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A New Arrival | Thursday 22nd, late afternoon (open)


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A soft sigh echoed through one of the palace hallways as a young lady turned a corner and stopped.

 

She was petite and pretty, with olive-toned skin and thick raven curls arranged in a fashionable style. An older woman wearing a dark green gown accompanied her. The somber color contrasted with the crimson silk of her companion’s lavish attire.

 

“I don't think this leads to the garden,” the younger lady said in Italian. “The servant we asked for directions probably didn't understand my question."

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Charles had spent the morning after leaving Sam giving instructions to his troopers to prepare mounted parties to sweep the hiding places along the river where an assassin might hide, as discussed with Lord Beverley.  Arrangements were made for additional patrols on the morrow.  It was important to show the flag with a heavy presence of Life Guard soldiers along the river to dissuade bad behavior.  The Major was thinking that he would stay at the harbor and send Sam to lead the patrols.  He supposed that FitzJames could lead one as well.

Heading back to his spartan office, Charles happened upon a couple of ladies that seemed disoriented.  They seemed to speak in a foreign tongue, which suggested that he learn their origin.  It would be foreign agents that would be the danger.  Although no gentleman would suspect a true lady, he could not be sure that the pair were true ladies.

"Good afternoon ladies," Charles declared as he approached.  He doffed his hat in greeting and offered a smile to both.  "Might I be of assistance?"

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Perhaps Fortune was smiling on Charles that afternoon, or perhaps it was simply that his path lay through one of the more popular hallways of the castle. No sooner had he approached one young lady than the footsteps of another could be heard approaching from the other direction. "Do you think that they just make the fortunes up?" Eleanor could be heard to ask her chaperone Mary, as the pair rounded a corner. "It all seemed so terribly serious." She added before noticing the trio paused before her, recognising one of them. 

"Why, Lord Langdon, what a delight. A good afternoon to you. And to you both." She bobbed a curtsey to the group with a smile, fanning herself genteely, wondering whether introductions might be made. The young lady in the crimson dress seemed to be in much the same position as herself. A possible friend perhaps?

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The soldier who approached her was quite handsome, She had always been drawn to men in uniform. His was a similar in color to her crimson gown. She had seen other men wearing them but was not aware of their significance.

 

Her demeanor changed so quickly that he might not have seen that being lost had frustrated her. Graceful, proud, and her head held high, she looked quite regal and perhaps a bit haughty. The smile she turned on him, though, was disarming. The other woman took a step back so that she stood slightly behind her.

 

“Good afternoon.” Her voice was pleasant and cultured and her English, which she spoke with a lyrical Italian accent, was excellent. Before she could say more, a young lady strolled up to them and addressed the solider by name. Lord Langdon. She wondered what his first name was. Perhaps he would tell her someday. She did like the look of him. Perhaps …

 

The lady was polite, curtsying to the gentleman and herself. Both of them had greeted her maidservant as well. She thought that rather funny, but it was understandable.. Not all noblewomen dressed ostentatiously, particularly older ladies. Perhaps they thought that Nella was her mother.

 

“I am looking for the gardens. I believe I may have taken a wrong turn. This is my first time visiting the palace."

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"It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance," Charles replied. "Welcome to Windsor Castle.  I am Charles Whitehurst, Earl of Langdon and an officer in His Majesty's Life Guard."  His other titles and offices need not be mentioned at this point.  "May I introduce Miss Eleanor Bayning, the daughter of the Viscount Bayning?  She and I have had the pleasure of meeting this season."  He paused for Eleanor to add what she wished, or for the Italian lady to say something.

"We would be happy to assist you in finding the gardens.  Are you here for the Christening?  I am surprised that you found lodging here, given the shortage."  He was quiet to allow the lady to provide information.

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Eleanor nodded in affirmation as Charles introduced her, casting a quite, sideway glance of gratitude in the Earl's direction. "Indeed we did." She replied warmly, recalling that Charles was a quite charming storyteller. The identity of the other young lady yet remained a mystery, but as the older woman dropped behind her Eleanor surmised that she was not a family member but a chaperone, much as Mary followed behind her. 

Charles took the lead, offering to help the lady but including Eleanor, for which she was grateful. Uncle Henry had warned her about Langdon's reputation, but so far he seemed perfectly charming to her. Perhaps therein lay the danger, but as yet she could not fault the man. And he implied an excellent question. Who was this late arrival, that she was suddenly here in the palace? She would not interrupt a gentleman, but rather waited with interest to see what the young lady - was that an Italian accent? - would say. 

