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A meeting in the gardens | Thursday Afternoon

Francis Kirke

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Unlike the Northern Terrace, the enclosure known as the Eastern Terrace was not merely an expanse of stone. It was instead a more gentle garden, with the familiar geometric shapes in almost perfect symmetry that allowed for a protected stroll without getting lost. Its structure was reassuring and quite different from the wild park beyond the walls of the Castle proper. With its lush greens and neatly trimmed edges and hardly a flower in sight it was perhaps most suited for those in need of contemplation.

The terrace was enclosed by a half way wall, inviting people to lean across it while enjoying the farther view over the Little Park.


The great glass windows supported in their metal frames let in the weak winter sun whilst keeping out the brisk breezes, lending a luxurious warmth to the outdoor-indoor space that was the orangery. The air was moist as well as warm, the great orange trees in their large pots carefully tended so that they would produce their treasure-trove of exotic fruit in the summer, unhindered by lack of water or blight of frost. A few orange flowers lent an exotic citrus scent to the air.

Between the great pots, stone benches were set so that courtiers might come and enjoy the sunshine without the need to brave the outdoors, and in the centre was a statue of a nymph and two sets of wrought iron tables, painted white, with matching chairs, that one might sit and take tea and enjoy the ambiance of the orangery.


Francis arrived in the garden in the afternoon at the time he and Frances had appointed when playing cards earlier in the week. Half of his golden hair was plaited back away from his face and rested over the top of the remainder of his immense blond curls. There was a wind in the air, but it was otherwise calm weather. His cream-coloured hat was resting on the top of the half-wall rather than on his head as he looked out over the park for a moment as he waited. His body held a relaxed posture with one knee popped forward, one forearm propped on top of the wall as well, the emerald green of his justacorps a stark contrast to the color of the wall.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Don’t be nervous, Diana. I promise that he won’t bite.”


“I’m not nervous at all,” the young girl replied in an affronted tone of voice. “Just curious. You have told me so much about Lord Kingston and I’m eager to meet him.”


The Duchess of Richmond knew better. As they walked toward the garden, their arms looped through each other, she could feel Diana trembling. She reminded her a bit of herself when she had first come to court all those years ago. And just like her ward, she had denied being anxious, though now she knew that most young ladies felt that way.  Stepping out into society for the first time was frightening, no matter how confident one was.


As they rounded a corner, they saw a tall blond gentleman standing nonchalantly beside the low wall next to the Orangery. “Is that him?” Diana breathed.


Frances nodded.


“He’s so handsome.”


“Don’t tell him that or it might go to his head,” the Duchess whispered, hoping to lessen Diana’s anxiety.


The young girl laughed. As they approached, Frances smiled at Francis. “Good afternoon, Lord Kingston. I hope you have not been waiting long.” She had expected that he would be there before them, for Diana had taken quite a long time to get ready, discarding dress after dress until she finally decided on one.


“I would like to to present my ward, Diana Melbourne, the only child of the late Earl of Delemere. Diana, this is my dear friend, Frances Kirke, the Earl of Kingston.”


The Duchess had not been exaggerating when she claimed that her ward looked exactly like her when she was her age. The resemblance between them was extraordinary. Diana was a gorgeous young lady with golden blonde hair and vivid blue eyes, the epitome of an English rose. She was wearing a turquoise gown embroidered with yellow flowers with pearls in their centers and trimmed with white lace.


She dropped a perfect curtsy. “It is an honor to meet you, my lord."  After a subtle nudge from her guardian, she held up one delicate gloved hand to be kissed.


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  • 3 weeks later...

Francis turned at the greeting and bowed prettily, in that way Buckingham had engrained in him through so many hours of repetition.


"A gentleman never would own a displeasure in waiting for a lady, much less a duchess, Your Grace," he replied. With a airy chuckle he added, "Enjoying a moment of quiet, actually. With the cramped quarters of Windsor the sounds of wind in the trees is a commodity."


The young girl was quite pretty as she dipped a curtsy.


"A pleasure, Lady Diana."


He obligingly kissed the tiny offered hand. 


"How are you liking Windsor so far?" he asked the girl, giving her guardian, the duchess a quick, sly wink.

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Lord Kingston’s remark was as perfectly elegant as his bow. Frances remembered when he had been less refined, before Buckingham had taken him under his wing. She hoped that he never became as arrogant as the Duke. His down-to-earth demeanor was charming and refreshing.


She wrinkled her nose. “I remember well how quaint the rooms of Windsor were.” As a Duchess, her apartments had been more spacious than most, but still much smaller than she was accustomed to. “It’s one of the reasons I always rent a house when court is held here.” Another was that she didn’t like living in such close proximity to other courtiers.


