing. Why it has me suddenly think that they should build boats out of fish scales, so they might better slip through the water.” She crooned a happy pleasure feeling affirmed that Charles was wealthy enough to afford her the lifestyle she was accustomed to.

“But do you think we ought to sit? I do not mean to be, but feel a tad… well nervous at the knees. And. Well I would not wish to faint, for fear you might think less of me.”  A pause, “Not that I am usually a fainter, but rather, I am terribly robust.”

But still, she’d prefer to sit.

“Oh dear, Lord Chatham. I have such an dreadful pickle that I hardly know where to start!”

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For his own part, Charles peppered his speech with classical references because he had been compelled to study them in great detail in his youth and thus, quite apart from having developed no small liking for them in the end (out of self-defence, as it were), felt obliged to show that neither his efforts nor those of his tutors had been in vain. It genuinely did not occur to him that some might them obscure, save for when he was maliciously showing up someone's lack of erudition, which he tried to avoid these days. If he was going to do someone an injury he preferred it be mortal, or at least debilitating.

Fortunately for them both, perhaps, (for Charles would have been, not embarrassed, but at the least discomfited to realise that he was not communicating clearly) he was distracted from Darlene's difficulty in following him by her admission of fright. He taken her as somewhat like him, just a trifle too fey to bother with physical fear, and her confession that it was otherwise had a corner of his mind reassessing just how serious this matter was, even as the rest of him focused on their light conversation. 

He laughed at her jest about building ships from fish scales and replaced his hat before offering her his arm.

"But of course we ought to sit, my lady. Forgive me for keeping you standing – I quite forgot my manners," he said smoothly, drawing her to a bench.

"And worry not. I know you to be made of stern stuff. It is merely that such matters can wear one down, especially when one must bear them alone," he continued in a murmur, offering his best attempt at a gentle smile. "But I will help bear you up, if you tell me what needs to be done."

Internally, he wondered. Darlene's nerve was fraying, it seemed. 

Should I perhaps advise her to feign an illness and retreat to the countryside? Of course, it is possible that she exaggerates her distress as a means of seeking comfort, too...

Sitting, he decided to be greatly daring and took Darlene's hands in his, both as a gesture of support and a means of surreptitiously checking her pulse.

"Take your time," he encouraged. "Tell me of our opponent or opponents and what you know of their intent, to begin with. Then we can at least start to plan our defence."

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Grateful of the offered arm, she moved to sit with him at a bench. “There is precedent for confession to be done seated.” said she, still not sure how much, if at all, she’d unload the great heaping of troubles upon Charles head.  She was a tad fond of him for how daring he painted himself (if any of it was true), so that she did not want to frighten him away. 

But he reassured so nicely, so that she inhaled and loosed a sigh of relief. “Why I think I am feeling better already, the only way to improve the preamble would be if we were to kiss.”

She did not mean to say such, but, well it had been a long time since she’d enjoyed such physical touch, and Chatham was being so very nice. He took her hands even.

“You are being clever again Lord Chatham, for it would be better to pretend to be lovers, than for the plot of which I am about to tell you to be revealed.”

His gesture indeed bolstered her, so that she felt able at last to begin.

“Well you see… I do not like being widowed, it suits me not at all. So it was that I accepted the advances of a suitor. It was going all very well in fact, though he did not want our engagement made public, claiming that it a game to see who of our friends would be first to guess.”

It was then that Darlene realised she was going to tell Lord Chatham the actual truth.

“You might remember perhaps, on the night of our last adventure, my excitement break that plan and disclose all.”

Did he even remember that, possibly not. The ladies who had been there were les likely to have forgot.

“Alas, I then learnt that he was no gentleman at all, but instead a rogue, who expected me to approve of his constant stream of lovers (whom I had not previously known of at all), with no intent to discard that occupation even after we were married.”

Though Darlene was prone to exaggerating the truth, her tone and vulnerable expression might inform the gent that this was her in honest.

“Distraught, I then visited a past admirer… and it was then that the situation… became… worse even if possibly better.”

