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Catherine at the Cottage (Monday Late Morning)

Charles Whitehurst

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The cottage was not far from Windsor Town, a healthy walk perhaps.  Charles had rented the same rustic homestead from a local landowner in each Windsor season.  It had been the scene of trysts with Maureen and Catherine Sedley in different seasons, the castle not providing much privacy for assignations.  

Now Catherine was back, hiding at the same cottage.  It was good that he had rented it again, for it would have been awkward for her to barge in on an unwitting farmer.  It would have been even more awkward had he placed another love interest there.

Charles had ridden Fireshot the short distance, dressed in his uniform, as always, a long plume dancing in the wind as he rode.  Tethering the horse at the door, Charles did not expect to need his key.  Catherine had likely found a way in through the window and likely had the door unlocked.  Knocking briefly, Charles made to enter ... .

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Catherine was sitting by the window reading a racy romance novel when she heard the clip-clop of a horse’s hooves approaching the house. Peering from behind the curtains, she smiled as she watched Charles dismount at the door. She had assumed he would be visiting her sometime today, but she had not expected it to be so soon.


Though she heard him knock, she did not go to greet him or he would have an excuse to say she was so eager to see him that she had not been able to wait until he stepped inside. Instead, she stayed where she was, wearing a simple gown of pink cotton. There was no reason to dress up for him when he would rip her clothes off soon enough.


As he walked in, Catherine looked up from her book as if surprised to see him. “You certainly wasted no time, Charles,” she said with a smug smile. “You never could stay away from me for very long.”


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By her attire, she was not expecting him to escort her anywhere other than the bed.  That was good, as he did not wish to be seen with her.

The game was on again.  "Your note sounded urgent and I knew that if I did not come to see you, you would likely storm the castle after me.  Best not to have to turn out the guard to stop you," he smiled as he took off his hat and placed it upon the table that normally held it.

There was much to tell her, but politeness dictated that he not get straight to the point.  He looked about for a bottle of wine.  "You look well," he offered with a smile.  "Are the children well?  I assume I would have received a different letter had they been ill."  He dusted off a cup or two and wiggled a bottle in the air. "Want a drink?  Did you happen to see Bradley before you came to see me?"  It was a neutral question intended to be a transition into a more serious dialogue.

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“Excuses, excuses,” Catherine teased. “You’re just trying to convince yourself that you are not obsessed with me.”


She had expected Charles to scoop her out of her chair, carry her to the bed, and make wild and frantic love to her,. Instead he looked around the cottage. Her maidservant had been in the process of cleaning it before she sent her out for food and other supplies, and she frowned as he dusted off a couple of glasses. Those should have been taken to the kitchen where they could be washed. There were cleaner ones in the cupboard.


He also found a bottle of wine. “The children are healthy and happy,” she informed him. “They are both growing so fast.  Caroline can already say a few words and can follow simple instructions."


Why was Charles being so aloof? He was not acting like himself at all. “I guess so,” she said when he asked if she wanted a drink. Maybe he wanted to go slow this time and seduce her?


Inquiring about his brother was not the way to do it. Catherine’s confusion showed clearly on her face. “No I haven't. Why do you ask? Has he gone missing?”

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Charles was not one to drink often.  He could not hold his liquor.  So, it might seem out of character for him to start a conversation with an offer of a drink, while pouring himself one.  The two glasses were poured and he moved to give her a glass.

"Catherine, in retrospect, we were foolish to not hide our affair more.  Our Devil may care attitude is causing all sorts of trouble I fear."  He sighed, knowing that she would want to hear of it.

"It is all about court that we had a child together during the recess.  Your father has been relentless, and spreads tales of scandal.  Some of my lady friends want nothing to do with me.  Some of the lords at court have warned me away from their daughters and sisters.  They say scurrilous things about us both and it has taken effort to not punch them in the face or demand satisfaction."  He had thought his presentation through before coming and hoped to paint a picture where she might be sympathetic to him and somehow avoid talk of him marrying her.

"This court is full of libertines and scandals and people treat us with disrespect for having a libertine affair?  I was told by the King himself that we should have hidden the child and said nothing of it."  He sighed as he shook his head.

"I sought the King's advice and I went to see York too."  He knew that would catch her attention.  "York was upset with me, accusing you of betraying him and telling me that I insulted him by carrying on with you.  I defended you by reminding him that he cast you out, but he would hear none of it.  I tried to point out his mistake and that you would still be a grand mistress for him if he could see things clearly.  I apologized for offending him.  What could I do?  He is disowning Caroline and says she is my child, despite my protestations to the contrary.  At the end of the audience, he forgave me but warned me about offending him again."  He wore an exasperated expression on his face.