Diana’s cheeks blossomed with a pretty pink hue when the handsome blond Earl kissed her hand. “I just arrived yesterday and haven’t seen much of it yet, my lord. Her Grace promised to show me around today.”


The Duchess smiled at Francis' brief wink. “Preferably in your company if you don’t have any pressing matters to attend to,” she said. “I was planning to show her the waterfall first, unless you have another suggestion.”

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"The prerogative of a fine lady," Francis said, of finding accommodations in Windsor town instead. "I do not have any prerogative of my own," he added with a sly grin of amusement. "I need to be close to His Majesty, and I could hardly tell the Duke of Buckingham that I do not wish the honor of staying in his suite. I might find myself kicked out of his house!"


Francis did not need much room, though, as he was used to the close quarters of a ship and a life of exile with two brother-like uncles. He had lived a life of cramped spaces and sharing of beds. A nice big room to himself was far more than enough.


Proximity to His Majesty and Buckingham was something to be exceedingly pleased about for a gentleman.


"Then you are in luck, as everything will seem wonderous with such a blank slate," Francis said to the girl.


"Only your pressing matters," he replied. "I am at your service." With another sly smile he said, "And I will beg your forgiveness, but I fear I must be the first gentleman to offer the young lady his arm." Such thing usually went by rank, so he was obligated to offer the duchess, but he did not think she would mind him allowing the girl to practice her court skills on him. Then she would be less nervous later.


"And I will tell you that if any other gentleman would offer you first over the duchess, that you should mark him as very ill bred, a parvenue, or an utter cad. You must make an exception for me as friend of your guardian who is helping to ease your transition to court," he instructed with a grin as he offered his arm. "Rank, at court, should always be adhered to."



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  • 2 weeks later...

“A tiny room is a small price to pay for the company you keep.” Frances narrowed her eyes mischievously. “And I’m sure it ‘s not as cramped as you make it out to be.” Though she had never seen it, she was certain that the Duke’s apartments were quite spacious and he certainly wouldn’t throw Francis in the servants’ quarters.


“Since court is held here frequently, I’m thinking of buying a house.” She smiled fondly at Diana. “Now that I have a companion, we could use more space. I have one in mind, but it isn’t currently for sale. From what I have seen of it, the garden is quite lovely.” She knew he enjoyed the beauty and ambiance of well-tended gardens.


“And we’ll get to view the old familiar places from a fresh perspective,” the Duchess agreed to his comment about everything looking wondrous to Diana.


She was pleased by Francis’ response, but she would have understood if he needed to leave soon. Serving both the King and Buckingham must be very demanding. He probably had little time to himself. And yet he was choosing to spend that precious time with her and her ward.


Diana’s eyes widened when Lord Kingston asked her 'auntie' to forgive him for offering his arm to her instead of in order of rank. She had been taught about the unwritten rules of court life and had figured that she would wind up following behind the two of them.


The Duchess nodded her approval and favored Francis with a warm smile. “I could not have said it better. Remember his words, Diana. They will serve you well in the future. As one of His Majesty’s gentlemen, Lord Kingston is quite knowledgeable about proper etiquette.”


The young girl timidly lay her small hand upon his arm. “Thank you, my lord,” she said softly. “It must be amazing to be so close to the King.” 

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"Indeed, it is, to be sure," he agreed. "I have dealt with tighter quarters and more grueling circumstances in the King's service, so I suppose that I can suffer through the Duke's second bedroom." He chuckled and said, "The first time I came to Windsor, I gave up my room to a lady in need and slept on my yacht in my cabin. It was a fine arrangement until the flotilla where I had to jump in the Thames and then apprehend an assassin, for a ship's cabin does not have the luxuries of a fine bath."


He had gone to Buckingham's to wash out his hair.


"Everything is for sale for the right price, but you may not want to pay an extravagance for a convenience home that might only see a few week's use when a duchess can always get the first pick of places to rent. You could likely reach an agreement with a place you like to rent when court is in season here."


Francis barely kept himself from snorting as the duchess complimented his knowledge of etiquette. He had not always been so polished. He had been a bit of a diamond in the rough - trained but not practiced in many years and with no experience of court - so it was funny to think that he was now considered well-versed.


"And there is another court skill, you see, the art of the compliment," He said of her guardian's words as the young girl placed a hand on his arm. 


"It is amazing, and an amazing honor. One I do not take lightly. You might imagine it is far more exciting than what it truly is most of the time, though. There is a lot of tying of cravats involved," he added with a smile.



