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A Visit From A Friend | Thursday afternoon


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Apartment of Lord & Lady Toledo


 

The door to the apartment opened directly into the drawing room, a long, narrow space furnished in dark woods and hung with crimson damasks and silks. The bank of frosty windows looks out over the Long Walk and Castle Hill. To the right of the windows, on the west, is a well-lighted fireplace with a carved stone coat of arms placed into the wall directly above. There is a swathe of royal blue velvet draping the mantel, a wreathe of seasonal blooms gracing the center of the swathe. Against the opposite wall is a long table surrounded by several ornate chairs. An iron chandelier hangs from the ceiling to light the chamber at night, the light glinting off the polished wooden floors.


 

Further down the west wall are two doors leading to the apartment’s bedchambers. The first chamber is furnished simply in dark green, or varying shades of the color, with green damask hangings on the mahogany bed, the verdant counterpane worked with fine silver embroidery. A tapestry depicting a boar hunt covers the door to the closet on the north wall, a fireplace crackling merrily between two moderately sized windows in the south. Near this fireplace is a small table and chair while an iron chandelier hangs from the center of the ceiling, light glinting off the polished wooden floors.


 

The second bedroom is decorated in golds, the rich earthy colors making the room feel warmer than it actually was. A fire crackled in the hearth to the north while a heavy gold velvet curtain covered the door to the closet set into the south wall. In the center of the room was an ornate mahogany bed with similarly colored hangings and counterpane; however, the bed was so high that it required the use of an ornate set of steps to climb into it. The windowless room was lighted by an iron chandelier, light glinting off the polished wooden floors.


 


 

Dressed in one of the beautiful gowns that Ellen Doolittle had designed for her, Sophia surveyed the parlor while she waited for Lady Frances to arrive. As the Toledos had rented a house in town, there were few personal touches in the room. One thing she had insisted on was moving in a divan and placing it by the window so that she could recline comfortably. When the season was over, it would be returned to the house and moved into her lying-in chamber.


 

She had sent her maid to the bakery for some pastries that she and Lady Frances could enjoy while they caught up with each other. Sophia expected that her friend would be quite happy, since she was no longer betrothed to a libertine. She herself though that Lord Dorset was quite amiable, but she wouldn’t want to marry him despite the fact that he was a double Earl.


 

After straightening the flowers in a vase on the table, she waddled to the window and looked outside. The baby’s soft kicks made her smile.


 

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She had planned to go the Carnival in all Truth. 

Determined to NOT allow any Pity to keep her in hiding she had intended to sail forth without a care but the she had overheard some servants employed by her Father discussing a wager that was being placed apparently by many or so it seemed on the likelihood of her actually showing up or if she would quickly turn and leave hiding her face from all. The bets were higher on her LEAVING  ....

And so it was that she had penned Lady Toledo and the reply was favorable and now she made her way to the apartments set aside for the couple. She walked unhurriedly keeping the hem of her skirts a bit raised so not to dirty the brocade fabric. It was a new gown and cut in a more fashionable design than she normally would wear and the bodice also reflected this in its lowering. She had a nice figure and she knew that the gold color of her dress mixed with cream lace and the abundance of pearls and clear sparkling glass beads were a complement all round. Her cheeks were tinged a light pink from her walking and she wore a new scented perfume that was a mix of spice and earthy flowers. Not her usual sweet florals.

This was a NEW Frances.

She had no maid to accompany for she was old enough and Windsor was no Whitehall after all.

Arriving she gave a soft knock on the door waiting to be admitted. Her package secured in some plain velvet in her hands.

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Sophia turned toward the door when she heard the knock. Her maid had not yet returned from the bakery (what was keeping her so long?) so she answered the door herself.

 

Lady Frances had changed so much that she hardly recognized her. Last season she had looked like she was carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders.  Now there was a confident and cheerful cheerful air about her. The dissolving of her betrothal had definitely been good for her.

 

“It is splendid to see you again, Lady Frances,” she said in greeting. “You look absolutely lovely. Please come in.”

 

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She hid her surprise as Lady Toledo herself opened the door.

She knew she was pregnant but seeing it so up close and just how much she had changed   ........