"If he washed his hands of you, then why did he warn me not to do it again?  Why would the King say I should not be with you in the future ... unless the Prince still has an ember of desire for you?" Here is where he was using some guile to twist the truth.  "I defended you by saying you were loyal to him and that he should take you back.  That has ever been your goal. He pretended indifference, but then why was he so angry with me?  Why would he warn me about the future?  I wonder if he is thinking of setting Heather O'Roarke aside and we need to position you better?  By having a child together, I fear we have made it more difficult for you.  But maybe we can plan together to try and repair our damaged reputations.  We need to redeem you in York's eyes and I need to stay away from you, so he could feel free to reach out to you again," the young officer asserted.  He was also thinking of suggesting hiding away their son and letting it be told that he had died in infancy.  Yet, this idea would need to wait until he judged her reaction.

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As Charles had so easily located both the glasses and the bottle, Catherine wondered if he had placed them in the cottage ahead of time. Perhaps he had been planning on inviting her to visit him, but he had been too busy to send for her. That explained why the glasses were dusty. It seemed a bit odd that he wanted to drink at all, especially so early in the day. He must have some kind of game in mind. She made certain that her fingers brushed lightly against his as she accepted the glass he handed her.


He also looked a lot more serious than he usually was in her company and she soon found out why as he lamented being so open about their affair and not concealing the fact that they’d had a child together. She had received some nasty looks and a few insults in London herself, but Charles seemed to be having a harder time of it, mainly due to her father’s interference. 


He wanted them to marry, even though she had told him that she wasn’t interested in becoming Lady Langdon. There was a time when she thought that she was in love with him, but motherhood had changed her view of affection. Catherine enjoyed their relationship but she knew that it wasn’t going to last forever and eventually they would both move on. She assumed that he would continue to support their son, though.


“I think most gentlemen have a few illegitimate children, but most of them never admit it. Perhaps we should have been more careful, but there’s not much that can be done about it now that everyone knows. I have been shunned as well in London and repeatedly called a whore. Those pompous lords should be happy that you slake your lusts on your mistress instead of their sisters and daughters. If I was you, I would tell them that.


“I can speak to my father and tell him to stop, but I don’t know if he’ll listen to me. Ignoring him is usually the best way to get him to shut up. Pretend it doesn’t bother you and he will eventually give up."


A single blink was Catherine’s only reaction to Charles’ mention of York. As he had shown no interest in Caroline at all, she had assumed that York had already disowned her. She thought it sweet that Charles had defended her to the Prince and wasn’t at all surprised by his indifference.


“I know York better than you do, Charles. When he told you not to offend him again, he meant in general, not in regards to me. He doesn’t want me back.” She shook her head and chuckled. “You don’t woo a woman by disowning her child. He was obsessed with O’Roarke. I doubt he will set her aside. It’s more likely that she’s planning to leave him, which is exactly what I would do in the same situation.


“He has lost his importance and influence. York was powerful because he was next in line to the throne. Now he’s just a spare member of the royal family. He’s never been well-liked because of his faith. I wouldn’t be surprised if the King suggests that he leave court if he doesn’t convert. He may even lose his title and be given a lesser Duchy if His Majesty has a second son.”


Catherine paused for a moment to sip her wine. “I had a lot of time to think in confinement. I analyzed my relationship with York and realized that it was the prestige of being the mistress of the future King that drew me to him, not the man himself. He’s not handsome, witty, or particularly good in bed. I would be a fool to return to him now that he is in a precarious position and his future is uncertain. Going back to him could hurt me more than admitting I had your child.


“It could even hurt you. Why, the courtiers will ask themselves, did I leave a handsome and charming young Earl for an old Catholic has-been? They will claim you beat me, abused the children, forced me to have sex with your friends, or any number of unspeakable things. The only limit to your crimes will be their imagination.”


She smiled and reached for his hand. “I think the best thing we can do is wait it out. Eventually it will all blow over and be forgotten."

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Her answer was very important to Charles.  Like it or not, Catherine had power over Charles as the mother of his children, and he chaffed at being so beholden to one person.  She could sabotage his reputation and future marriage.  Darlene could do the same.  And, so could Davina.  Maybe Fiona could as well.  He really needed to stop putting himself in these positions.  He would tell himself that he had changed, but would he revert to old habits if any of these ladies were to wish to be intimate with him again?

