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A Quiet Chat, 9/18,Sunday Evening, The Mountjoys Apartments

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A Quiet Chat, Sunday Evening, The Mountjoy’s Apartments

Although they were able to see each other periodically throughout the day it was difficult, with the constant interruptions and public nature of their service, to be able to converse in any depth or privacy. Charles had discovered that the best times for he and Ursula to spend some quiet uninterrupted time together was in the evening after their duties and social commitments were done for the evening and they could converse about anything or everything quietly together without the need to maintain their public personalities. Ursula had very fine blond hair that she took great care of by having her maid brush her golden locks before retiring. When they were newly married Charles would often join his wife, dismiss the maid, and brush her hair himself quietly discussing various subjects. Once she became Mistress and he Equerry to the Queen these moments became rarer but Charles still enjoyed them.

Ursula was in her room doing things that women do. He was not exactly sure what such things were but it involved many jars and vessels of creams and oil and powders and the like. He once asked what all the accoutrements were for and was told it was to ‘moisturize’ but when he asked why she didn’t just splash some water on her face he was told he could leave the room. Since then he refrained from commenting upon the growing collection of apothecarist articles which festooned his wife’s dressing table.

He himself was in his own room at his dressing table which contained a much sparser collection of appurtenances. He had a washbasin with a towel and water that met his moisturizing needs, a jar of tooth powder, bottle of cologne that he had purchased in Cologne, a razor, brush and comb on a silver trey and a bit of deer antler. The antler did not do anything he just thought it looked nice. As he sat there fondling his antler he recalled his truncated conversation with Ursula as they made their way to the King’s dinner and thought that it might be a good time for a quiet chat as she seemed to be a bit apprehensive about something. He casually put down his antler and made his way to Ursula’s room.

There was a soft knock upon Ursula’s door. “Do you mind if I come in My Dear.”

As there was no objection he entered. He was casually dressed in his colorful banyan with but comfortable shirt and britches underneath and velvet slippers. He was not even wearing a wig or headwrap. Was he feeling frisky?  He was carrying a small red silk bag which he placed in front Ursula as he pulled up a stool to be next to her.

“I have brought you something Dearest, open it.” Upon opening she would see a boar-bristle hair brush of rosewood chased with silver inlay. “When boars are in rut they develop a hard layer of fat in their shoulders to protect them when they fight other boars. This causes their bristles to become stronger and coarser which makes them perfect for use as a hair brush. I have been collecting the finest bristles I could find and had this made for you. Hope you like it.”   

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"Come through Schnucki*..." Ursula called warmly to Charles question, and entering the room he found her arranging her ribbons.  Well organised ribbons really did peel off the minutes when getting prepared in the mornings, her maid otherwise fussed about for ages to find the right shade for hair tie etc.  

Ursula was wearing a satin house robe in a print that closely resembled peacock plumage. The robe hung loosely over her chemise, her hair currently in a loose bun, while her feet were quite bare aside from white stockings.

She paused with a lavender toned ribbon in hand and smiled at his approach, the bag in his hand caught her attention of course. Her husband was kind enough not to keep her wondering for long. Letting ribbon fall to lap she opened the bag and reached in, discovering the hair brush in tandem with his explanation to it's composition. 

Earlier on in their marriage she'd have been surprised if he spoke of animals rutting within this her gentle bedroom, but she'd come to understand his viewpoint was pragmatist.  When it came to animals, the hunting or habits of, her husband never spoke in inuendo. That simply would not occur to him. 

"How fascinating." she marvelled, with just a touch of dismay (fear it might have Boar-taint).  "The bristle must be in defence of their backs, for during their beastly fights for dominance over the herd?" She guessed at that, and then with a gentler smile spoke, "It is a great treasure, thank you so, and such a practical use for the trophy hide." she passed Charles the exquisitely finished brush, and turned in her seat.  Her face now looking at his through the reflection of her dressing table mirror.  Might we try it out together, like old times?"

Initially at least she did not catch whiff of a rank stench, surely her very finesses husband had considered that and had taken some lengths to address it.  If not, then they might soon discover the problem together.  'Together we have faced worse', she thought but kept to herself. 



* A german term of affection; Sweetie pie.