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Diana gazed at Lord Kingston in awe. How brave he was for jumping in the disgusting river to capture an assassin! Was life at court full of thrilling adventures and handsome, gallant heroes?  She certainly hoped so, though she hoped there would be no more assassins.


“Well, you should have a tub put in,” the Duchess declared. “One needs to be clean even at sea.” She turned to Diana. “Lord Kingston has a fine yacht. He took me out in it once.”


Will you take me too?” the young blonde asked eagerly.


Frances frowned. “You should never ask such questions of a gentleman.” Her voice conveyed her disapproval. “You act as if you were born in a barn.”


“I’m sorry, Your Grace, my lord,” Diana said contritely, blushing a pretty shade of rose.


That out of the way, Frances nodded at Francis’ advice. “So far, I have not rented a house that I would want to stay in twice and it’s so tedious moving my possessions back and forth. But that’s a good idea if I find the right place. Or perhaps I should have a house built on the edge of town.” The Duchess of Richmond didn’t have to worry about money.


She quickly forgot her ward’s lapse of manners. “As long as your compliments have some truth in them. Empty flattery is not recommended, except for certain courtiers who are so full of themselves that they can’t tell the difference.” Francis had likely run into those pompous individuals himself.


Diana drank in Lord Kingston’s words about attending the King. “I’m hoping that Diana will become one of the Queen’s maids of honor,” her guardian revealed as they began to walk towards the waterfall.

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  • 1 month later...

"One cannot help but have excitement when coming to court for the first time. You are lucky you have the duchess to guide you. Being too wide-eyed might make others think you are not used to finery or fine society. When I first arrived at court, it was difficult to just be privately wide-eyed," he said gently.


"One of the prime skills of a lady at court is to make the gentlemen offer you things so that you might teasingly refuse. All the more to get offered even greater things. It is a great game, and then you might see the character of a man by how he behaves. If he gets cranky on your refusals, he is not a gentleman you wish around as he'd make a very poor husband."


He gave her a wink. "When next I have a soiree on my yacht, I shall invite the duchess and perhaps she will allow you to join her."


Francis nodded as Frances told him of her plan to get the young lady a place in the Queen's household. He found back a snort of realization that she was planning the very same thing that Buckingham must have planned for him. With a smile and a held in chuckle that made his words bounce some, he said, "High-placed relations at court, who are close to royalty, have a penchant for gaining such positions for their younger family members, to be sure."

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“Am I too wide-eyed, my lord?” Diana asked. “I do so want to fit in.” She was unaccustomed to finery and society, having spent her childhood on her parents' estate or those of the relatives who took care of her after they passed away.  They had thrown parties occasionally, but she had been told she was too young to attend, even though her cousins around the same age were allowed to go. She didn’t understand why, but the Duchess did. Her guardians had feared that she would outshine their own daughters.


“You will,” Frances promised. “It will just take some time to become accustomed to court life. I was wonderstruck too when I first arrived.” In fact, she had been terrified, but she had adjusted quickly. Lord Kingston’s advice to his ward made her smile.


“Ooooh,” Diana breathed. “That sounds like fun, but if all ladies do it, don’t the gentlemen catch on?” She wondered if Lord Kingston had given gifts to ladies who had refused them. She imagined he was quite popular among them. If one tried that ploy on him, he probably just turned his attention to somebody else.


I wonder if he will ever give a gift to me.


His wink was charming. Her big blue eyes turned to her guardian. “We’ll see,” the Duchess replied cryptically.


As they neared the waterfall, Diana ran ahead. Frances lowered her voice. “Do you think the Queen will accept her, given my past with His Majesty and her resemblance to me? Diana is much too young for him and even if she wasn’t, he would never take her as his mistress out of respect for me.   Her Majesty might still feel threatened by her.”

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"Well, I am not the best judge of that now, am I? You did just hear me confess that I had a difficult time hiding my...naivete at court life when I arrived," Francis reminded her. "But what the duchess knows and you do not, is that I am only newly the Earl of Kingston. Only a few years ago, I was simply plain Captain Francis Kirke. You will shortly hear it as well as a cadre of rumors about me, but that piece is very true. I spent my childhood in exile, my early youth after His Majesty's return was the only brief few years of gentlemanly education and finery, and the rest was at war or on one of my ships. I came here a new baronet two years ago, so I am not the best judge of whether or not you are too wide-eyed."


He chuckled at the thought of that unlikely trajectory. Last year he had felt wholly unworthy of it, as if it was a prize of pity that he did not actually deserve, that wasn't being done for him but for a father that had been hacked to pieces before his majority. 


