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The Aftermath | After the seance, very early Thursday morning


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 ~continued from this thread.

 

 

Quote

 

She was glad for the others agreement and led them up the staircase and soon to her set of rooms.

Poppy must have heard for she was quick to open the door a ready retort cut short as she saw her Mistress was not alone.

"What foolishness ..... Look at the hour ...."

"Come inside quick. Go to the brazier both of you ...."

Long service gave her some leeway with her speech and manners so the other Lady should not take offense. It was hoped.

The room was warm and candles placed about gave it less of a gloomy atmosphere. Nicely finished tho it was. A round copper basin filled with sea coal was placed towards the windows and two carved wooden chairs can be pulled if wanted. Sea coal was best used at night where it would cover the fire with a crust so that come morning the fire would be revived to take the chill out of the air. Poppy saw to the cloaks and sent her Lady a 'look' to mean that she would expect some explanations.

"Some wine I think Poppy .... And stir up the fire and never mind the morning ..... set some water to warm ...."

She quietly gave her commands. She indicted for the other to take a chair then she herself would sit.

"Do you think an alibi is really needed?"

She asked.

 

 

Anne-Elisabeth was relieved when they reached Davina’s apartment. She looked around while her friend spoke to her maid. It was larger than her own, with two rooms. She kept her cloak on and did not take the seat Davina offered. “Most definitely,"  she whispered.  "But before I say more, are you sharing these rooms with somebody?  If so, we should go to my room. We don’t want to risk being overheard if they should return. Nobody else can know what happened tonight.”

 

As an attempt at levity, she added: “I’m not staying alone either but my kitten will never repeat what she hears.”

Edited by Anne-Elisabeth Devereux
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"Sit. Please."

She gestured to the two chairs.

"We are quite alone. There is no one to overhear."

"Baintree is the Viscount after all so naturally rooms are made for his use. But now, well, he is Norfolk's new son-in-law and so there is a status change."

"No doubt if he were here at Windsor then rooms set aside for the Duke might be made use of perhaps."

"My brother is busy playing the new husband and I have not seen him for some time. I assume he is at the house on Piccadilly."

"You brought a cat here?"

"Well that was one way to be free of mice I suppose."

"Oft times an animal is better than a human. Or so I have found."

She teased back.

"You can relax. Ah, Good. Sit and drink."

Poppy had come back with two glasses on a small tray. Clearly they held spirits of some kind as the amber-color might suggest.

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  • 2 weeks later...

After Davina explained that her brother had not come to Windsor, Anne-Elisabeth no longer felt so uneasy, though she was still quite shaken by the events of the evening. It was highly unlikely that the Viscount would leave his new wife and show up in the dead of night to visit his sister. They could speak freely. And it was less crowded than it would be in her own room with her telescope taking up much of the space.

 

She unclasped the silver brooches that fastened her cloak and draped it over the back of the chair since Davina’s maidservant was busy carrying out her orders. It was probably safe to take some of her jewelry off too, but she decided to keep it on. What if the spirit was real and he killed everyone in the cellars? He would come after them next.

 

The Countess sat down and smiled when Davina asked about her cat. “I never really cared for cats until somebody gave me one as a gift. Now she goes with me everywhere.” Crystal had killed mice a time or two but instead of eating them, she brought them proudly to her mistress, who promptly disposed of them.

 

“I agree. They are definitely less trouble than gentlemen  And they're cuter too.”

 

Anne-Elisabeth waited until the maid had delivered the wine and was out of earshot before speaking again in a low tone of voice. “As for alibis, even if everyone is dead, the Duchess’ maid knew we were there, though we should be able to buy her silence.” Or silence her in other ways, she added to herself.

 

“If they survive and it becomes known they were conducting a seance, I’m absolutely positive that they will try to bring us down with them. I only spoke to Lady Oakham once before and I just met the Duchess tonight, but I understand human nature. No matter how nice and respectable they might be, they will not want to be punished while we get away free.

 

“Do you know either of them well?”

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Davina listened but then interjected saying

"The Guard was there for a reason. He did not just suddenly appear."

"You must see that as well. I shall say that he was placed there by the Duke - for He is well aware of his wife's 'habits' in regards to this subject."

"Her safety was of course a thing he must care for."

"As for the maid, well, it is of no worry now for she will like as not already been taken care of. Or if she lives has been scared thru and thru and will never speak it."

"Nothing will be said. The Duchess will concoct a Tale and the Count was invited but then suddenly went mad. And hence what occurred."

"Who will seek to ask who was present? The Duke? I doubt it. He will want to hush things up. I think it is much for him to handle. Her obsessions with the Occult."

"Or at least that is my thought."

She took a long sip of her drink near draining the glass.

"The Duchess 'is known' to me but I am not an intimate nor even in her circle."

"Lady Oakham   ... How best to describe   ..... she and I have a history from several Seasons ago and have been more back-and-forth in regards to any friendship."

"She is quite well know about Court and has a rather unique way of looking at things. Her perspective is oft times for her sake only and she does not take well to any that disagrees with it or her plans."

"Childlike in many ways. But from a woman full grown."