Frances gave a small curtsey and then reached out as if to escort her saying

"And why are you answering? You must surely be sitting down. Why you look to deliver any moment! "

She headed them towards the small table and two chairs by the fireplace easing Sophia into one of them before she took the other.

She set her small bundle at her feet and took a moment to settle her skirts.

"So how are you?" She asked.  "I did not expect to see you about but I think that nothing would prevent you from that."

She know well the other's stubbornness and so she teased bit.

"But you look well. Yet I think also more tired than you will admit."

"I know nothing of this state but I have friends who have had babies and have heard how badly ones body feels and all the other things." 

"When have they said the baby will be born?"

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“I sent my maidservant to the bakery and she hasn’t returned yet,” Sophia confessed. She didn’t protest when Lady Frances led her over to the fireplace. “When she does, she will serve us tea and refreshments.”

 

She sighed with relief as she sat down. “You know me too well.” Sophia smiled at her friend’s teasing. “At the beginning of the season, I went out quite often. I know most ladies would be in bed by this time in their pregnancies, but I believe that getting fresh air is better for the baby than lying in a stuffy room. Now it’s getting more difficult to get around, which is why I’m staying here instead of in the house my lord husband rented in town. I don’t want to miss the Masque and the Christening.

 

“Pregnancy definitely takes a toll on one’s body. My back aches, my ankles are swollen, and the baby kicks me all day and all night. I thought my strange cravings would go away but they haven’t. I still love strawberries with fish sauce.”

 

Did she really look tired? Most of the time, she did feel exhausted, even when walking across a room. “The baby is due in November so I have about a month and a half to go. At this point, I just want to get it all over with and hold my baby in my arms.” Sophia chuckled. “I never thought I would say this, but I’m actually looking forward to my confinement.”

 

The baby pummeled her and she placed one hand on her blossoming belly. “How have you been? You must have been overjoyed when your betrothal was canceled. And how is the kitten? What did you name it?”

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Reason given for answering the door herself and she seemed glad to sit as well.

"November  ..... But that is only a short time from now. And when will you return to London then?"

"Confinement is the last month before birth so that is October. Not many days left."

"Have you chosen who will accompany you for it? Which married Ladies I wonder might you select?"

"Will you have and Spanish Ladies?"

"I can only imagine how much preparation must be involved. Your own attendants and the midwife and hers, plus being in just one room or two for an entire month ....."

She trailed off aware that she was rattling on.

"I am sorry. Look at me just asking away and not giving you a change to answer!"

"I do not have anyone close to me know that is pregnant let alone given birth. I understand how it works (she thinks it to be so) but  ......."

"Are you not afraid?"

She watched as Sophia put a hand to her belly answering back

"Me? Well enough. At first I was determined to shut myself away like I had to hide. As if I were in the wrong."

A small shrug of one shoulder

"But I quickly let go of that. I was the subject of much mirth gossip and pity and now, well, I do not hide away anymore. I do not care for any of those that belittled me but championed Dorset."

"He is as I - glad to be rid of the other. Or at least I presume so. We have not talked."

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Lady Francis had a lot of questions but Sophia didn’t mind at all. “I will be giving birth in our rented house and I should be returning to London next season. My lying-in chamber is still being decorated but it is almost done.” She decided not to mention that it was painted in pastel colors with cheerful paintings on the wall. There were shutters on the windows but she planned to have them opened so that she could get some fresh air. She would even sit in the small garden by the outside door when she felt like it. And that was precisely why …

 

“I do not plan on asking any ladies to stay with me. It will be too crowded and I like my privacy. I will accept visitors, but they will not be present during the birth. It will be just me and the midwife. I will feel more comfortable without so many people watching me scream in pain. I know it is not traditional, but everyone is different and I feel that this is the best arrangement for me.” She could have mentioned that she was not English, but German birthing traditions were much the same.

 

“I don’t have any friends with children to give me advice, and there are still many things I do not know. And yes, I’m frightened. I have nightmares about things going wrong. I know the pain is going to be excruciating, and I don’t look forward to it, but I think it will be worth it to bring my child into the world. I have heard that once your baby is born, you forget about the pain as if it never happened.”