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She need not have worried for the bristles had been processed and cleaned and did not smell of anything at all aside from a faint odor of polished rosewood which if anything was quite pleasant. “Oh yes, it is quite tough and prevents serious injury during their fights for Boars can be quite vicious. That is why you want to hold the spear low and go for an uppercut…” he trailed off “…well, I need not bore you with the details. Ha, I made a pun, bore you about a boar” he snickered pleased with his inadvertent humor. “I shall have to remember that when I am next at the club.” Settling down he took the offered brush and smiled when she asked him to try it out. “That is precisely the reason I wished to give you the gift in the first place Dearest.”

He undid her bun, not as efficiently as her maid would have done, and looked at her ribbons. “You do not care for blue ribbons?” He asked nonchalantly as he let her hair fall. He did not sound like he meant anything deeper by the question. She could see his reflection in the mirror as he held her now lose hair and inhaled. “Eins…zwei…” He counted at the first stroke and again at the second for he would normally run the brush across her hair one hundred times. He looked up and although he was seated behind her their reflections in the mirror made it as if they were speaking face to face. “I will have to start counting in English soon as I cannot recall the German word for eleven.”

There was something comforting in this simple form of intimacy which facilitated conversation for any hesitancy or awkward pauses could be obscured by the recurring brushing. He had an inkling that Ursula had some things on her mind yet he did not press enabling her to set the pace of the conversation by silent encouragement.


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She knew instantly what he was talking about, and her fair complexion was saddened by it. 

"Blue ribbons remind me of one I  lost..." it pained her to say, but she did so truthfully.   That rhinestones upon blue ribbon choker had never turned up.  She supposed it never would. His eyes met hers though the reflective pane, and she averted her gaze for he saw right into her soul. 

He was a gentleman though, and spoke on and about the brush. The touch of his hands upon her hair as he let down the bun, and then commencement of brushing, and she hyper aware of it.  Her eyes slid closed, for the depth of her love and sadness.

"I am surprised my dear, for we always order your favourite dark buns by the bakers dozen. Twelve is zwolf, and if we don’t have dreizehn weve been short changed ."  she fell silent a time, his brushing held a soothing rhythm, and his closeness too, was quietening.  There were things she did want to speak about, yet she discovered herself loathe to spoil this moment. But he was her sole confidant, there was nobody else she could take these troubled thoughts to. 

"Charles?" she begun, but found herself needing his assent even at this almost point nothing of a point.  

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“Oh.” He said as she explained about the ribbon and the innocuous reason why she di d not wear it. As their gaze met in the mirror, he could tell that it upset her. His brush stroke faltered for a second before resuming. “I see, it is vexing when one cannot find something one are looking for but you should not fret over it. The colour blue suits your eyes so well It would be a shame to let such a trifle put you off. I shall buy you another ribbon to remind you of what you have gained. Would you perhaps like something in pale green to compliment the emeralds the Queen gifted you?”

It was disappointing that the rhinestoned ribbon was lost for it had some sentimental value but he had given it to her in the first place to make her happy and he would not want its loss to upset her or make her think that he blamed her in any way for the loss. As he eyes were closed she could feel the breath upon her neck as he said soothingly. “It is enough that you valued the gift and the sprit it was given. The physical loss is immaterial.”

“But darling, I never get dreizehn buns. If I have more than zwei you look at me like I am being gluttonous so I can hardly be expected to remember. Oats for the horses come in sacks of vierundzwanzig pounds so I am able to recall that number easily.” He answered teasingly as if she accused him unjustly. Charles had a great appetite yet never seemed to gain weight.

The light moment did not seem to last very long as Ursula became serious again. She was obviously burdened by something that she found difficult to discuss. She had been upset by her treatment by the Queen’s Ladies as she as she felt it called into question her own conduct and that she had somehow failed the King and the Queen. He had spoken to the King and reassured her that His Majesty retained full confidence in her abilities going so far to say that any ladies disputing her abilities could be dismissed so he hoped she had no cause for concern on that score. There was also the specter of her ability to bear children that hung over both their heads. They had yet to discuss the ramifications of that but there was little that could be said or done to alter the harsh reality of nature. The doctors could have been wrong but only time would tell.

He had not an inkling of what the subject might be that weighed upon her so but he was ready to listen. “Yes Ursula.” Was all he said as he continued to brush her hair.  