"Perhaps you are right about York.  He is a fool to not want you back," he flattered.  "But if you do not want him, then we'll conspire no more in that direction."  He took another drink, less worried about glasses that were less than clean.

"What about you Catherine?  You are a creature of court with your wit, but I have seen you evolve maternal feelings that might suggest a nice house in the country could be welcome for a few years.  Or do you prefer to stay in London?  I suppose you could keep a libertine house like Heather O'Roarke did, but she had incredible wealth." 

With a suitable break to sip some wine, Charles changed the topic to himself.  "The King said I should stay away from unmarried ladies, keeping private company with whores and widows.  He was kind enough to include you as an unmarried lady and said that I should not be with you or any other unmarried lady." he revealed.  "I promised that I would do so, perhaps too hastily," he added with a smirk.

"We then spoke of who I might marry to improve my image of being proper, rather than a rascal."  He tried to make light of it. "So we spoke of potential proper candidates with large dowries or great family connections.  With the King's aid, no lady is out of reach. Did you know there are three dukes that have eligible daughters that would be interested in a reformed rascal like myself?" he laughed.  She was clever and would know he spoke of Ormonde, Cavendish and Norfolk.  He needed to make it a game for her so he could test her feelings about Susan.  "Who do you think I should target to produce half-brothers and sisters to our children?  I am going to need some money."

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Catherine smiled. “Of course he was. I hope he knows it too. It must have been a blow to his ego when I moved on so quickly. Now I wouldn’t have him if he was the last man left on earth.”


Sometimes she imagined that York would come crawling back to her and beg her to return to his bed. She had thought up all kinds of ways to reject him, some polite, some humorous, and some rather cruel. While she had been devastated when he had set her aside, now she realized it had been a blessing in disguise. She was much happier with Charles.


He asked what she wanted and Catherine considered the question for a moment before answering. “I should like a place in the country where the children can grow up, and a house in London as well so I can throw fabulous parties and maybe a libertine salon or two.” She wagged her finger at him playfully. “I agreed to stay away from court this season, but don’t get used to my absence. I will return in full force next season."


The only reason she had not gone to Windsor was because she wanted to be with her son during his first months of life. She had left Caroline as soon as she was out of confinement and had felt guilty when she saw how much her daughter had grown while she was gone. If Charles bought her a house in the country, she would have no problem leaving them there while she attended court a few weeks a year.


It seemed odd to Catherine that the King would speak to Charles about his love life. Had the talk of scandal been so disastrous that the monarch had warned him to quit being reckless with the ladies?  As he was a high ranking member of the Life Guards responsible for the King’s safety, his reputation needed to be above reproach. As the King had grouped her among unmarried ladies, it was probably at the request of her father during one of the Merry Gang’s drinking binges.


And Charles seemed to be regretting his vow now that he was with her again. Perhaps they would end up in bed this morning after all. Promises were made to be broken.


One eyebrow arched upward when he mentioned that the King thought he should marry. She had always known that he would eventually wed, but she had never expected him to consider it so soon. Many gentlemen didn't marry until they were much older.  Catherine supposed she could stay away from him for a few months until he tired of his new wife and came running back to her. Absence made the heart grow fonder, as the saying went.


She was surprised when he said ‘our children,’ implying that he was willing to claim Caroline too. Her respect for him increased immensely at that very generous statement. She hoped it had not been just a slip of the tongue.


And of course he would need money to support them. “Find a meek little mouse with a huge dowry who hates court and will be perfectly happy spending the rest of her life in the country. Then you can forget about her and do whatever you want. There must be several young ladies who fit that description for you to pick from."

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Charles was taking risks, trial and error.  He had no one experienced with women to advise him.  For a man as experienced with ladies as he was, he was remarkably inexperienced in his hopes to appease, let alone manipulate, a close lady friend.

His approach of flattery, followed by genuine interest in her plans, seemed well-considered.  Broaching the topic of marriage with Catherine was as risky as looking for spilt gunpower with a lit match.  She could have exploded in anger that he would think to marry anyone but her.  She could have dissolved into a waterworks of tears.  Yet, it was necessary to determine her level of outrage because his path to a happy ending was dependent upon a bridge of glass, easily shattered by enemies or distraught ladies.

His willingness to care for Caroline was driven by duty.  York had abandoned the child.  Even though he suspected York was the father, Charles was already responsible for setting aside some support for Catherine and their son.  Why not do the responsible thing and look after the daughter as well?