Enough time had passed that he now internalized and realized that it was not a prize, that it is what was right, not to make up for what should have been but because of what was truth. Buckingham and the King truly liked him. He might remind them of his father, and that might have influenced the attachment, but it was not a charade of some form.


Unfortunately, the broadsheets had shown him what others felt about his rise. It was not an easy thing to cope with for many reasons.


What would the sheets say when the truth came out that he was not a Kirke at all but Buckingham's nephew.


"And to that, not all ladies can do that. Only the prettiest, well-connected, and most desirable can do so. And some ladies do not have the control to send back a gift."


He smiled when the young lady sped toward the waterfall, then turned his attention back to the duchess.


"If that is your worry, the swiftest way to ensure that His Majesty shows no interest is to have her be one of the Queen's ladies; the King has sworn to Her Majesty that he won't poach among her companions. It was the main thing that she asked of him - and to keep the worst of his playtime out of her sight - and the King has not violated that. He's charged us all with reminding him of the vow if his resolve weakens, but I do not think it will given the arrival of our little prince, for he wishes to keep her happy so that he might have an army of legitimate children to match the batch of natural ones." His blue eyes crinkled with amusement at that, for the Queen would need to be very busy.



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“I remember when Lord Kingston first came to court.” A prolific gossip like the Duchess of Richmond kept an eye on all new arrivals. She grinned at Francis. “He was as wide-eyed as you are, Diana.” Turning to her ward, she added: “Don’t believe anything you read about him in the broadsheets. All deserving individuals have enemies who will go to great lengths to discredit them and somebody is clearly jealous of his rise in status.”


The young blonde thought that two years was a very long time, but she was still impressed. “I will not read them at all,” she promised. “I have no interest in lies.”


Diana blushed again. Did he really think she was pretty and desirable? “I can resist gifts. Thanks for the advice, my lord. I will definitely make use of it.”


Frances chuckled. She had done much the same to the King all those years ago and he had been fascinated by her. Once Diana was out of earshot, she expressed her concerns about her ward's future to Francis.


“No, I am not worried that His Majesty will want to take her as his mistress. I believe he will consider her off-limits because she is my ward and he would never dishonor me in any way. If he does fancy her, he’ll ask first and I will say no.” Just like I said no when he tried to seduce me.


“I’m concerned that the Queen will not accept her because she looks like me.  She is aware of the past between the King and me. I would hate to raise Diana’s hopes only to have them dashed by rejection. Though if he has promised not to touch her ladies, then perhaps Her Majesty will prefer to keep her close and out of his way.”


As they approached the waterfall, they could see Diana standing in front of it. One hand reached toward it as if she hoped that some of the sparkling water would splash her. “I am happy that Their Majesties finally have an heir and I wish them many more so that we never have to worry about having a Catholic King.”


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"I cannot say how Her Majesty would feel about such a thing." It has also been some time since the King had been in love with the lady, and she had not born him illegitimate children, and she had married a duke rather than be a flamboyantly public mistress. Those were all points of moderation in his view, but he did not have a mystery understanding of a woman's mystique; he had a better sense than most men, for having been raised almost entirely by women in comparison to most men of the age, but the Queen was even a more difficult one to anticipate than most for being German and naturally more sedate.


His understanding was that the Portuguese Queen had ranted and raved on several occasions. That was not Queen Karoline's way.


"His Majesty having an heir and the promise of many more bodes well for everyone for many reasons. There is less maneuvering to be done by foreigners and less discord to be sown by malcontents at home. More stability." Francis was not one to make comments about the Duke of York. In fact, he was exceedingly careful speaking anything of York as the Duke of York had been kind to him upon knowing his secret on the swiving tour. It was not for him to judge the Duke's Catholicism, so he did not. Francis has seen enough in Italy, of bishops in brothels, to understand that Rome was just as corrupt as any court, but extreme Protestants had also torn their country apart, so religion was simply separate from his personal notion of God. "

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The Duchess grinned teasingly. “Of course not. Gentlemen do not understand the way ladies think. Perhaps I should discuss it with His Majesty, though I'd rather him not be involved. However, he knows the Queen better than anybody. She is so quiet and keeps her own council. This might not be the best time since she only recently gave birth. There is no hurry, though Diana might think otherwise.”


She nodded when Francis expressed similar views to hers. “It's a relief that the succession is secure now and we don't have to worry about being ruled by foreign lands. And I’ve heard that the child is healthy and strong.” It would be unfortunate if he should succumb to illness before the Queen produced a spare.


Diana turned around when she heard the footsteps behind her. “Oh, it’s so lovely!” she exclaimed. Her eyes bright with happiness. “I can feel the mist from the water. It must be wonderful during summer. I hope court is held here then.”