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Men tended to try fix things, but in this case there was nothing that could be done, so Charles offered a distraction instead.  She shook her head just a little, not enough to disturb, "No, there is no need of more green." she replied, "I'd prefer in fact not to be reminded of that either."

Perhaps it was her mood these days, but Charles reply seemed contrary.  "Well then it is I who orders baking by the bakers dozen, though I am certainly not eating those all, we run a house hold do we not." she replied too quickly, and then sighed. It was likely because he was a man that he’d order just one bun if he felt like a bun. That just was not how a woman thought, especially one with as many persons depending upon her as Ursula.

Silence fell, her eyes slid closed as she endeavoured to compose herself through a flush of heat that possessed no reason.  She felt like crying, but did not, instead she tried to figure how to speak of the things she kept secreted in her mind.  Sadnesses and disappointments that seemed to not touch her Lord Husband at all.

The other evening she had tried to hint, but there had been no time to say more.

So she prompted, and he permitted she say more, his voice doing so was needed to help spur words forth. Though his tone so neutral still, so that she fully knew that he had no cue to the sea of troubles that disturbed her. 

"Perhaps I should return the Emeralds with my resignation Charles."  (She'd not thought to return the gift till his mention of that just now, but his mention of them, had her think that might also be fore the best.)  "You see, ever since I thought I would be dismissed, and for a moment felt the sheer relief of it, but then the duty did not leave me after all. Well, ever since then it has seemed like a great burden I can no longer bear.  And that, in tandem with the..." 

She could not stop the tears then, which slid down her cheeks, "The loss of our baby.  I cannot continue with it Charles. I cannot bear trying to behave as though everything is just fine, overseeing young ladies outings, checking lists and monitoring correspondence, putting on a smile as everyone speaks so delighted of the Royal Christening - when inside my heart is broken."    

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Charles had attempted, in typical English fashion, to be droll about his translations and consumptions of buns. Unfortunately, irony could be perilous when speaking to a German for they often took phrases or attempts at humor quite literally. Ursula’s reply was a bit waspish which let him know that she was bothered by something. He did not mind however for it was just one of those little things that he found so charming in her.  Women were not all that easy to understand but he was truly perplexed when Ursula stated she wished also not to be reminded of green as well obviously referring to the Queen’s gift to her of emeralds. “Why on earth would you not wish to be reminded of green? The emeralds were never a point of contention, at least for me. I asked the Queen about them because I knew I did not buy them for you and they were more extravagant that something you would buy for yourself and was very pleased to learn that they were a gift from her to you. Is it not a good thing that she thinks so well of you? She even chided me to be more original in my gifts to you for I had over relied on blue and she pointed out that other colours also suit you. Of the things that may trouble you, let that not be among them for there truly is no cause.”

True, he had questioned the origins of the gift and as they were going through a particularly delicate time at that moment he did have some unwarranted feelings of jealousy but when he learned the truth he was verry happy and proud for his wife.

Ursula then brought up the question of her resignation but then she broke down and expressed the real reason for her sadness. He hated to see her cry and when she did the first thing that came into his mind was to do or say something to make it better. This time he did not do that. His brushing had stopped and he took an emotional breath and let out a ragged sigh. When she said that her heart was broken he rested his head on the nape of her neck and hugged her from behind.

“I know how you feel.”

He said it softly but his words and emotions reverberated into her body. He stayed like that for several seconds as they both experienced their pain. He did not cry, he was too English for that, but he did not try to stop Ursula from crying. He sat there holding her and letting her grief run its course, waiting for her to be ready to go on, doing what he could to let her feel that she was not alone, not abandoned and not unloved. 

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Her reply to the unwanted reminder of her duty to the Queen was answered enough as she told him that her position there was no longer wanted.  Though that was not it all, the tip of an iceberg really, as she revealed her ongoing grief for the baby.  Unsaid was that Charles seemed immune to it...

Weakened as she was she dreaded the pause, in which she imagined he was about to tell her to chin up and set best foot forward, that he'd try to talk her back round with regards to the Queen, and that there was nothing to worry about after what the Doctors had said.  But instead her  husband remained silent, letting out a ragged sigh and then spoke as he never did. 

Charles never said such a little. Ever.  Briefly as that he admitted that his heart was an echo of her own.