"It can be tiresome indeed."

"I have been given leave By Prince Rupert to add a few Ladies to my Garden re-Design and so thought to add her. She had a Garden Society you see."

"But when asked she made to add her own stamp as it were and create a competition amongst all the Ladies for a design."

"The end result being that she would somehow acquire my 'title' as she sees it for Garden designer."

"I told her no. She took umbridge and I finally gave up and retreated! So there is the story."

"And so I was surprised to receive the invitation for tonight."

"How did you become known to each other?"

"The two of you are so opposite."

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Anne-Elisabeth had noticed that the Duchess and the Count seemed quite well-acquainted. Now Davina confirmed that she was obsessed with the occult. Maybe everyone already knew of her interest in the supernatural and didn’t take her seriously. Perhaps she was even considered a bit mad. She was surprised that the Duke put up with it at all. He could have forbidden his wife to attend court if he thought she would cause trouble for him.

 

Though she wanted to believe the worst of the despicable woman, she wondered if the Count was taking advantage of her by convincing her that it was possible to communicate with the dead. She still suspected that he was a con man and it was not impossible that the Duchess could be his latest victim. Of all the things the ‘demon’ had accused them of, the only one she believed was that the Count had not a drop of noble blood in his veins.

 

Even if the Duke did cover up tonight’s fiasco, Anne-Elisabeth did not think that she and Davina were out of danger. Not by a long shot.

 

Her friend also explained her side of what had happened that day in the Orangery. Lady Oakham had been trying to usurp her position by suggesting a gardening competition. Her intentions had not been as innocent as she had led the Barbadian Countess to believe.

 

“Actually I met her on the day the two of you argued. I was in the Orangery too, lamenting over the sorry condition of the lone pineapple growing there and probably boring Mistress Bayning to tears. She was most likely relieved when a servant called her away. I heard you and Lady Oakham quarreling and saw you storm off. Lady Oakham then approached me and commented on the sad state of the pineapple and said she had lived in Jamaica. I was sarcastic to her at first because I knew she had angered you, but she didn’t seem to notice. We started talking about the Caribbean and she mentioned the supernatural beliefs of the natives, which I was, of course, familiar with. That’s when she invited me to the séance. I didn’t see her again until tonight.”

 

Anne-Elisabeth drained her glass. “Even if the Duke manages to conceal the events of the evening, we still need alibis. I assume he will tell the so-called Count to leave his wife alone. Since he was most likely getting her to finance his activities, he will need another source of money. He may try to blackmail us and we need to be ready for that. The Duke could also attempt to harm us if he thinks we might be a threat to him, so we will need to watch our backs for the rest of the season. Our involvement in the séance may put us in peril for a long time to come unless we invent a story to explain our whereabouts and mention it in conversations with our friends and acquaintances.”

 

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"I am sorry that you had to witness my temper getting the better of me. It is just that Lady Oakham has this way about her when she is on a Quest for Achievement  ...."

"But enough on that. So this invite was a surprise for you as well then - what was her reasoning's do you think? More like the Duchess agreed to her bringing like-minded persons to make the numbers right."

"The Event will be as if it never occurred. And we have no idea if the Count even still lives or if the madness leaves he will still be of a sound mind. Personally I have my doubts about him yet what ever was in possession of him was a Truth."

"And if he is well you may be right as well. He had a sure thing in the Duchess playing upon her weakness and susceptibility and if that is lost seeking out a new patron will be a great need."

"But we have noting to offer and if he resorts to blackmail I may know of a way to see him removed for good."

She did not offer any explanations for those words.

She offers to refill the glasses and poked at the coals staring them up for more heat.

"Yes. We should have a careful eye the rest of the Season. We would be smart to be a step ahead if possible."

"A story of our own invention  ..... A midnight stroll of two of  Ladies is hardly plausible  ......."

"But here too we should be of like mind. Do you have something of an idea?"

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Anne-Elisabeth nodded. “I completely understand. She seems to care for nobody but herself and doesn’t want to look bad in front of others. I can’t believe that she demanded I leave when I asked an innocent question about the supernatural. It was like she thought that what she considered my poor behavior reflected badly on her because she was the one who invited me. It was quite obvious that she was trying to impress the Duchess, but I have no idea why.

 

“And yes, I agree. The Duchess is a spiteful woman and probably has no friends. Since they needed five people, she asked Lady Oakham to recruit two more ladies. I doubt she has many friends either, which is why she invited you, despite your quarrel with her, and me, a complete stranger. In fact, that was likely why she brought up the Caribbean’s supernatural influence, to see if I would be amenable to attending a séance.”

 

Davina seemed certain that the incident in the cellars would be brushed under the rug. It had never occurred to Anne-Elisabeth that the evil spirit might have driven the ‘Count’ insane. Assuming that the spirit was real, and she wasn’t as convinced as her friend that it hadn’t been just a performance meant to swindle them out of some money. Yet she still shivered when she remembered those cold empty eyes staring into hers.

 

Though curious, she didn’t ask Davina how she planned to have the ‘Count’ removed, or what the word ‘removed’ meant in this case. Thrown out of court? Killed? Sometimes it was better not to know.

