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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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