Ursula wept of it, her head sinking into palms as he embraced from where he sat.  It was a cruel moment for it, but then a flush of heat made her need space apart from him, as though her body was a furnace, and hotter even where her shoulder was near to him. She pushed away and snatched up her fan, working it with desperate energy. "I don’t know what I can do, it would be better that I was dead then you could remarry someone who can bear your children for Mountjoy. As it is, I am a millstone. Dooming the house. Who shall the title even revert, pray that I have not cursed you that it returns to the crown.  And you are so proud of the number of generations it's been held in your family." 

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It was only a few moments before she unexpectantly pulled away from him and began fanning herself. This was not like Ursula but as she was understandably upset it did not trouble him. What se said after troubled him very much. He himself recoiled. “That is a foolish thing to say Ursula” he said sternly with even a bit of anger in a way that he had never addressed her before. “What of Hope? Would she be better off if you were dead?” he took a breath and calmed himself down. This was no time to be hostile but her statement had jarred him. He rung his hands. “When I married you I took you for better or for worse. I admit the situation we are in is not for the better but it would be much worse for little Hope and I without you.”

He did not want Ursula to feel that she could not tell him how she really felt and now that the shock had worn off he was a bit more understanding. “I am not belittling your emotions for this is a harsh and heartbreaking thing for a husband and wife to endure. But we must endure this together. You are not at fault. From what the Doctor said it is not even an illness but just the way things are with women. When we are back in London we can see another Doctor just to be sure but it will be the way it will be and there is nothing that we can do about it other than to go through it together.” The Queen’s Doctor was a learned man but Doctors could be and often were wrong so there was still a glimmer of hope.

Almost by rote he gave a short legal opinion of the possible disposition of his titles. “The Marquisate and the Viscounty will go into abeyance. It is possible for the King to call one or both out of abeyance in favor of our daughter and thus to her son. The Barony would revert to my closest male relative, if there is one, otherwise the title will revert to the crown. In all cases your title will go to Hope. It could turn out that our little daughter could become quite the heiress.” Then he thought of something that might ease her cares and gave a sardonic snort. “You know this would not be the first time something like this occurred. My Great-Grandfather was granted an Earldom but for a specific and unusual technicality when he died the Barony went to my Uncle but the Earldom did not. King James granted a separate Earldom on my Uncle and when he died his titles went to each of his three sons in turn who all died within a year of inheriting so the Earldom became extinct and the Barony went to my Grandfather and on to me. When the King offered me an Earldom I declined stating that the issuance of an Earldom did not seem to bode well for my family. The Marquisate was substituted as a technicality to break the ‘curse’ but it appears not to have worked.” He hoped that story would help Ursula cope with her disappointment.

“I know the pain you feel for I feel it also. I will not say that in the depths of my sadness I did not have similar thoughts but then I immediately felt shame for being so selfish. If it is Gods plan that you are to be the mother of my child and not the mother of my children then so be it. I inherited the obligations of my title but I chose to be obligated to you. I will not dry your tears and tell you it will be better for that is a promise I cannot make but I do promise to stay by your side whatever the hurt and disappointment and pain you may suffer for I will need you at my side do I can endure my own hurt and disappointment and pain.”

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  • 2 weeks later...

"There is no point even talking of that, death is not an option." she replied, "and you know very well that I do not wish to lave Hope without a mother, nor to be torn apart from you either.  I am just saying that a fatal end would allow you both to restart."

She did not want to be the problem that Charles was lumbered with, that he valiantly supported despite her lack of ability to provide him with an heir. Meanwhile he clung onto a hope that a different Dr would have a different opinion.

And the subject cant have been unconsidered, because Charles then detailed exactly what would happen with the various titles etc - with a mention of the King possibly doing something that would hold in a reserve for their Daughters eventual son.  "Mountjoy might continue?" He told her a tale from the Family history of lost titles, his reason for not wanting an earldom, and his wryly expressed humour at how the Luck of Marquis was not a better one. 

His words then, were poetic, and though poets could be ridiculous his phrasing seemed to make a kind of sense. "You speak in a way removed from your achievements, but as a man, whom I have had the blessing to be alongside of, and together we have been each others strength." she appreciated what he said, and how he said it too.