"A house in the country sounds right," he agreed.  It would need to be small if he was to finance it.  "If you want a libertine estate, you shall have to ask your father, or marry a very wealthy man.  Perhaps we should research some old lord or merchant, near his deathbed, with a desire for a fertile young wife," he half-teased.  He wondered to himself whether he should mention Bradley yet, and decided to wait a bit longer.

"I already married a wealthy lady, not long for the world.  I shan't do it again."  Let Catherine try it instead.  "I thought of a wealthy mouse, but it shall lead to similar unhappiness.  I am not a cruel man."  He shook his head.  "I need a powerful family to help my own Catherine.  We Whitehursts have very little wealth and social standing.  I am proud of my accomplishments; but, if I am to do more, I need a powerful family behind me."  She was a clever lady, well-versed in the games at court.

  "I do not care for Ormonde.  What do you think about the Cavendishes?" he asked, in an attempt to manipulate her.  "Newcastle has two available daughters, Frances and Margaret.  Ablemarle, my superior, is married to the eldest daughter.  It would make me the son-in law of a duke, and a brother-in-law to another duke, and get me closer to Ogle, who is marrying the wealthiest lady in the realm.  Neither daughter will be content being sent to Cornwall rather than court."

He was counting on the fact that Catherine would dislike a lady that he built up so highly and likely  desired.  It would give him a chance to play Susan as the contrast, and using the excuse that she was likely to always be away with the Queen, which could appeal to Catherine.

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Catherine didn’t want to marry Charles anymore. She had matured over the past year and was no longer the insecure girl who measured her worth by the men in her life. Many ladies were married by her age, but she was enjoying her freedom and didn’t want to give it up to become the property of any gentleman, even if she was very fond of him, as she was of Charles. Though she hated to admit it, she was her father’s daughter and would never be able to fill the role of a traditional wife. Charles wanted to be liked and respected by other people, while she liked to shock them with her unconventional ways. A union between them would be a match made in hell.


They were far more suited to the roles of a gentleman and his mistress.


So he was willing to purchase an estate for her but not a house in London. He didn’t have unlimited funds and a place for the children to grow up in was more important. Catherine doubted that her father would buy her a house, but as long as she had use of the one she was living in now, she was content. Eventually her father would pass on and his riches would be hers.


She laughed at his suggestion. “Marrying an old man with one foot in the grave isn’t a bad idea, as long as I can find one who doesn’t have any relatives to swoop in and steal his fortune. I doubt there are many of those in all of England."


Charles did seem to be serious about getting married. “Why would marrying a quiet lady who wants to stay in the country be cruel? She would be perfectly happy away from court raising your children. It sounds like the perfect solution to me and I’m sure there are at least two or three from influential families that you can align yourself with.”


From the way he listed the benefits of a connection to Newcastle, he had been thinking about marrying for longer than a few days. Was that the real reason he had wanted her to remain in London? So she wouldn’t remind the father of a potential bride of his sordid past? Her eyes narrowed and her voice lost its warmth.


“Maybe marrying the daughter of a Duke isn’t a good idea. There are more disadvantages than advantages. He could ruin you if you displease your wife, even if it’s something trivial like not telling her she’s beautiful every hour of the day. She’ll say you don’t appreciate her and then you will make a powerful enemy. If you cheat on her, you’ll be as good as dead.”

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So far so good, it seemed.  Catherine did not explode at the thought of him marrying another.  He would need to ponder later why she did not push for marriage now that they had two children together.  It seemed odd that she would not want to lay stake to him.  He was more than grateful, certainly, but it could be something to test in his own mind.  Maybe ladies were more logical creatures than he credited.

She seemed open to marrying some old fellow.  Charles thought of Peter Boyle, the merchant, but he had married a young woman.  He doubted a lord would marry her, so it would need to be someone of less stature.  "I will scour Windsor for a candidate," he laughed.  "Or, you know, you could marry someone younger that does not care about your past and is likely to give you liberties," he offered.  "Your father would pay a handsome dowry and the husband could purchase you a fine home in London and have plenty left over."  He let the thought germinate in her mind for a minute.  "You remember when I joked that Bradley was sweet on you.  I think he would jump at the chance to marry you, for example.  He is the uncle of our children after all, and we could stay a close family," he suggested.  "In truth, I mentioned the possibility to him and he was interested," Charles disclosed.  "We would spend considerable time together in the future," he held out.  "I doubt you would be able to survive without me for long," he threw in for the sake of their game.  "Though we could not cheat on my brother," he added quietly.  "But he might overlook other indiscretions on your part, if you played it right."  Maybe she would see how it would benefit the children and allow them to spend holidays together, if not weekly suppers.