 

An airtight alibi would put them one step ahead of their enemies. “There are many people who saw me at the astronomy demonstration tonight, including Lord Chichester. Given my interest in the subject, I can say that I decided to take a stroll after I left to try to pick out the constellations that I saw through the telescope with my naked eye. Anyone who knows me is aware that I am not afraid to be out after dark by myself.

 

“Where were you before the séance? If you were in your room, perhaps you could say that you couldn’t sleep and saw me wandering around outside the window and decided to join me.  We avoided being seen by the guards and found a place where they wouldn’t see us so we could lie on the ground, look at the stars, and talk. I think most courtiers know that we’re friends. Would that work or would you not do something like that?”

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She had to laugh a bit at the last question  ....

"How things have gone for me from the start of this year to now no matter what I did it would be seen as 'normal' for me!"

"So to make this Tale true I will naturally agree to it. I am free to go anywhere I please - obviously not where their Majesties are - or other Courtiers even - but the grounds and beyond are open to all that stay here."

"And you have seen for yourself that guards patrol naturally so we were lucky this time."

"And only a select few 'know you' as you describe so you too might well be thought of as odd."

"So the two of us together, well, it makes sense does it not!"

But there was also a more serious thing that tugged at her.

Should she seek out Bristol and tell him of this? Perhaps this Italian Count was already a known person and if he employed others might this not be something important?

"How do you think the Count knew things about each of us as was said?"

She asked quietly of the other.

"Did you catch it all?"

Davina had heard it all clearly but there had been no time to dwell on meanings then.

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Was Davina speaking about the incident that led to her stay in the Tower? Anne-Elisabeth was curious about what she had supposedly done to end up there. Obviously it had been a misunderstanding or she would not have been released. The Count had said that she had betrayed her mistress. Who else could her mistress be but the Queen? Maybe the accusation against her had led her to being dismissed from her position as a lady-in-waiting. Yet then why was she not reinstated? Maybe she had turned down the opportunity, which was exactly what Anne-Elisabeth had done if her suppositions were correct.

 

Davina agreed to the alibi that the Countess suggested. “I certainly hope that I am thought of as odd,” she chuckled. “How boring it would be to be considered normal. As for our story, I can say that I have been outside after dark before and learned how to avoid the guards. A lady alone would definitely not want to be seen. We will need to decide exactly what happened and even what we talked about. Also we should rehearse it until we know it by heart so that our accounts will never differ.”

 

Anne-Elisabeth contemplated Davina’s question while she took a sip of wine. “Yes, and I remember it all.  Gossip is rampant at court and that is probably where he got the information. He’s obviously a trickster who exploits people for money. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a list of secrets he has heard about each courtier. Most of them are false, of course, but he could still use them to his advantage, particularly against gullible ladies and gentlemen."

 

She frowned. “Did the Count know you would be there? I don’t think he was aware that I was going to participate. I met him once before, so he was aware of my existence and could have collected gossip about me. Maybe some rumors claim that I am not a real Countess.” Anne-Elisabeth shrugged. “He might have twisted the truth around as well. As my husband is dead, I am officially a dowager Countess, but that’s my mother-in-law’s title and I was able to keep my own because there were no heirs. I suppose ‘Cambray’ will become extinct after my death unless I can convince the King to give it to my son, assuming I marry again and have one.

 

 “Was there any truth in what he said about you?”

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She nodded in agreement adding

"Well we must no be 'too well rehearsed' for then it will not hold."

"I am used to Court and how things are seen and taken. You are new enough still to be caught out - not that I think you will but you must take my point."

"What 'he' said were not things bandied about Court as gossip. It was all too precise. You must not be so quick to assume that everyone thinks as you."

"And it is true the Count had no idea who the other two would be so for him to speak thusly about you and I - there was not enough time for him to pull all that information together before things began."

"Why would anyone spread such tales about you? Whitehall is a big place but London is small. Meaning Court and all those that attend and have daily interferences. All the Peers are actually small in number tis all the rest that make the numbers swell."

"Titles are so cumbersome are they not? Well if you have a daughter why not arrange it to be passed to her and continue thru the female line?"

"It is not very common but it occurs. And is not 'Marriage' what all of our sex wishes to achieve? Are we not told that to be Wife and Mother is the highest pinnacle?"

She took a deeper sip of her drink letting the warmth sink into her belly as she pondered just how much to tell of herself.

"He said I betrayed 'my Mistress, my Brother and my Faith' and that I was a fraud."

"Shall I start with Faith  ..... I am Catholic. Will always be so but as you have seen and heard Catholics are both feared and despised and so there are many Peers that 'Convert' at least Publicly and some are allowed to practice privately."

"The Duke of Norfolk is one which is why there is so much gossip surrounding that House. Will His Grace disinherit the legitimate Heir who disagrees with him and instead name the illegitimate son through his second wife, the current Duchess."

"I am kin to Norfolk and so it was expected that my brother follow and 'convert'. Which he has done. I also was forced to comply."

"This has caused a great contention between my brother and I as I refused at first and fought back." 