She met Charles good eye, seeking a glint of understanding therein. Not everyone understood her, she knew.  Perhaps she’d spoken too long, or too quickly.

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"I'll need my wits about me for this sort of business," Charles said lightly in reply to Darlene's mention of a kiss, "and unfortunately I can think of little better way for me to lose them." 

That he would otherwise be more than happy to kiss her was the obvious, and intended, implication.

"That is the obvious, and perhaps best, defence against discovery," he agreed, as she went on to suggest that they use of pretence of being lovers to lessen any suspicion of the two of them conspiring together. "Though if for the sake of your reputation you should instead feel the need to slap me and tell me my advances are unwelcome if anyone stumbles across us, I shall quite understand."

Darlene seemed to be recovering her poise as they spoke, thankfully, and soon she seemed able to reveal the plot she had written of. Charles was more than eager to learn the details, if he was honest, but he mastered that eagerness and listened patiently and attentively as Darlene spoke.

This talk of her engagement seemed a non-sequitur at first, but he trusted it was going somewhere.

"I do remember. To Lord Langdon, you implied?" Though what attraction that wooden-headed pompous prig could have for a woman like Darlene, Charles could not say.

And still less for a 'constant stream of lovers.' Well, rank and power are an aphrodisiac, I suppose, and to be entirely fair the man is not ugly, but still...

Charles roused himself from his uncharitable thoughts.

"He told you that he intended – and pray pardon my indelicacy – he intended to keep a stable of mistresses?" That seemed to require a response, even for Charles, who might not understand monogamy but did understand the need for tact and discretion in one's extramarital affairs. "The cad!"

He shook his head, genuinely baffled. How could any man be so cack-handed as to say that so bluntly to his intended?

Darlene went on, and Charles found himself frowning. Was there some impediment to her marrying this other admirer, or did she mean some other possible interpretation?  

"'Worse, but possibly better?' This man you think worthy then?" he asked. "I must ask for clarity my lady, and hope you will forgive my slow-wittedness. Is there some obstacle? Has Langdon acted against you or him?"

He didn't see how this merited all this secrecy, either.


A horrible, wonderful suspicion struck him.

Could one of Langdon's doxies, or Langdon himself, be a foreign agent? And Darlene somehow discovered this?

Unlikely, he decided, though a world where the Life Guard had had one of its leading officers subverted would look very similar to this one. (And, in his opinion go some way to explaining their incompetence. Charles did not think much of the Life Guard in general.)

No, I have no reason to think it so, though I should bear the possibility in mind, just in case

Edited by Charles Audley
Somehow left out the last two paragraphs initially.
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“How considerate to think of such thing in advance.” Darlene couldn’t help but smile for his injection of humour with permission to slap.  Besides, it was a clever ruse to add.  She did typically present a proper face to court, though that did not make her a dull woman on any account.

“Yes, that was he, Charles Whitehurst.” Since Charles Audley already knew who it was, Darlene had even less reason to speak nicely of him.

“That is exactly what he said. Worser still, he told me that one of his current mistresses was now pregnant with his child. You probably know her, it is Catherine Sedley now completely ruined."  

“I of course told him that he ought then do the honorable thing, marry her so that the child will be legitimate when it is born. But he seemed to think the woman not up to his standard. “ she shook her head, it was hard to believe she’d ever thought well of that man. “There is no way I coud tolerate such a vile attitude in a suitor. And thank you Lord Chatham, for your tone and words for validating my opinion on that score.

“Though Ive never met, I have seen Lord Sedley at court, he is a playwight, a fine thinker, and does not deserve his daughter to be treated like that.”  She had not meant to get upset again, but baring all this brought the feelings back.  “What was worst to my heart, was that he seemed to think I was of the same ilk as he, as though I was little better than a whore. And... that I am also not of a standard to take as a wife. " 

“In fact, I think I realised then he’d never been serious about me.  I felt so truly foolish, to have held a hope of a happy life.”