As for the Duke, Charles scoffed.  "Who is going to kill me?  Ogle?  The lad has his hands up every skirt.  You could bed him tomorrow and wrap him around your finger.  He is no threat.  Ablemarle is my superior and not a man prone to do physical harm to me.  He would not challenge me.  Newcastle himself could cut off support, but if I had the dowry, who is to care?"  It was easy to argue because he had no plan to marry Frances.

"If you know a mousey lady from a wealthy and powerful lord, then suggest her to me and I shall consider her." It was a challenge to Catherine.  He knew of no such lady.  All of the ladies he knew were headstrong.  This was in sharp contrast to the vast majority of ladies of the Age.  Now was the time to play his next card.

"Instead of a mouse, I suppose I could marry a foreign lady and send her away to her parents every court season," he mentioned.  "But she would think I was trying to hide her, ashamed of her.  I already married Jean and she nagged me no end.  People thought I was a Catholic sympathizer and a lover of the French.  Being the head of the King's Guard, I should not marry another foreign powerful lady, lest they think a foreign king bought my loyalty too."  It was an attempt to dismiss another logical  choice.  "I suppose a Queen's lady would do.  It would seem perfect, but she would be away all of the time with the Queen."  He made it appear that he was musing aloud the possibility.  He doubted that Catherine would like any choice other than a lady he would hide away nine months of the year, but it was worth exploring in the hopes she might find the choice a less troubling choice.


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“If you can find one, I will consider it.” Catherine didn’t really want to marry at all. She’d had several suitors before she had taken up with York and then Charles, but none of them had been wealthy and had probably been more interested in her dowry than in her. One of her childhood friends was in desperate need of a wife and had hinted a few times that she should wed him, but she wasn’t interested. She might consider an old rich man who was dying, though.  He would be so ill that she could do whatever she wanted.


She laughed when he jested about marrying his brother. “I wonder if Bradley knows how much you joke about him. No man in his right mind would marry his brother’s mistress and even if he was that foolish, I don’t rob cradles.” Catherine wasn’t sure how old Bradley was, but she had assumed he was a couple of years younger than her. “I like men, not boys, thank you very much.”


It seemed odd that Charles would even mention such a silly thing ... unless it was a ploy to bring up his desire to end their relationship. Maybe the King had not told him to quit seeing her. She thought that he was discussing marriage prospects with her because he valued her opinion and wanted to provide for her and the children, but perhaps he hoping that she would blow up and break up with him. As this theory bombarded her mind, she didn’t even notice his contribution to their game.


“I was speaking figuratively, not literally. A Duke could make your life hell if he believed you were dishonoring his daughter.” Catherine narrowed her eyes as she considered the notion that he planned on being faithful to his wife.


Charles went on about the disadvantages of marrying a foreign woman and the benefits of marrying one of the Queen’s ladies. She had to admit that the latter would make sense. A Life Guard and a lady-in-waiting would be an excellent match, though they wouldn’t see each other very often. Again, she had the feeling that he had been thinking about marriage for a much longer time than he was leading her to believe.


After he finished speaking, she knocked back the rest of the wine in her dirty glass and simply stared at him for a few moments. “You came here to end our affair, didn’t you, Charles?” There was no accusation in her voice, only sadness. “I’m not good enough for you anymore so you are going to callously cast me aside just as York did, but for a different reason. You want to turn over a new leaf and be a respectable gentleman from now on. I don’t fault you for that. But I would rather you come right out and say it instead of dropping not-so-subtle hints.”


Catherine’s steady gaze didn’t waver. “I suppose you were not serious about supporting me and the children either. In order to marry a lady from an influential family, you will deny that either child is yours. Is that why you have waited so long to name our son? Because there’s no point when you plan on abandoning him?”

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Catherine seemed to consider marrying an older man, which was a good thing.  Then, she laughed at the idea of marrying Bradley, which was an unfortunate thing.  They spoke as friends about difficult subjects, but the most difficult one was the one that she asked at the end.

"Catherine, I think it wise to end our affair, but not our relationship," he offered her simply and honestly.  "I do not have many intimate friends, but I consider you one.  We have shared good times and bad.  We have helped each other attempt to reach our dreams.  We have done stupid things with each other because we did not think of the consequences," he added softly.