"To the outside it will look like I have indeed betrayed my Faith."

"As to my Mistress - that is of course The Queen. I have been a Maid of Honor for many years - a Catholic in a Protestant household."

"Recently there have been things of a suspicious nature and I am caught up in it."

"Things that I am not at liberty to even whisper."

"But all of these are not Public so for him to speak of them must mean he had ears in many places."

"I have told you something of myself and now you have information that might be beneficial if placed with the right people."

She smiled a bit at the other woman.

"But what about what was said about Lady Oakham   ......"

"That she' betrayed her husband three times and that she was not a proper Lady'  ......"

"I wonder if the Duchess and Lady Oakham have yet to think upon this as we are?"

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“All we need to do is create a coherent story that we don’t deviate from. Any contradictions will be noticed, but only if we are suspected. If the Duke is successful in covering up the unfortunate incident, then we won’t have to worry at all.” Anne-Elisabeth hoped that was what happened. She now wished that she had never met Lady Oakham. Yet if she had not been there, would something dreadful had happened to Davina? They had protected each other and fled together when it all went wrong.

 

“It is possible that he has been collecting information about courtiers since he first arrived at court, so he might have known a bit about us both.” The Countess frowned. “However, we were not introduced to him so he would have had to recognize us and know our names.” That seemed unlikely, but it wasn’t impossible, especially for a professional swindler.

 

“It is precisely because court is so small that rumors are spread against those who dare to be different. I am unapologetically unconventional and so other courtiers gossip about me. Not being a real Countess is tame considering some of the things I have heard about myself.”

 

Anne-Elisabeth tilted her head to the side when Davina informed her that a daughter could be named her heir. “I hope I impress the King so much that he would allow it if I only produce daughters. I’m sure that eventually I will marry again, but I’m not in any hurry. At least I will be able to choose my husband myself.”

 

Davina explained what the so-called Count’s accusations against her meant, except parts of it that she couldn’t speak about. Had Catholics threatened the Queen and she had been sent to the Tower because it was assumed she was a part of the scheme? Whatever had happened, it had not been solved yet and Davina was still involved somehow. Perhaps she was still one of the Queen’s ladies and her dismissal was a farce designed to get the culprits to attempt to recruit her to help them.

 

“He may cultivate friendships with servants to get information. Maybe he pays them for it. Servants usually go unnoticed and are underestimated. They know a lot more than they let on, and some of them have no qualms about spilling secrets if the price is right."

 

Anne-Elisabeth shrugged again. “Lady Oakham told me she had a poor reputation. Perhaps she cheated on her husband with three different gentlemen and therefore is not seen as a proper lady.”

 

As to whether they were discussing the same things: “I’m not sure that either of them is smart enough to think of the consequences. They also might be confident that the Duke will have it swept under the rug. The biggest threat to all of us is the ‘Count.’ If he survives, he could cause trouble for us.”

 

The young Countess leaned forward. “Do you think an evil spirit really possessed him or that it was just an act?”

 

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"Since your Title is a 'Granted One" perhaps, when the time comes, you might consult with one of the King's of Arms?"

"That way your own Crest might be passed down to a daughter of even joined together with your husbands."

"But I am not knowledgable really - I only know how my Father's shield was created and now my brother has it."

"When he has sons it will change and a new design will be created that allows for each son to have their place on it."

"As for choosing your own husband again in that you are Lucky. There is ALWAYS some male relative long forgot that appears and demands to now 'oversee' all your business!"

"And this happened more than you can imagine."

She shook her head slightly at the idea of the Count having any information about them.

"Oh I am sure he does not work alone. But they will be few in number. And besides he did not know who was attending besides the Duchess."

"If he has been playing upon her weaknesses and monies come from her, well, he would not want to end it now would he."

"Lady Oakham told you did she? Ah well I would think it more like her paving the way to allow as much sympathy as possible to flow her way."

"But you must now decide if further acquaintances are wanted. I shall not interfere."

"The Duchess will ensure that the Officer said what SHE told him to repeat and whether the Duke sees thru it who can say."

Davina gave a small shiver at the memory.

"I am superstitious enough to think so."

"It was a thing I have never witnessed. I have heard tales of those being 'possessed' and evidently so has the Duchess for she was quick with her Latin."

"We shall have to wait and see."

"Perhaps Lady Oakham will feel the need to seek you out soon. To ensure you are not hurt but of more import that you keep silent."

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Anne-Elisabeth knew nothing of family crests and shields, nor was she particularly interested in how they were made. If her offspring by a second husband were given her first husband's title, she would deal with it then. She was impressed by how knowledgeable Davina was about everything pertaining to court life and had learned a lot from her since her arrival in London last year.

 

“If my husband had any male relatives, I should think they would have come forward already. Anybody who claims his title now is probably an impostor.” If one did show up, she would do everything in her power to expose his duplicity.

 

“I think the Count knew Lady Oakham would be there.  She spoke so highly of him when we met that they must have been already acquainted. Maybe this wasn’t the first séance she and the Duchess attended.”