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The gentleman introduced himself and the lady. Now she knew what the uniform meant. He was one of the King’s personal guards. And an Earl as well. It seemed that he and Mistress Bayning had only recently become acquainted with each other. She did not know why that pleased her. The lady interested her as well, but not in the same way. She hoped to make many friends at court.

 

Saluti. I am Maria Vittoria Gonzaga Augustine, Principessa of Guastalla and Baroness of Willowmere. Yes, my mother, cousin, and I have come for the Christening to represent the House of Gonzaga.”

 

She sighed again, this time in frustration. “We should have sent a representative to rent a house before the season began. We arrived two days ago and the only one we could find is much too small. It only has two bedrooms and cannot accommodate all our servants. Some of them have been sleeping in the halls and on the floor of the parlor.” She raised her dark eyes heavenward. “And I must share a room with my mother! It is unacceptable, but what are we to do?

 

“I came to the palace to get away from the chaos and enjoy a bit of peace and quiet in the gardens.”

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Well that was a mouthful, the Earl thought to himself as the stranger's introduction had a plethora of names.  He had not heard of the House of Gonzaga, nor had he heard of Guastalia, but it sounded Italian.  Though Charles had traveled to Turin, he did not have an appreciation for small duchies, counties, or towns.  Willowmere, on the other hand, sounded decidedly English.  A gentleman is required to accept any lady's title in a complimentary way.

"Then it is my pleasure and honor to make your acquaintance Prinicipessa," he replied formally, wondering if he had pronounced things correctly.  "Willowmere sounds familiar," he offered, though it was hardly true.  Rather, it was an excuse to learn where it might be located.

There was little Charles could do about the accommodations in town.  Beverley might be able to find a room for her in the castle, but it would likely have smaller space.  It sounded like there were three nobles, which might mean three or four servants.  That would mean four rooms plus living areas to entertain, and perhaps a garden.  His rented farmhouse would not work, as it had just enough room for two lovers.  Bagshot, on the other hand, lay empty, but for his caretakers, and it was but an hour away.  The question was whether they would wreck the place.  Did they have money to cover expenses?

"I know of a royal hunting lodge that is but an hour or so from Windsor that is empty this season.  It could accommodate a dozen or more persons and has ample space and grounds, if this would be of interest.  It is further away but quite comfortable.  There are but three servants there, and the furnishings are a bit rustic, as you might expect from a hunting lodge."  Maybe they would help pay the upkeep? 

Not wanting to exclude Eleanor from the conversation, he turned to her and inquired "unless Miss Bayning knows of a better accommodation."

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It was a long name, but then the English could have long names too, they just didn't usually offer the whole thing by way of introduction. A slight difference of cultures she supposed. But the house was one that Eleanor recognised. "Oh, of Mantua!" She exclaimed. "How wonderful. Oh but to have access to all those fabulous brocades." For the city was a known place of excellence in the production of fine brocade, and any lady who had an abiding interest in fashion would covet fabric from that location. The Gonzagos were, if she recalled correctly, Dukes, but perhaps the Italians, like the Germans, had a prince and princess for every province. She didn't know and wouldn't presume to guess. If Maria said she was a princess, then Eleanor would assume that was correct form of address. Baroness of Willowmere sounded English, and that was interesting. Whilst she recognised the family name, Eleanor had no knowledge of the genealogy that might have led to the young woman before them. "How delightful to have the House of Gonzaga present." She beamed. 

Still, from the sound of things there were three Italian nobles squeezed into a two bedroom house, and presumably the cousin was either the ranking individual, or male, if Maria was forced to share with her mother. Also of interest was the young woman's apparently English title. Lord Langdon offered a hunting lodge an hour out of town which sounded roomy but of course somewhat removed from the festivities. Still, it might prove preferable to their current rather cosy arrangements. Then he turned his attention, and the question, onto her. Eleanor had not been expecting that but she paused thoughtfully. She had a single room in the castle, and her uncle Lord Grey had accomodations in town that sounded of a similar size to those the visitors already had, so there was no answer there. Unless... "I may know of a possible alternative," she said cautiously, "but you will permit me to make enquiries first." She didn't want to make promises she couldn't keep. Still... "What a pity your husband could not accompany you." She said solicitously to Maria. "But at least you have the company of your cousin?"