"I only hope that you shall not come to resent me, more perhaps, for leaving Her Majesty’s Service."


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  • 3 months later...

They were both full of emotions that threatened to engulf them and sweep them into statements and decisions that were best more soberly reflected. He looked at the brush in his hand and sighed. “I did not mean to be sharp with you. The thought that you might think things would be better without you was jarring to me and made me speak in a more accusatory tone than I intended. As great as the loss of future children is distressing to me the prospect of my losing you is more than I can bear.” He sat back down and gestured for Ursula to resume her seat so that he may resume the brushing of her hair.

“I wish there was something I could do to remedy the situation but there is nothing that you or I can do but accept the fate that destiny has chosen for us. I am deeply saddened not only for my loss but for yours. It is a burden that we both must endure but we also must endure without fault or recrimination. In Law we use the term ‘condicio sine qua non’ to refer to a cause or harm done with no fault. That you shall suffer sadness and sense of loss because of this is natural but I beg you to believe me that there is no cause to add blame or guilt to your sufferings on my account.”

He paused as he reflected. If she had chosen to resume her seat, he would resume the brushing of her hair. “I would not say it is enjoyable to share the burdens of a loved one but for a male it does provide a certain satisfaction if we are able to lessen the burden. If we are to have no more children it will be a great loss and a sadness but any resentment I might have will be reserved for the Fates and not for you, an innocent party, suffering the same if not greater loss.”

Their inability to produce a male heir was the greater of Ursula’s problems but as there was no practical remedy it, in a way, was easier to address. Ursula’s desire to leave the Queen’s service was of a different complexity altogether.

“In regards to your desire to leave the Queen’s service, are you sure it is for its own reason and not as a result of the emotional disturbance you are suffering? You have been one of the most effective and influential Mistresses of the Robes in recent memory and are widely regarded by the Court as a formidable and respected figure. The Queen relies on your character and devotion, the King has the utmost respect for your abilities and has personally assures me of his confidence in your abilities and his satisfaction with your performance.”

He shifted so he could see her expression.

“I do not wish you to be miserable and I will not resent your decision but I would ask you to emulate the Greek stoics and ponder carefully your feelings and obligations. Would it truly make you happier to leave the Queens service or would it deny you an honorable diversion and purpose?”

He knew there must be more than her perceived unpopularity with the Ladies and her current feeling of loss. Ursula had a strong character and ingrained sense of duty and responsibility understanding the benefits and prestige her position conferred upon her and her family. 

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He reassured, and she was grateful of it, her composure recovering somewhat at that point.  "Thank you my love, we are two parts of a whole and so I am mindful that what occurs upon the one has an equal impact upon the other." It was a burden shared.

Yet he was reluctant still to agree to the relief from duty she now sought.  "In the midst of a tunnel, I seek only the light, and find it easy to dismiss the need to carry with me the load.  Though I understand what you say, and that perhaps, once clear skies above are achieved I might turn and seek the company and service - that I remember once did provide me with pleasure." 

She fell quiet a moment. 

"Perhaps then, I request a break of six months or so, from Karoline. Implied that I shall return to my role, but we both know that will be up for review.  Would that be the compromised version of my wishes that you could agree with Charles?" her eyes turned to his, while she was more composed now, it was plain enough that she was still upon an emotional edge. 

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He listened to what Ursula said and the way she said it. It was clear even to him that she was emotional about this subject. What was unclear to him was why her service was now so unbearable to her. Her distress regarding her physical condition was understandable and even natural but this new repugnance to her position seemed very uncharacteristic of the Ursula he knew. He answered in a calm, reassuring tone.

“Your mindfulness of our shared position and reputation is only but one of your innumerable qualities that I find so compelling. Your willingness to compromise is appreciated but I would not wish to be the implement of a compromise that would be distressing to you.”

He gathered his thoughts as he wanted to avoid any misunderstandings for he did not wish to disagree but to understand.

“My initial reluctance to your declaration is not so much a lack of support for your position but of mystification as such thoughts are so unlike you. You have been such a rock, such a boon companion and stalwart protector of the Queen’s interests that Cerberus himself would quake before you. How is it that the obligations that you seem to have been born to serenely fulfill become so unbearable?” 

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"I do not know Charles." she whispered in reply to his question, turning her face.  She did not understand it either. 