 

As for Lady Oakham wanting sympathy: “She seemed quite proud of the things she had done. In fact, she mentioned two affairs, which might have occurred when she was married and account for two of her betrayals. She also said she had stabbed some man called Killigrew at a ball.”

 

Davina thought that the evil spirit had been real. “As a scientist, I believe in facts, and he didn’t give us any proof that he was actually a shade other than what he said about us, and that could have been learned elsewhere. He didn’t levitate, swivel his head all the way around, or show superhuman strength. All he did was threaten to kill us. Though the possibility that the Count was possessed exists, I’m more inclined to believe that the he is just a very good actor.

 

“Pretending to be the Duchess' grandfather was meant to keep her under his control.  I think the ‘evil spirit’ was designed to pad his coffers. He probably expected us to beg for our lives instead of fight back and would have promised to spare us if we gave the Count a large amount of money.”

 

Anne-Elisabeth sighed. “That’s what my brain tells me. And yet, the way he looked at me …” She shuddered. “He did not seem to be human at all.”

 

Davina warned her that Lady Oakham might attempt to contact her again. “If she does, I can easily pretend that we never met. Nobody else saw us in the Orangery, and even if they did, I could have forgotten her. That is probably the wisest course of action. Then she will know that I’m not going to speak of something that supposedly never happened.

 

“She might try to contact you as well for the same reasons.”

 

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"Well I shall hope that there is no 'relative' that shows up to try to claim what is yours!"

"And your mother-in-law would be within her rights to advance a male relative if she wished  ....."

"But let us not dwell there shall we."

"Lady Oakham is close with the Duchess so for her to have already attended before this one is very likely and also that the Count knew her as well."

"Oh she spoke of Mr. Killigrew  ..... openly  ...... Well that is not a thing to be proud of but then what is normal for us is not always with her."

"You will discover more of Lady Oakham if you continue her acquaintance."

"I do not think it were a hoax. There is no logic that can be applied to what we both saw. I think he was indeed taken by something that has no explanation."

"And I do not ever wish to see such again."

"Perhaps in the coming days we shall have to observe if we see either of them. I mean Lady Oakham might reach out to either of us in curiosity?

"Will they not wonder how we are? Do you think a pretense shall be done - that nothing will ever be said at all and it was as if never occurred?"

"Well we two have a Story and if the need arises we shall put it forth."

"The next 'Social Event" is the yacht race of Friday. Shall we go together and see if either are there? How they act will be a good marker for how we too act."

"If as you say and Lady Oakham ignores or pretends then you are free to respond how you will."

"As for me, well, I shall be as I always am with her. Yet more guarded and observing."

"Will you be alright alone for the rest of the  night .... you may stay with me if you wish  ......"

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“The way I feel now, if I see Lady Oakham in hell, it will be too soon. I have no desire to get to know her better. When I found out she lived in the Caribbean, I thought maybe we could be friends, but not after tonight. She was reluctant to provide her name when we met, and I think I know why. The Duchess is the only one at court who actually likes her. Perhaps they’re both insane.”

 

Anne-Elisabeth wanted to ask why Lady Oakham had stabbed that Killigrew fellow, but that inquiry would have to wait. Maybe he had turned down her advances. Or she had thought that he was a long lost enemy who had come back to life. Who knew what went through the mind of a lady like her?

 

Davina seemed positive that something not of this world had possessed the self-proclaimed Count. Anne-Elisabeth’s scientific mind said otherwise, but in her heart, she felt that her friend was correct. If the supernatural existed, then perhaps the charm that her late husband had bought for her really had protected her in the shipwreck that had taken everyone else's lives.

 

“I hope I never see anything like that again either. If anybody invites me to another séance, I will definitely decline.”

 

She lifted her glass to her lips while Davina asked her if she thought the others would contact them. “I doubt they care about us that much. If I were them, I would pretend that nothing had happened. They may discuss it between themselves much as we are doing now, but, if we’re lucky, they will stay away from us.”

 

Anne-Elisabeth nodded. “Yes, let’s go to the yacht race together and present a united front. They might have the same idea. If they avoid us, then we’ll know that they have decided to pretend that nothing untoward occurred tonight. They may approach each of us privately, and if they do, we should tell each other what they said and how they acted.”

 

The Countess had always believed she was fearless, but the events of this night had unnerved her. “If you don’t mind, I will stay,” she replied softly. “If … it all went wrong … it won’t be safe to wander the halls alone.”

 

Was Davina thinking along the same lines as she? What if the Duchess, Lady Oakham, and the guard were all dead? Would the evil spirit come for them next?

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"There are quite a few that find her charming about Court but she can be rather tiresome. At least with me."

"It is unfortunate that the two of you had to meet under such as what has happened. And now I think you are right in that any 'friendship' is not to be."

"Her Grace has her intimates as well. She is styled as Duchess of Albemarle. Her Family are the Cavendish's - her father is the Duke of Newcastle Upon Tyne. Her younger sister Lady Frances was lately engaged to Dorset but that agreement is now broke."

"One has to feel for Lady Frances. An arranged marriage that benefit only the Duke and Dorset. Then there is Dorset's reputation."

She gave a slight shake of her dark head.