"I am at a crossroads Catherine.  I am opting to become a proper lord and try and do what is right for my family and myself.  If I was a third son, like Bradley, you and I could run off and do ill-advised antics for the rest of our lives.  But I am the head of the household and I need to bring honor to it.  You came to me when you were hurt and asked me to help you get York back.  I agreed to help you, even though I may have made a hash of it.  Now I am asking you to help me.  My honor is hurt, and I need your help."  He opted to be open with her because she seemed to be more calm than he expected.

"But I value our relationship.  I want you to be happy and to be taken care of too," he acknowledged.  "I can provide support for you and the children.  I can buy you that house in the country and send some money to you.  My future wife will need to obey me in this regard.  However, the only way that you can be financially well is if you marry.  Your father will not give you a shilling for support, but he has offered a handsome dowry.  With that dowry and a husband you can control, you can live like the court lady you wish, and our children can thrive even moreso. That is why I speak of it," he explained.

"If we both end our affair and appear to become more proper, each of us can try and repair some of our stupidity.  You could find a husband and I a suitable wife.  We can each promise our future spouses that we have not slept together since after the quickening of our son.  That is more than a half year."  He maintained eye contact to demonstrate sincerity.

"We can continue to see each other, but from afar.  There can be no suggestion that we are still lovers.  That does not mean we cannot continue to share the care for each other.  If I did not care you, I would have sent you a letter, denouncing everything about our relationship.  But, I have come here to share ideas, seek your advice and plan how you will be able to thrive without us swiving together like lusty teenagers.  For appearance, we can be cool to each other, but privately, I want you and the children to be happy.  I can only do so much financially, but your father can solve your problem.  We need to get the money out of him for your benefit.  That is why I was thinking Bradley might do, but a sick old man would be better.  Even a sick old man would avoid you if he thought you were carrying on with me and likely to have my child, rather than his.  We need to be truthful in saying that we have ended our physical intimacy.  That does not mean we cannot be intimate as good friends are."  He reached for her closest hand to try and squeeze it in assurance.

"We need a way to get your father to give you money, or an old man to do likewise.  It is now clear that York will not help you."  Perhaps, by turning the challenge to solving her problems, she would have better empathy for his own. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

So she had been right. Charles had come here not to swive but to end their affair. Catherine listened as he shared his thoughts and feelings, and he definitely had a lot to say. Perhaps she had always known this was coming, that he would eventually decide that he needed to accept his responsibilities as an Earl and bring honor to his family. He could not do that while still carrying on with her.


She should be angry at him. She should pour another glass of wine and hurl it at him. Instead, she couldn’t help but feel a bit proud of him. Maybe that was because they were friends as well as lovers, as he pointed out. Their relationship could still thrive without sex. Like Charles, she had few true friends and she counted him as foremost among them. They had been through hardships and triumphs together and were forever linked by their children. Catherine was pleased that he was still willing to support them and that his wife would have to accept that choice. Most gentlemen would have simply abandoned her and left her with nothing but bitterness and resentment. Charles really did seem to care about her, just as she cared for him, and he honestly wanted her to be happy. She wished the same for him.


Maybe she should settle down and marry as well. She didn’t like what she saw when she contemplated her future … taking lover after lover, each discarding her in time until she was too old to attract attention anymore. If Charles could become respectable, why couldn’t she? It would be good for the children to have stability and not have endure insults about their mother being a whore. Catherine had mainly railed against being proper because she knew that was what her father wanted for her.  But the children were much more important than her spat with their grandfather, and she truly wanted the best for them. And she had always secretly longed to be a highly-regarded court lady. It was as if Charles had somehow read her mind.


Maybe they were truly that close.


She didn’t protest when he took her hand and squeezed it. She held it in her own and was surprised that she felt no arousal whatsoever. His speech had touched her heart, as had his acceptance of Caroline as his own. In that moment, she would have done almost anything for him.


“You were wrong about one thing,” she said softly. “The children were not consequences of stupidity. They were given to us by God and they may grow up to do great things, no matter their humble birth.”


Catherine paused to let that sink in and then continued. “Of course I will help, you Charles. You are one of my dearest friends. I don’t think we need to avoid each other or it will look as if we parted on bad terms. And I do want you to be part of the children’s lives. They deserve to know their father."


She smiled wryly. “You know, the easiest way to solve our problems would be to marry each other, but I know you don’t want that. Nor am I sure that I can be the kind of wife you need. Perhaps the best solution for me is to find that sick old man and become a rich widow. I wouldn’t mind marrying a younger, healthier gentleman if I could find one who is so wealthy that he doesn’t need my dowry and will give it to me as spending money. Maybe I could even be faithful to him if he respects me and treats me well.