"I know I might continue, the duties I have - I find simple to fulfil. Arranging this or that, pairing this need with it's remedy, it is all as clear to me as getting dressed in the morning, as elemental as breathing.  I and I think I can say with confidence that I have always acted with fairness.  But before me there is a wall, and invisible one. Could it be of my own making? I do not know.  I know that it takes great mental energy to think past it, and to imagine weeks, months, a lifetime of continuing on just like this. I am weary Charles.  And terribly sad to have lost the babe that grew within."

Reaching she took his hand again, and drew a breath.  She'd said any number of times now how she felt, but he did not, perhaps could not understand it.  Straightening a little she controlled her voice to remove her vulnerability.  "I will continue Charles." 

She had to, for his sake, he could not fathom being married to anyone other than what she'd previously been. 



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And there they were again. Back on the road to self-flagellation in order not to disappoint the other. How two people who deeply loved one another, who could fathom the depths of the other’s feelings be all but incapable of communicating such understandings to each other? This was the burden that they both labored under. They both were determined to stoically endure any sacrifice in order to save the other from doing the same.

“I do not claim to know the answers you seek or to remedy your feelings of loss. And I do not wish to be the catalyst of misery but I do believe that to continue as you have been, at least for this time, is the best course to follow. The pain of the terrible loss of our babe will never go away but, with time, it will heal and dull to a bearable ache that we will be able to carry inside us as we continue with what is expected of us. I have always found that my work provided if not a solace at least a distraction from my cares and sorrows and I hope it will be the same for you. I would not want you to leave your position and then find that there is nothing to fill your days but sadness and reflection.”

He squeezed her hand and brought it to his lips to impart a gentle kiss.

“I know you do this for me and I would say that I love you the more for it but that would be impossible.”

He looked into her eyes. His last statement was not said as a gesture of gallantry. It was said honestly as a statement of fact.

“I will ask one another thing of you which you may find even harder to do. I have no doubt that you will perform your duties with your accustomed devotion and aptitude but… I must ask you, nay… beseech you, that if after a few weeks or a month or two you still find yourself struggling, if things have not gotten at least a little better, that you will tell me and not continue your suffering. If time does not heal your wounds, then it would be a torment for me to have you continue to struggle on my account.”  

He waited to see if her eyes showed hope or resignation.    

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She swallowed, a part of her had still hoped that her martyrdom would have been refused, that he'd have allowed her the break she so desperately wanted. But he did not. He accepted her words that now became a promise given, chains really, that she'd put her wrists into.

"Yes my dear." she said, though she knew that this 'in a few weeks or few months review' he'd see her situation no differently to what he did now. If he did not understand now, why would he later?

Extracting her hand from his she reached to pick up her book. "I think I might read a little now..." There was a quiet chair near the fire, where she might sit and try compose herself, try to accept what lay ahead. She really did not feel like talking any more, and hoped he did not now press the point. 


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It was neither hope nor resignation that Ursula conveyed to Charles with her response. Could it have been disappointment, resolve? He could not say for certain and she was not inclined to provide further edification. With her withdrawal his hand was now empty. Denied the warmth of Ursula’s touch he closed his fingers upon the brush and placed it gently upon her dressing table.

“It appears I will not be practicing my German this evening by counting the strokes of your hair. It is of little consequence however for I would not wish to disturb your reading.”

He would have been happy to sit there and brush her hair or even stay and silently watch her read but he was aware enough to recognize that it was solitude that Ursula craved at that moment so it was solitude that he willingly gave her. He rose from his chair and kissed Ursula on top of her head as he did so. He would not press the point but wanted to demonstrate that they parted only for the moment.

“Have a comfortable and relaxing evening my dear. I shall see you in the morning.”

He left the room gently closing the door till he heard the soft click of the latch. Returning to his own room he also retired to a quiet chair near the fire. Bran, Mountjoy’s Irish wolfhound, was curled up in front of the small flame but upon his master’s arrival moved to sit next to the chair and lay his head upon his master’s lap. As expected, his master reached down and absently scratched Bran behind the ear which motivated a few thumps of his tail and a dogly look of devotion.

“Ah Bran.” Said Mountjoy resignedly, “Things are much simpler with you.”


{FIN pour moi}   

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