"I have seen Lady Frances out and about and I am glad of it. She was fortunate to have escaped what no doubt would have been a life full of misery and humiliations."

"You know the Earl of Dorset do you not?"

"And as to your theory I have to agree. The less said the better. Very well. We shall ourselves 'sail' forth on Friday and see which way the wind blows.

She smiled for the first time relaxed into the chair as the warmth began seeping into her chilled bones.

"Of good! I shall be glad of your company. Somehow even tho we escaped I can not feel Safe."

"Do you think whatever 'that' was will remember any of our faces? It sounds silly but this whole night has been such a disbelief."

She turned and called out for her maid and whispered something and then the maid gave a small curtsey and left.

"I have asked her to sniff out for any news - perhaps something has leaked from there? Poppy will know know where to go - she has a wide range of 'connections' amongst the servants." 

"And when she returns I will order another brazer for closer to the bed! She will warm the sheets so it will be ready."

"I have not shared a bed with another woman since my little sisters  ...."

She grew a bit quit as her thoughts remembered the now deceased siblings.

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So ‘the Duchess,’ as Anne-Elisabeth called her, was from a powerful and influential family. No matter how crazy she was, it wouldn’t be wise to snub her if she approached her in a public place. In private, she could give her a piece of her mind and claim the conversation never happened. She still doubted that the Duchess was well-liked. It was more likely that her family tolerated her for appearance’s sake. Courtiers were polite to her, but she probably had very few real friends, if any, besides Lady Oakham.

 

She had also not known that the Duchess' sister was the lady who had been betrothed to Dorset. He had been as unhappy with the arrangement as she was. Not for the first time, Anne-Elisabeth wondered if the destruction of the marriage contract had been deliberate and which of the two had been responsible. She imagined that Lady Frances was quite relieved to be spared the fate of marrying a libertine.

 

“Yes, I know him.” On the night they had met, Davina and a friend had wandered into the room where the limerick contest was being held and Dorset had challenged her to compose a limerick about them. She said nothing more about the double Earl. She doubted that Davina would approve of their relationship.

 

She did, however, approve of her spending the night. Anne-Elisabeth frowned at her friend’s question. “I hope that it doesn’t remember us. Maybe it was banished back to hell.” It did seem silly to talk of spirits as if they actually existed. Yet it was possible that they did.  She really didn’t know what to believe anymore. “If the ‘Count’ remains at court, we should not let him see us … just in case that thing still lingers inside him, whether it is real or a product of his madness.”

 

Davina sent her maid away and explained why. If the others were dead, they had probably been discovered by now. She hoped that Lord Chichester had not become involved in the whole sordid mess. Would the spirit … or the insane Count … go after him too?

 

She sensed her friend’s sadness when she spoke of her sisters. Had they passed away? So many children never made it to adulthood, no matter whether they were of high or low status. “I had no sisters, only an older brother. Even after two years, I still miss him.”

 

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"Of course  I know that you know him - tis how we met after all!"

"In the drawing room filled with Riddles and watching eyes and ears."

"But by 'knowing him' you also understand how his Lifestyle would make a girl like Lady Frances lose heart. She herself knows about that and so to have to pretend she does not to save Face would only make it more difficult."

"She could, I suppose, join him in his pursuits but somehow I do not see that ever happening. And so however it ended there is now no contract and both are free to marry elsewhere."

"I am sure that the Duchess her Mother is hot to find a replacement and she has several younger sister that will soon be marketable as well."

"I shall Pray nightly that we are forgot. In all seriousness."

"I do not expect much to come back by way of Poppy but even if we hear that there are no 'bodies' and that all there are now safe returned we can breath easier."

"I have an elder brother as you know. Called Richard but addressed as all Peers are by their Title - Viscount Baintree or just 'Baintree'. Two younger brothers, William and Alister who are not young anymore ."

"Why I have just realized that Will is now twenty-six and Alister is nineteen - and that makes me a very old twenty and two."

"My two little sister are much missed. Winifred and Sophia by name. Win died of a 'Summer Fever' and Sophia had a fall from a horse  ......."

"But heigh ho Life has gone on."

"And what does this brother of yours do? He remains in the Island then? Will he come here?"

"Has he a wife and children?"

She leaned a bit forward and whispered 

"And does he pester you to marry again? I am surround by voices chiming in my ear. It had reached the point that even The Queen was commanding it but Dame Fortuna smiled and I escaped."

"But I know it will arise up soon enough."

"And soon you will be in the same trap - you are a beautiful young woman and I know that many eyes follow and arms are eager to catch."

"I'd wager that once returned to London you will find this out for yourself."

Davina nodded her head adding

"Tis truth. Wait and see. Dorset already sniffs as do others of that Set."

"You should plan a Campaign in advance for when Spring comes and the Lusty Month of May arrives!"

She teased her friend but she was also giving a warning. A Widow that was titled and beautiful was a prize to win.

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Anne-Elisabeth had never met Lady Frances, and probably never would considering her own soiled reputation. Prim and proper ladies wanted to marry respectable gentlemen so they could live boring predictable lives together. There might be a few who would turn a blind eye to Dorset’s disreputable activities for the chance to become a double Countess, but she doubted that he wanted to marry a lady who disapproved of his idea of fun.