Shaking herself back to sense, well as much sense as she could muster these days, she moved on.  For defaming Langdon was not todays purpose.

“But yes, the other Gentleman, and good heavens you shall likely know him too. Or at least, by the end of this conversation he would be identified – so I might as well speak his name to you direct.  It is Lord Mountjoy.  A gentleman, and one that I can be fairly certain would not treat me with the same lack of care. But of course, while expressing words of love, lamenting unrequited affections, and telling me there was none other like me.  Even saying that he yearned for a distant wedding day we might share…

“But well… well you surely appreciate the obstacle. And. Well, I cannot be sure if is was he or I that is then charged with remedying that?  But, for that I am (if only slightly) less scrutinised at court, then I think he intended me to find that solution.  But meanwhiles… well I daren’t do very much myself for even now I feel the cads eyes upon me still with a glower.  You see I fully ended things with him, but still Langdon seems to want to repair. He sent me a gift over the recess. Naturally I returned it, opened only a little bit.

“But… well what am I to do?  I have now finally discovered a better match, but, well while I am fearless I am not a fool.  And. Well neither are you my lord.

“I shall confess that when I wrote my note to you, I imagined you might become my hero and dispatch the problem. But. Well truly I think entirely too highly of you also.  I would not truly put you into that situation.”

And so that is what Darlene said, it was not the solution that her romantic mind had last night imagined. Why, in fact, it only left her all alone with no prospects still. Realising that she heaved a breath, lowering her eyes, a tear fell as she blinked. 


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Well then.

It was not often that Charles was surprised, and still less often that he would admit to it, but 'surprise' was frankly too mild a word for what he felt as Darlene went on. This, whatever this actually was, was not at all what he had expected from her note.

(He was also not sure whether to feel flattered or offended that, asked to pick an assassin from the English court, Darlene had selected him. It made sense, he grudgingly decided. Charles looked dangerous and thoroughly villainous and, in the absence of Pembroke and his violent reputation, that was probably enough to leave him clear of any competition.)

I was frightfully casual when she told me about stabbing Killigrew, too, which likely did not help my case...

But those mental meanderings were unimportant, and he set them aside to focus on the important task of making sure he finally understood what was going on.

"Lord Mountjoy? The Queen's Master of Horse?" he asked, just on the off chance that there was another Mountjoy he had not heard of. Grace, he remembered belatedly, had suggested last season that there might be some discord between the Marquess and his wife, and it was no stretch or surprise that a man might find himself taken with Darlene.

But even so, I cannot conceive of that dapper, gregarious gentleman from the Fencing Hall as an uxoricide.

"And you thought I could..." he settled on a euphemism, "smooth the path for the pair of you, as it were?"

He shook his head.

"Believe me, my lady, I know well the lengths passion can drive one to, but even were it practical to clear the weeds choking the flowers of romance – " what on earth was he saying? That was like something from his early attempts at poetry! " – the Marquess is by all accounts an honourable man. To take such precipitous action would leave rot at the core of anything you might build thereafter, and that rot would surely in time consume the whole, and turn your joy to ashes."

Darlene seemed to be leaning away from murder as a solution, but given her somewhat fey nature and the fact that she had tried to stab Killigrew Charles thought it best to make sure she was thoroughly dissuaded on as many grounds as possible, and remained so.

Should I tell Mountjoy?

'An excellent riposte, my lord. Well struck. Incidentally, did you know that your mistress was planning to have me assassinate your wife so that you and she could be wed?'

That needed further consideration, he decided, and more tactful phrasing. A far more immediate concern was Darlene's growing distress. Quite apart from a general dislike of seeing women cry, Charles had no idea what Darlene might do in a state of emotional disturbance.

"None of that now," he said soothingly, fishing out a monogrammed handkerchief and offering to her. "Even in a court so richly adorned, you are a pearl beyond price in your character, wit and beauty. If Langdon is too blind of eye and thick of wit to see that, and too base and coarse of character to forswear his trulls for you, then the loss is entirely his, and even I, who had no great opinion of him, am astounded at the depths of his folly. Court is full of gentlemen his superior in all such regards, who would thank God on bended knee were you to so much as grace them with a glance, and who are free to wed, unlike Lord Mountjoy. It hurts, my lady, I know, but the pain will pass if you let it, and you will have joy again."