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  • 2 weeks later...

"I have heard conflicting accounts, it is a little too much...parvenu...to rush, or is it the prerogative of the positioned to have no patience?" Francis queried, with a delicate raise of his blond brow. It was clearly not a serious question, but it was a question nevertheless.


"I'm bothered by the upheaval caused by the meddling of foreign powers, so I am pleased there is less fuel to add to that fire," Francis replied. "And very strong from what I've heard of his little voice when His Majesty is visiting whilst I'm attending. And by that, I mean His Highness has a royal set of lungs." He chuckled at the recollections.


Francis continued his smile as the girl enjoyed the mists of the water. "Perhaps here, or perhaps even somewhere even more exotic. His Majesty has been known to travel to the coast in the warmer weather. We went to Brighton last."


And then he realized what he had said when he said Brighton. His cheeks instantly blushed and he issued a cute little cough of feigned tickle in his throat. Rochester had spiked the punch, and he had woken up in the morning with the duchess he was currently walking with. She had not confirm what she recalled of the event, but Francis only recalled snippets of memory from it. He was fairly certain from his images and the evidence that he had at least kissed all her most intimate regions. Whether they had actual sex was something he could not even recall. Either way, it had happened at Brighton, and resulted in a very odd breakfast with his uncle, his aunt, his mother, and Frances.

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“It is the prerogative of the young. I was the same way.” The Duchess grinned mischievously. “I would think that you were too. Even now, we all want to achieve our goals right away, though we are not always willing to admit it.”


She nodded. “Now the French and Dutch, whose rulers are closely related to His Majesty, no longer have a strong claim to the throne. Perhaps they will leave us alone and turn their attention to their own countries.”


Francis’ comment about the newborn prince made her chuckle too. “I guess you would know, since your former ward also has a powerful set of lungs.” She couldn’t tell him that she often wondered if Lady Toledo’s large bosom had something to do with her ability to sing. The Duchess knew very little about anatomy.


She blushed too when he mentioned Brighton. Frances didn’t remember much of what happened that night, but she knew it was pleasant, and she had awakened with the handsome blond Earl beside her. They had never spoken of what did or didn’t happen.  Did he remember more than she did?  Had they actually ...?


Diana noticed their embarrassment. Had they been sweethearts then? They made a nice-looking couple. Her Grace seemed so lonely sometimes. Perhaps she could play matchmaker. “Brighton is by the ocean. I’ve always wanted to go there.” She looked from one to the other. “Did anything exciting happen when you were there?”


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  • 1 month later...

Francis was not about to get into a detailed discussion of anything exciting that might have happened between himself and duchess at Brighton, but that did not mean that he wouldn't discuss Brighton in general. Truly there was no way around it now as the girl had asked. It would be more suspect to demure.


"Something exciting always happens no matter where the court is, for His Majesty always wishes to be entertained with much merriment. There was a naval display during which some youths got excited and shot off some fireworks spontaneously, causing quite a ruckus. There were beach sculptures. The ladies had their own private bathing spot. A horse race too, down the beach, if I remember correctly. So I would say it was quite exciting."


He gave a smile to the young lady and then shared a look with the duchess to see what she  might add.

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Francis said nothing about that rather confusing party at Brighton. Perhaps he didn’t want Diana to ask more about it, or he was ashamed of whatever had happened between them.  Maybe he believed he had taken advantage of her, something that she knew went against everything he stood for. Or could it be because she was no longer as beautiful as she had once been? She had once thought he might be interested in her despite her scars, but that now seemed like wishful thinking. Francis probably preferred pretty young debutantes like her ward.


It was more likely that, like herself, he was just embarrassed.  Maybe someday, they would talk about it.


“Lord Kingston has covered it all, I believe,” she replied, returning his gaze. “I can’t think of a thing to add.”


Diana sighed dreamily. “I wish I could have been there.” Her guardian and the gentleman had recovered their composure and she wondered if she had only imagined the awkwardness between them. Lord Kingston looked quite a bit younger than Her Grace, but when had that ever mattered if you were in love?


“There will be exciting events this season too,” the Duchess consoled her ward.


“Like the masque!” the young girl exclaimed, practically jumping up and down. “I can hardly wait until Saturday.” She glanced at Francis. “My costume is being made. You’ll never guess what it is.”


“And you won’t tell him.” the Duchess admonished her. “It’s supposed to be a secret.”


“Will you be in costume, my lord? Or will you be attending the King?” She tilted her head to the side. “Maybe His Majesty will be in disguise too?"

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