 

Sophia sighed. “I don’t know why everyone believes that everything is the lady’s fault. You were right not to hide. There would have been rumors about you feeling guilty. It is much better to be seen and to walk with your held held high. You were not to blame and it is much better for you not to marry a man like Dorset.  You would have been a double Countess but your life would have been miserable.  He doesn't deserve a fine lady like you.   Now you are free of him and you have the chance to marry a gentleman who suits you much better."

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There was a silence as Frances digested what she had heard.

"What? Here at Windsor? Not in London?"

"I do not understand .... Just the two of you? What of the midwife's own attendants that will assist her?"

"But you must have a least one married Lady present of some Rank that can testify that the child was birthed from you. Naturally everyone knows it to be but it is just so that no suspicion will fall onto you or the child."

"And once in Confinement no outside persons may see you for those 30 days."

"Even 'I' know this much."

"And you can not go out in Public until you have been 'Church'd' after that."

"Why even The Queen had to have had it so and it is even more invasive for her. Imagine half the Court to witness  ...."

Her words were a statement to her being shocked at how Sophia was doing things.

"I am quite surprised. I did not think that Lord Toledo, a Spaniard and a Catholic, would ever agree to such an arrangement. I mean childbirth is the same for Noble Ladies no matter where."

But she had an understanding of how Sophia thought so she left off on her response to that and moved on.

"A Double Countess is a thing of import but not one i sought. It was my father who wished it to be."

"Perhaps now things will be different but I can not say for sure."

"I may have attained some Grace for now my younger sister Margaret will become the focus. There can not be two sisters at the same time to marry off after all!"

"I have brought you a small gift. For the child."

She reached down and took up the small velvet wrapped bundle and held it out for her to take.

(inside is a small sandlewood box carved with flowers and when opened a small coral necklace rests on a piece of folded white satin fabric)

"It is Red Coral. A necklace. Made for a baby. They must wear it hung around their neck to protect them from illness and danger."

"It is a powerful talisman and well serve to help ease your mind and worries."

"I have more beads that you may have to make it larger as the child grows."

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“I don’t think traveling at this point is an option, despite London not being very far. Staying cooped up in a carriage would be very uncomfortable and I would hate to go into premature labor on the road. So since I will be going into confinement shortly after the end of the season, it is best to stay here. And the air is much fresher, which is beneficial for both the baby and me.”

 

She considered Lady Frances’ advice. “Of course the midwife’s assistants will be there, as well as a physician if the baby is reluctant to leave my womb. Perhaps you are right and I should have one married friend present, though I think my screams of pain would be proof enough that I am giving birth.”  She supposed she could ask Darlene. Confinement might even be fun with her around and she had mentioned that she had no plans after the end of the season. She would have to be in on the plan, though, and Sophia was not certain if she would approve. The petite blonde had not been aware that nobody could visit during confinement. Since she had asked Darlene to do so, maybe she already expected to stay.

 

“He hasn’t agreed,” she admitted. “I shall have to convince him, but he gives me almost everything I ask for now so I don’t think that will be a problem.” And she was milking her pregnancy for all it was worth.

 

Some ladies would ignore their husband’s scandalous behavior in order to become a double Countess, but Lady Frances wanted an honorable marriage and a stable home for her children. Dorset would never have given her that. “You are fortunate. While the focus is on your sister, you are free to dance with gentlemen at balls and converse with them without any pressure. Maybe you will find the right one for you and he will meet with your lord father’s approval.”

 

Sophia was glad that her friend’s life was looking up.

 

She had not expected a gift. With an exclamation of delighted surprise, she took the bundle that Frances handed her and opened it. The box itself was gorgeous, but the tiny necklace was even more so. She lifted it out and examined it, imagining her own baby wearing it, and then carefully put it back on its bed of satin.

 

“Thank you, Lady Frances! It is beautiful and I will place it around my baby’s neck as soon as he or she is born. I have never heard of this tradition, but there are many English customs that I still don’t know about. How long do they need to wear it?”

 

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She had been about to say

what do you mean a physician will be present?  Childbirth and Confinement are a Woman's Domain and no man is ever allowed inside 

But stopped herself. It was clear that her friend intended to defy any English traditions and so it was futile to say anything more on this.