Given their cramped lodgings, Eleanor could quite understand Maria's desire to escape. "The gardens are quite lovely, and I can recommend the Orangery for days when the weather outside is not quite so clement." She offered, being quite enamoured of the place herself. "Would you like to see it?"

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Though Maria had intended to tell Lord Langdon where Willowmere was located. Mistress Bayning’s exclamation made her eyes light up. Most people who had heard of Mantua knew it only as a minor location in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. but this lady seemed to know more about the city in which she had grown up. “Si!Have you been there? It is such a lovely place.”

 

A royal hunting lodge seemed like a great alternative to their current accommodations, especially considering the number of horses they had brought with them. “Does it also have a large stable and a carriage house? We are renting stalls for some of our horses but it would be nice to have them with us. Traveling for an hour is a small price to pay for more room and privacy.” The houses in Windsor were too close together and one of their neighbors practiced the violin very loudly and very horribly at all hours of the day and night.

 

She looked at Eleanor. “Does the place you know of have room for several horses and a coach and some wagons as well?  We can even move in tonight.”  No more screeching strings would be heavenly.

 

Sadness darkened her pretty features. “I wish my lord husband could be with me, but he passed away earlier this year.”

 

Her mood brightened quickly at the mention of an orangery. “I would love to see it.  The weather is so dismal here. Warmth would be very welcome.” She glanced at Lord Langdon as she said the last sentence, thinking of a different kind of warmth. “Will you come too, my lord?”  And a different kind of coming as well.

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"Why yes," Charles replied, "the stables are quite large.  It was built to hold multiple coaches and dozens of horses.  It is vacant at the moment, so your timing is good."  Charles paused to allow Eleanor a chance to offer her alternative if she wished.

Mantua lace was apparently quite famous.  Charles supposed it was connected to Gaustalla and Gonzaga, though he was not quite sure.  It was better to just smile and hope that the circumstances would become clearer.  Nothing was said about Windmere.

The lady admitted she was a widow.  "My condolences."  He assumed that the grieving period had ended.  The somber mood was cut short by Eleanor's offer to escort Maria to the Orangery.  Charles was content to let the two ladies carry on together.  Eleanor could look after her, but then the Italian asked for him to accompany them.  He paused a moment to consider how to take his leave, but decided it would not hurt to learn a bit more about his potential tenant.  "I have duties to perform, but I shall accompany you ladies for a time," he replied.  It was the male task to lead the way, so he started to move in the direction of the Orangery.  "Perhaps you can tell us of your journey as we walk," he offered, hoping to learn more. 

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"Oh, no, I've never been to Mantua," Eleanor admitted, eyes downcast as she lamented the fact, "but I have heard so many wonderful things about it. I would love to visit there one day." She added with a shy smile. One day perhaps, when she was married, if her husband allowed. Perhaps she might find a man who would like to travel? Or maybe... maybe even her Uncle might go to the continent, and maybe she might even be permitted to go with him? She could dream. 

Maria asked whether Eleanor's proposed accommodations had the same ability to house their horses as the hunting lodge which Lord Langdon offered, which she would readily admit sounded far more appropriate to their needs. "No." She admitted with a quiet shake of her head, making her curls bounce. "Lord Langdon's hunting lodge does sound perfect, save for the distance." Which could be something of a tyranny if one wished to be close to the action. "I have a room in the castle itself." She explained. "I had thought to offer it to your good self, or your cousin, if my Uncle, Lord Grey, will grant me the use of the spare room in the house that he has rented." Leaving the remaining two of the Italian trio with a room each in the house that they had rented. But clearly she would need to ask her Uncle first.

She'd also thought to speak with him first so that he could present the solution as his own idea, potentially gaining a favour from the Italian family. Why, he was even looking for a wife, and Maria admitted she was widowed... Eleanor's fan flew up to cover her mouth and her blue eyes widened for a moment over the faux pas. "I am so sorry." She said earnestly. The poor woman looked barely older than Eleanor, and yet she was already widowed, and clearly missed her husband. How sad. 

Mention of the Orangery seemed a welcome distraction, and Eleanor automatically fell in beside Maria, thinking that the might enjoy it together. "The scent from the blossoms is divine, and there's even a pine-apple." She all but whispered, conspiritorially. Maria asked whether Lord Langdon would join them, and Eleanor smiled when he agreed to accompany them at least for a short while. For all that she'd been warned, he always seemed good and polite company. So the two ladies could follow the Life Guard, their chaperones following them, to the welcome warmth of the Orangery. 

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