He gave her hands a comforting squeeze. This was not an area in which he thought himself competent, and he had no real idea what he was doing, but he was managing fairly well, he thought.

"And in the interim, perhaps you will allow me to do you the service of speaking to Langdon, too, on the virtues of letting go."

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“Yes that is him.” She confirmed “The Solicitor General, which I think is more important than all the solicitors specific.”

Chatham’s direct question then, though poetically phrased, was a guilt inspiring thing.  “You had said how you laugh in the face of danger, so I thought it would be a mere nothing to you. But, but yes I have now reconsidered.  It was a terrible idea, and…"

“… and you are right that it would marr my opinion of him ever after.  Why, what if he should become enamoured with some new gentle lady some seasons after our marriage, might I too find my life under threat?  I need not be a lawyer to know setting such a president would be very dangerous."

She sighed, figuring she had to progress this lonely course now.  Even the reckless and brave adventurer Lord Chatham thought it the best option.

Which meant she still had no one.

“Thank you.” With his pretty cloth squab she dabbed eyes too warm,  listening to his claims that she was a desirable match and that any man who did not see that was deficient.  It would be easy enough to transfer her hopes from the second Charles and onto the third.  But she’d figured out how this all worked now.  Men easily said many nice things about a lady that they had no intention in themselves keeping.

And probably this Charles was the same, even though he, like the first Charles, was unmarried.

“It is kind of you to say.” She took a slow shuddered breath tying to compose herself.  “You have been very kind entirely.  There is no other that I might that I might think to call upon, nor who would attend so diligently. And I especially appreciated your offer of shelter. Though as for that I can always stay with my brother.”

She did not want to become governess for her brother and his wife’s children. But, perhaps that was what life would come to.


It hurts, my lady, I know, but the pain will pass if you let it, and you will have joy again.

IN a moment of honesty with herself, she recalled that Lord Mountjoy had said this also.

“Forgive me milord, I am a tad emotional of it.  But yes, you have my permission, in fact gratitude to give Lord Langdon a dressing down. He might claim he did not, but he truly did lead me along, and I was a fool to believe him.

“I apologise, but need must take a moment.  I wish to remain here a little while till I can compose myself. My room is upon the second floor and odds are I shall pass somebody when returning.  It shall take me a little while to be able to muster a nothing-is-wrong smile for them. 

She sniffed, really she wanted a good cry but this was neither time nor place for it. 

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"Laughing at danger is one thing. There are other considerations," Charles said, a trifle sharply, having found that he was in fact a little offended that Darlene had expected him to play assassin at her whim. The only whim he had ever killed at was his own, and even that only as a younger man. He needed a reason now, something to gain or defend, and a pretty pair of eyes no longer qualified.

But getting angry with Darlene for her presumption would serve as little purpose as getting angry with his younger self for his catlike approach to killing would have done – none whatsoever.

"But you know that, and acknowledge it, and so there is no need for us to discuss it further," he said with a smile, his tone softening. "Let us leave it in the past."

Despite his best efforts to cheer her, and her own to compose herself, Charles felt Darlene remained brittle. That was cause for concern, and so Charles attempted again to steady her. Cheering her up was probably impossible, but he might manage begrudging acceptance, if not equanimity.

"I do not say it to be kind, my lady, but because it is true. Why, were I not in the process of becoming otherwise entangled myself..." That was a mistake, he realised even as the words left his mouth, and he pressed on, just a little hastily, to try and rectify it.

"Why, all we need do, once you feel ready, is decide which of court's eligible gentlemen would suit you best. Have you met Lord Grey? A fine gentleman, and a scholar, of most upstanding character – " or so Charles would claim until and unless the evidence to the contrary became overwhelming " – and who would appreciate, I think, the introduction of your effervescence to his life."