Except for

"Of course you must have Ladies present - your travails are not what is important - the baby emerging must be seen to come from you and thus will be taken to your husband so that he can acknowledge it as his."

Of her own issues she shrugged

"Fortunate? Really?"

"Margaret is only sixteen near seventeen. Her marriage, while of interest, is not that great."

"Neither myself or Margaret can expect to wed a husband HIGHER than my sister Elizabeth after all."

"And she is a Duchess."

"Margaret will marry a second or even third son. Someone from a Wealthy and Good Family obviously but more like a Lawyer or even someone that holds a minor Court Office."

"I am better placed. For who ever I marry will be of higher Rank than Margarets. Even I will not be so foolish as to think otherwise."

"And you are wrong - I am not so free to dance or talk to or anything else to any Gentleman. Properties must be observed at all times. Nothing has changed because I am not marrying Dorset."

"My lady Mother has even procured the services of a Court Matron - Lady Lucas by name - do you know her - for the purpose of getting husbands for us."

"But even this Lady understands that two sister can not well be placed in the marriage market together so yes, I suppose, in some ways you might be right."

She smiled across to her friend at the gift revealed.

"They must wear it past the first Winter for so many perish afore then. If it survives thru Winter then the chances are better."

"Do not risk dangers if you remove it afore then!"

"Tempting Fate like that leads to nothing pleasant."

"I am sure Lord Toledo must have some superstations of his own that he would like you to follow."

"You can not be too Safe after all. And a new born child is defenseless."

Ah! I nearly forgot to say  ....."

"I have named the kitten 'cat' I know hardly original but there it is."

"She answers to it when called and so I am happy with it."

"She even sleeps on my bed and THAT annoys my lady Mother to no end but she just gives me a look but says nothing."

"I think she secretly likes the beast but would not dare to admit that."

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Sophia assumed that if there were problems that the midwives couldn’t handle, Esteban would call for a physician if there wasn’t any other choice. Or perhaps she had been reading too many novels. Whatever the case, she hoped it wouldn’t come to that. Now that she had met Molly, she was more certain that her ordeal would have a positive outcome.

 

“My lady mother passed away when I was only three. I had a stepmother but she had no children. Nobody taught me about the customs surrounding childbirth, so I don’t know exactly how things should be done.” Sophia thought it odd that you needed witnesses to prove the child was yours. She understood that it was necessary for royalty and she felt sorry for the Queen for having to endure ladies staring at her privates while she was in agony. But the petite blonde was only a Countess, and a new one at that. Why could not the midwives’ word be trusted?

 

Or did other courtiers switch babies too? Was it a common occurrence, perhaps?

 

And there were rules regarding marriages when you had sisters as well?  She listened with interest while Lady Frances explained. “Being an only child, I was not aware of this either. Cannot sisters both marry Earls if they will bring the most advantage to the family? Or will a nobleman be turned down if the lady he wants to marry has an older sister who wed a gentleman with a lesser title?”

 

Sophia was glad she didn’t have a bunch of older sisters. She would probably have to marry a stable boy. Maybe that was why some young ladies devoted their lives to the church … to escape marriage to a man they believed was beneath them.

 

“I was able to dance with gentlemen at balls when I was unwed and I could talk to them and even stroll in the gardens or go riding as long as I was chaperoned. That’s what I meant when I said that you would have more freedom now that you are no longer betrothed.”

 

Her baby's first winter would start only a month or so after its birth.  The days were already getting colder.  "Since he will be born right before winter, perhaps I should have him wear it even beyond his first year.  I doubt that my lord husband believes in superstitions, but the ladies in his family might."  She didn't want to ask Maria.  Her sister-in-law seemed so sad these days.

 

So Lady Frances had named her kitten ‘Cat.’ No, it wasn’t original, but not naming it all would be even worse. Sophia smiled. “She must like you if she comes when she’s called. Not all cats do. Isn’t it nice to sleep with a cat? Their purring often lulls me to sleep. I’ve always thought that cats know who doesn’t like them and they try to influence them to change their mind. It is difficult to resist a cute fluffy kitten.”

 

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