“But I fear that man does not exist.” Her smile brightened slightly. “At least you have your pick of lovely young ladies from good families.”

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The advantage of a scarlet uniform was that it hid red wine splashed in your face.  The splash did not come.  His words, well-considered, seemed to be working.  If one could place oneself in the shoes of another and think what you might like to hear, it was not so difficult to sing the right note.  Here, Catherine took the message far better than expected.  Had he done what callous lords would have done -- disclaimed and disavowed the children and call her a whore-- there would be war. 

"Thank you Catherine for understanding. Despite your infatuation with me, you were always level-headed."  He laughed and held up his hand to stop her counter.  "I was just jesting for old time sake."  The moment needed a bit of levity.

"Right, this season I will find the right lady and we will see if the right man exists for you."  That was step one.  "I think, while we are looking for potential spouses, we pretend to be cold to each other.  They are more apt to think we are no longer a couple if we ignore or frown at each other from across the room.  Once married, we can be more friendly because they cannot divorce us," he chuckled. 

"I could go on an occasional hunt in the country and use it as an excuse to visit the children and you secretly.  Let us find a place in between London and Windsor that has enough land for tenant farmers.  That way, we can each make a day trip to visit it.  There is a coaching inn at Brentford.  There are orchards along the Thames as it turns south.  That might be just the place for the children."  He hoped to conjure a peaceful setting.  "Once the season ends, I will send my man to find a suitable house and land," he added.  It would be far enough from London to protect them from ill vapors and ill plots.  "Think on it and write me from London when you return."

As for being a blessing, the children could be a curse as well.  Time would tell.  She did not respond to Bradley and he did not respond to her idea of them marrying each other.

"Now that we have unloaded our feelings for each other and are in agreement, let us raise a glass in salute, and then I should return to my duties.  I have to find you a husband, and I suppose protect the King too," he jested as he poured the glass full for each.  "To us and a bright future for our children.  God save the King ... and our family."  With that, he took a deep drink and was ready to take his leave.

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Two years ago, Catherine might have begged Charles to stay with her, but now she understood the futility of forcing a gentleman to continue an affair he no longer had an interest in. If he had broken up with her then, she might have attempted to make his life hell for the rest of his days, though, as he said, she understood the reason behind his decision.


And all was not lost. They would be seeing each other occasionally and once the newness of his marriage wore off, there was a possibility that he would again seek her bed. If it was available. By that time, there might be somebody else in it. Or she might no longer be interested in taking up where they left off.


Catherine laughed at his jest. She was going to miss their game of wits. Unless she could turn it in a different direction. “You may not long for me anymore, but you are still obsessed with me … as a friend.”


She nodded to Charles’ suggestion. “I will go back to London this afternoon and I won’t be back until the christening. I definitely don’t want to miss that. But we can avoid each other then and next season as well if we are both still unmarried when it takes place.”


He seemed to be serious about visiting the children and finding a place in the country for them to grow up. The place he described sounded intriguing. “Tenant farmers will also provide me with extra funds as well as healthy food for the children to eat.  It sounds like the perfect solution to me, though I will write you anyway.” She winked mischievously. “Just make sure you burn my letters after you read them so no nosy eligible young ladies will find them.”


Catherine would have liked him to stay longer, but she knew he had taken time off to visit her and needed to return. There was one more thing she needed to speak to him about before he left. After his toast, she brought it up. “We need to name our son, Charles. I can’t keep calling him ‘the baby’ forever. If you don’t have time to discuss it now, write me with some suggestions and we can decide on one through correspondence. I’m sure you know that Charles and James are out.” She would have liked to call him Charles, but that was her father’s name too, and she didn’t want to give that jerk the satisfaction of thinking his grandson had been named after him.


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He smiled at her humor as she replied to his attempt to resurrect their game of wits.  What sort of game would he play with Susan, he wondered?

"At the baptism, we should stand far apart, but be civil.  There will be those that wish to see whether you are the scorned lady, impregnated and abandoned by a so-called gentleman," he advised as he thought on his next challenge.  She could destroy him by claiming that he promised marriage.  If she made no such claim, there was hope that he could avoid the ramifications of those that sought to interfere.  His mind was focused on Darlene.  She was the lady feeling the most wronged and would tell anyone that might listen that Charles was a scoundrel for not marrying his mistress.  "If you reveal you are fine with no marriage to me, who might be aggrieved, besides your father?"  There was Darlene.