 

“I’m sure they are both quite happy that things turned out as they did.”

 

The Caribbean Countess nodded. “So will I.” She wasn’t even sure that God existed, but if spirits did, then it made sense that He would too. Perhaps she should start paying more attention in church instead of covertly observing other members of the congregation.

 

“I hope she doesn’t come back with bad news.” Yet the news would be both good and bad whether the Duchess and Lady Oakham were dead or alive. If they had died, she and Davina were safe from discovery but maybe not from evil spirits or insane self-proclaimed Counts. If they lived, they themselves would be a threat. Still, she hoped that they had survived. Maybe they would be so shocked they would have no memories of tonight.

 

As she had guessed, both of Davina’s sisters had passed away. At least she still had three brothers. Anne-Elisabeth smiled slightly as her friend spoke of her own brother pushing her to marry again. “I think I would welcome it if he could, because then he would still be alive.  He perished in the shipwreck with the rest of my family. Maybe he would have been married by now.” She narrowed her eyes teasingly. “If he was still single, I would have introduced him to you. He was tall and handsome and the heir to an Earl.”

 

She sighed. “As you said, life goes on.”

 

As to her marriage prospects: “I don’t think I’ll be a very popular catch because of my unconventional lifestyle and I certainly don’t want to marry a gentleman who expects me to live inside a gilded cage. I need to spread my wings and fly.” She believed that she and Dorset would be a good match for each other if they both got over their fear of commitment at the same time. Or maybe marriage would ruin their relationship forever. She certainly didn't want that to happen.

 

“I think you will have more suitors than I do. Are you like me and not ready to settle down or have you yet to meet the gentleman you want to spend the rest of your life with?"

 

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She had not realized that she had lost her brother so was quick to say

"I did not know. If I had I would not have asked of him."

"Really? If he was anything like you are then I suspect things would have indeed been interesting."

"And so that Title passes to another then - some other male relative perhaps - or it reverts back to the Crown I suppose."

"My face is an old one. Yours is new. And so more like as not to be pursued."

"As to your question  ....."

She mused a bit then spoke as if she were voicing her own thoughts 

"We, as women, are seen as 'not having Souls' and as such in constant need of a man's strong hand to Rule in evert aspect of our lives. It can not have been much different even on your Island for was it not settled by Men and ALL men have that thought. It is preached by the Church after all. We are property of fathers than husbands. That will never change. And to think it will is foolish and leads to nothing but a Life filled with misery and frustrations. That is why Lady Toledo had such hardships as she refused to see how things are. And even those in a libertine lifestyle must realize that they will never be fully accepted and that they are seen as an oddity. A thing to amuse and to bed but not to marry. Generally."

"A daughter of a Peer has a better chance at education but only if her father thinks that educating daughters would prove profitable in the marriage market. No man wants a learned wife that can outshine him and thus lose face. But a wife that shines in housewifery and medicinal skills and able to read and write and manage his Estates in his absence IS valued and wanted. So we do have an edge. But there are more fathers that do not subscribe to that 'new way of thinking' and so daughters are nothing but a thing to be wagered off."

"We dream do we not of a Love like the Troubadours sing of or actors portray but in reality a marriage is not contracted on that emotion. It is a business deal between two families that binds them in Land and Money and furthers Social Ambitions on both sides. The new made bride must now join her husbands family and seek to further them yet must also retain Loyalty to her own family and seek to further their causes. Being sent 'To Court' is the ambition dreamed of for tis there that fortunes can be made and ties and connections built upon. I was contracted to marry at sixteen. His accidental death caused my father much distress for it meant that a joining of Lands was now not possible and that some other daughter would have to be found. I was seen as responsible for it falling apart. I was no Lady Frances where it was seen as a setback only and a new match can be readily found."

"I did not love that boy and did not expect to marry for it. Yet we liked the other and so hoped it might one day turn to Love. Sadly we never had the chance to see."

"So I was sent to Court to be a Maid of Honor and thus pave the way for my family to seek positions, wealth, lands, whatever might come their way thru me and my position. As was my Duty. It still is."

"And now I am this age and as I have said marriage is expected. My brother demands it for he is head of our House. There are a few about that I thought I might seek out but for many reasons did not bear fruit. And now too much time has passed to rekindle."

"I could chose a nunnery but that cloistered life is not for me and I do not think I would be forced to it."

"Do I want to seek out a man on my own? Yes. Indeed I thought the one I was with might well be good but he has another interest and now a child so  ......"

She took a sip and then realizing how long winded and near to Preaching she had been felt her face redden.

"And now you will think me a bore and one who just lectures and thinks too highly of her own thoughts. But I am not."

"Or at least I did not think so. Perhaps I have indeed changed."

"You must adjust your thoughts now that are here. To stand out too boldly may not be beneficial. But in playing the Long Game it is alway useful to remember that a large tree is good for shade."

"Meaning that influential people can offer protection."

"This is a lesson I have learned. And one I wish I had used."