(He would have thrown Kingston in too, but despite that gentleman's manifold qualities the scurrilous broadsheet campaign against him would leave him a hard sell, Charles judged.)

His offer to remonstrate with Langdon went down slightly better, which gave him something to look forward to.

Why, the right setting and the proper audience and I could thoroughly spike his guns, for a time at least.

For now, though, Darlene wished for privacy. Charles rose and bowed.

"If you wish, my lady, I could linger nearby and head off any who might approach before you have composed yourself?" he offered.

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She'd offended him, but he would forgive and move past. Darlene nodded quietly of this fact, not wanting to make things worse with claims of innocence.  The life that she could so easily imagine never did pan out, which was possibly best.  She did not really want to have a death on her conscience, there were enough things she regretted already. 

Leaving something to The Past, as he said, did not remove it. 

"Oh. Oh congratulations Lord Chatham." there was no reason for her eyes to fill again, but tears brinked.  From her none-the-wiser perspective it seemed others found matches so easily.  "I am sure you shall be very happy." 

Moments like this she remembered her engagement to Thomas, and how everything, for a little while, had been perfect. It was hard knowing that it had been herself that had ruined it.  And then now, now she knew she would not be marrying Lord Mountjoy... and perhaps he was safer that way.  

"Um. Yes I have met Lord Grey.  He is a fine gentleman."  She'd met him, they danced once, and then the other day he'd come over to greet her at the welcome reception.  Did he want to court her?  In her current troubled state she could not imagine it. 

"Thank you. and yes, I would appreciate that."  He proved so very kind to volunteer to stay a moment longer at a distance, navigating any walkers away while she gathered herself.  Whoever it was that Chatham was to marry, was a fortunate woman.  He was possibly even as thoughtful as her Thomas had been.

So she remained a time. Dabbing face dry, closing eyes and drawing in longer breaths till her lungs became steady once more.  Sitting a little while thus.  Darlene let her ears and thoughts turn outwards, attending to the distant sounds far beyond her grief. 

It was perhaps five minutes later, perhaps less, or a little more, she became aware of the book still in her hands. It was Chatham’s book, she’d meant to return it.  The small duty was enough to promote her to her feet, and to look around, to see where he might be, that she might pass by him and press the book to his hands with a silent (if sad) smile of thanks.  


Fin & Thankyou for a thoughtful thread. 


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Charles inclined his head again in answer to Darlene's acceptance and walked away just far enough to give her privacy. What he wanted to do, really, was anticipate the pleasure of chivalrously and gallantly dressing Langdon down, to plan such that that conversation had the best setting and audience to thoroughly embarrass Langdon. Quite apart from the enjoyment inherent in satisfying his (quite irrational, he would cheerfully admit) spite, Darlene had asked it of him and he still bore her a great deal of fondness, even if she had assumed that he was a cheap assassin. If he could make a large enough scandal for Langdon, it might even help Kingston and distract from those nonsense rumours swirling around.

But there was another concern.

He would have to tell Mountjoy, Charles decided. Not everything, perhaps, but enough to get the other man to keep an eye on Darlene, for Charles was still not sure that she was not a danger to herself or others. But even that was not the main question occupying his mind.

Why was he doing this? Why did he care? He was passing fond of Darlene, yes, but he had been passing fond of many people he had left to their self-destruction and of some whose destruction he had actively connived at. There was one answer readily apparent to him, and he was not sure he liked it.

He cared because Mary was dead and he had not been able to stop it, had not even been aware that there had been any danger. He cared because some deeply stupid part of him had, without consulting those parts of him capable of higher reason, decided that this would in some way balance the scales a little.

Rank stupidity. Worse, even – weakness.

He was not so deep in his reverie to miss the sounds of Darlene's approach, and so she found him alert. He accepted the book back with an answering smile but without words, respecting her need for silence, and bowed once more in farewell as she took her leave.


OOC: Fin. Thoughtful indeed!

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