"Think of a rich bachelor or two in London for you to marry," he offered with a smile as she declared that she would return to London.  "I will do the same."

The name of the baby was a problem.  "I thought more on it; both your father and mother's father were named John.  The Apostle John was known as the beloved, a patron of love and friendship, so it may be fitting, yes?  My middle name is Clarence.  He could be John Clarence Sedley perhaps?  Perhaps it might even appease your father somewhat," or so he hoped. 

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Charles had made a lot of promises to Catherine. If he didn’t keep them, there was still a chance she would seek revenge, for she would believe that he had been deluding her for his own selfish ends. However, if he did as he said he would, then she would support him in whatever he chose to do.


“I shall act no differently than I usually do,” she replied. “I can’t go around proclaiming that I don’t want to marry you or everyone will think you coerced me into it, perhaps by threatening to take away the children. Sometimes you are so naive, Charles. I don’t think we should go to extremes to avoid each other either, and if we find ourselves in the same group, we should converse pleasantly. We are going to be watched and probably gossiped about, so we should look as if we are on friendly terms.”


Marriage was sounding better and better to Catherine, either to a sick old man or to a young man she could control. A title would be nice, too, but a woman with two illegitimate children and a soiled reputation would be unlikely to attract the attention of a lord, particularly if she was plain and smarter than he was. Nor would a lord allow her the liberties she would insist on. Perhaps she should look for a rich merchant who had bought a title and wanted more ties to the nobility.


Charles was thinking along the same lines as Catherine when it came to names, though not being very religious, had not made the connection to the Apostle. It pleased her that he was willing to give his son his middle name, which was another sign that he had claimed the boy as his own.


“John Clarence,” she mused. “I like it. I doubt it will make much of an impact on my father, certainly not enough to get him to part with my dowry, but the fact that our son will have your middle name might make him a bit less hostile.”


She set her glass aside and stood up, knowing that Charles wished to be on his way. “When you find a house for me and the children, I would like to approve of it before you buy it.” Catherine trusted Charles but if he became betrothed first, his future wife or in-laws might pressure him into stuffing his former lover and his bastard children in a rundown shack with a single room in the middle of nowhere.


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He felt naive when Catherine called him on it.  "I suppose you are correct," he admitted.  "We will be friendly and no disclosures.  Not too friendly," he added with a laugh "or you will chase off any decent betrothal."

There was an agreement on the name, which solved one open issue.  As for the property, Charles was not planning to trick Catherine.  He had good intentions.  "Do not expect an estate," he warned her.  He was certain that an estate would be beyond his means.  "A respectable house in the country with some land," he stated.  Perhaps there was a country squire with a property he could afford; or, at least, a farmer with a stone house.  "Now, if you come into money soon enough, we could pool our resources to get something better," he offered, hoping that her father would contribute.

It was time to go, so he straightened his tunic and brushed off some newly acquired lint.  He reached for her hand to give it a squeeze in parting.  "I shall see you soon."  He collected his hat and gave her a bow with a flourish.  With a playful smile on his face as he rose, his hat was placed on his head with practiced ease.  It was then that he left to mount Fireshot and get back to the castle.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Catherine knew that Charles would never go back on his word, but she was afraid that he might be forced to quit supporting her financially before his intended’s parents agreed to a betrothal. She hoped that he bought the house before he found the lady he wished to marry.


When she had been York’s mistress, Catherine had dreamed of a fabulous estate and riches beyond her wildest dreams, but she understood that Charles could not provide such things for her and she didn’t expect him to bankrupt himself trying.  “I know you can’t buy me a castle,” she said with a smile. “While you are looking for a place for us, ask yourself this question: would you be happy growing up there? If the answer is yes, then it should be fine. I would still like to take a look at it first.” She might notice problems that he would overlook. He was not as accustomed to dealing with commoners as she was. They would cheat a lord blind if given half a chance.


Her father’s animosity toward Catherine did not extend to his grandchildren, and she wondered if he might give her some money to augment what Charles was able to spend. She couldn’t ask for it. He would have to offer it himself. Perhaps a few subtle hints might push him in that direction.


She squeezed Charles’ hand in return. “Until then,” she said. He bowed to her with a playful smile. No matter what happened in the future, she believed there would always be something special between them. “We’re such good friends that I know you won’t be able to stay away from me for long.” Catherine walked him to the door and watched as he mounted his horse and rode away. She was glad that he had been honest with her and she still believed that someday they would fall into each other's arms again.



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