"If I had, well, perhaps things would've played out better. I kept my own counsel which is best always yet I was foolish in not seeking out that shade."

"I will never make that mistake again." 

"And now to you. Do you have an eye for Dorset or another Gentleman about Court?

"If you need introductions I can provide. Just ask me about any that you are curious about.."

It was then that the door was quietly opened and Poppy returned.
 

Edited by Davina Wellsley
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“He had my sense of humor but he was much more proper. He often chided me for being unconventional, but in a playful manner.” Anne-Elisabeth smiled at the memory. “I think you would have liked him. And it would have been fun to be sisters-in-law.”

 

She didn’t think that she would have as many suitors as Davina. Maybe gentlemen who were new to court might be interested in her … until they heard that she was a libertine. Davina was the kind of lady that gentlemen wanted to wed. She would be a good wife and mother and might even turn a blind eye to their affairs. Anne-Elisabeth would only tolerate her husband’s affairs if he tolerated hers, and she didn’t think she’d make a very good mother. Children were annoying little buggers.

 

Gentlemen probably also preferred ladies who had never been married before. No man wanted to be compared unfavorably to his wife’s dead first husband, especially in bed. Virgin brides knew nothing but their husband’s touch and would be content with his lovemaking, while widows had experience, expectations, and preferences when it came to sex.

 

Davina had a lot to say on the subject of marriage. As she surmised, the same mindset prevailed in Barbados. Most of Anne-Elisabeth’s friends had been perfectly content with their lot in life and aspired to nothing else but marrying well. Some of them were sent to court to find a husband and others were betrothed to gentlemen who lived in England like she had been. 

 

She had always been different and had sometimes wished that she could conform to the standards she was supposed to live by. But she just couldn’t, no matter how hard she tried. Eventually she had accepted and embraced her individuality, perhaps to an unhealthy extreme.

 

The young Countess had not known that Davina had been betrothed and thought it unfair but typical that her reputation had been tainted by her fiance’s death. In a man’s eyes, women were always at fault for anything that went wrong with their plans. Anne-Elisabeth felt sorry for her, but perhaps it had been a blessing in disguise. If she had married, she might have been stuck in the country for the rest of her life instead of going to court and obtaining a coveted position serving the Queen.

 

It was difficult to believe that anyone would leave Davina for another lady. Whoever he was, he was a fool, and she hoped that he would regret his decision for the rest of his days.

 

Anne-Elisabeth reached over and squeezed her friend’s hand. “I don’t think you're a bore,” she assured her. “And I’m sorry you had to go through such misfortune, though as the saying goes, everything happens for a reason. You now have the option of finding your own match, especially while your brother is busy with his new marriage. The right gentleman is out there. You just have to find him, and I will help you if I can.”

 

Davina’s suggestion about protection reminded her of Nicci telling her that she needed a sponsor before she would praise her wit in the King’s presence. It was definitely something to think about. So far she’d had no offers and she wasn’t positive she wanted to be at the beck and call of any man. However, she would do just about anything to rise in popularity and status.

 

“Dorset and I see each other occasionally,” Anne-Elisabeth confessed, “and there is another gentleman I have been spending time with, but I am not really ready to settle down yet.  I’ll take you up on your offer if somebody else catches my eye.”

 

Before she could say more, Davina’s maidservant returned.

 

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She smiled at the idea of what might have been.

"I should have liked that. But we can still be 'sisters' if the idea does not cause you any dislike."

"But I should warn you that I have a great temper and am stubborn. But that I will deny Publicly!"

She returned the squeeze glad that she had not taken any offense and thought her preaching.

"Finding my own match  ..... Ah in that I think you are mistaken. Baintree may be playing at wedded Bliss but that will soon come to an end and when it does he will set his sights back onto me."

"I thought I had found him but not. And then another came by my side and we were together but now he faces fatherhood and with a woman who is entirely unsuitable and so  ..."

She gave a small shrug of one shoulder.

"I do not wish to share a husband. Yet it has been beaten into me that a man 'has needs' and those needs are to be fulfilled by those common women whilst the Wife is for procreating and the begetting of an heir. This is also what you know as well. A man may father as many bastards as he likes and has the right to bring it into his Household and raised along side his own legitimate children and the wife must keep silent. That is our Duty."

"But I could not keep silent if my husband brought a bastard into our home and expected me to raise it up amongst my own. I suspect I would have to endure many a beating for that."

"I wonder at the type of man you would look for? Perhaps we should make a Quest?"

It was then that Poppy returned and came to her Mistress and whispered then went out again to find a servant with another brazer.

"Well it seems that nothing is out of the ordinary. No dead bodies. Poppy was told that the a 'man' was taken away by a Lifeguard and a few others."

"So it seems that the Duchess and Lady Oakham did not meet their demise and the Count may or may not still be alive."

"And thus we wait till Friday and the Race. I think that both will want to make things as normal as possible and what better place to show themselves than there?"

"Oh good. The water has warmed nicely. You shall have first bid to rinse off the nights dirt and Poppy shall warm a nightgown unless you prefer your chemise?"

She looked to the round copper bowl that had been placed atop the coals at one side.

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