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Friends in deed | Thursdsay 22nd, midafternoon


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The night before, they'd been torn apart, rushed away from a dreadful scene with no chance to promise to meet again. Darlene had barely slept a wink and doubted Elizabeth had either, but she had sent a note to her friend the next morning to expect her later that afternoon. 

Darlene had a dress to collect.

When she arrived to knock on her friend's door, she was wearing her new mourning dress, a black-as-ink velvet gown detailed with bows embellished with jet centres. Her hair was pinned into place and held with a velvet-covered comb, through which a black ostrich feather wafted.

Rat-a-tat-tat

Her black-gloved hand offered a muffled knock, yet nevertheless relayed a sense of urgency. "Duchess?" she called through the door. "It is only me, Darlene. Do let me in."

 

 

 

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It was Marie that answered the door.  She looked like she had not slept at all either, and she still bore a scared look.  "Lady Oakham, Her Grace will see you," she invited.  As Darlene entered, Marie looked in the hall to see if anyone was watching and then shut the door quickly behind.

Elizabeth was dressed in a very dark brown velvet outfit herself, looking at a pair of trunks open and filled with her clothing.  She moved at once to embrace her friend. "Oh Darlene!" she greeted her friend, a worried look plain across her face.  "Chris is furious with me.  I have not seen him so upset.  He has ordered my bags packed and he is sending me to our castle in the north.  I, of course, refused to go, and he told me that if I was not gone after the Christening, he would have his men take my belongings, put them in a wagon, along with me, and send me on the road!  The horrid man," she hissed.

"My mother and father will not likely help me on this issue.  They will say it is his right.  I do not know what to do.  You must help me."  Her eyes showed a weakness that rarely was seen by Darlene before.  

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Darlene ignored Marie's paranoia but swept into the room and reached to hold the Duchess's hands.  "I suppose you gave your husband a big fright." she comforted, "there, didn't I tell you he cares for you far more than he'd like to show."

"But pish posh to leaving court before the season is finished - you must come and stay with me.  In a few days, after he's calmed down, we'll let him know you are still here, and he will be very pleased. Probably. We shall just need to keep you incognito meanwhiles... but luckily, I am a master of disguise."  Darlene's voice was encouraging, with tones of adventure rather than skullduggery.  

"We shall have great fun, and the ball is going be a masque anyway, so you shall not miss any fun at all." 

Felling like that matter was all but settled, she drew Elizabeth to the side and asked in a whisper. "Whatever happened to Count Fiorenzi, though? He's not dead, is he, I hope? Goodness, that was a powerful spirit he summoned - I need to be more careful next time,  I fear it was my poor choice of friends that weakened the bounds."

 

 

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As usual, Darlene had an answer for everything, and hardly with any effort. Who was not lucky to have such a friend?

"Oh, I had not thought of that," Elizabeth confessed.  "He shall notice I am gone and order his soldiers to find me.  Some might see me move my trunks to your room," she added in hesitation. Would she be found easily?  Would her husband be even more angry?  Would he be punishing Darlene as well for being an accomplice to her disappearance? She could not accept Darlene being punished for her own folly.

"What sort of fun would we have at the masque?" Elizabeth asked innocently.  She was not considering any behavior that required covert means.

Pulled to one side, she whispered so that Marie could not hear.  "Chris means to exile him or kill him.  When I begged him to spare his life, it only hardened him to having the Count be killed.  He believes he is responsible for my education on the spirit world, as if there is not ample enough evidence of spirits most everywhere.  Men are mostly blind to such things," she noted.  She also thought Davina and Anne Elizabeth were to blame for things getting out of hand.  If they had remained strong, nothing bad would have happened, or so she believed.

"Perhaps you could intercede with Chris for our friend the Count," she whispered.  "He likes you.  I see how he looks at you."  It was not spoken in anger or jealousy.  Rather she was stating it as a basis for Darlene having some sway with her husband.

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Elizabeth was surprisingly hesitant to disobey her husband.

"Oh... well, I don't usually like masquerades, but they are an ideal time to plot mischief. Like perhaps we propaganda against the lady who is running against your mother to chair the Orchids."  Darlene began, "But that doesn't sound much fun; you are right. You can see why I don't like masquerades where people pretend to be things that they are not."  

This tangent gave her a moment to rethink. 

"So you want me to talk to Chris?  Very well then, but while I do that, I want yoy and Marie to swap clothes. If I cannot calm him down, and to be honest, I can't see how I could; we shall send Marie disguised as you with all your trunks back home.  And you can come to stay with me. I have plenty of spare clothes you can wear, most especially now I am remaining in mourning." 

"At the least, I can try to put in a good word for the Count; he has such noble intentions and surely does not deserve this trouble after Davina and Elizabeth Anne failed him so badly. Do you know, I think Davina's jewellery was only silver-plated, and Anne Elizabeth told me she swims in the sea. Why I wonder that everything that the Count, while possessed, said was utterly true."  she paused, "Though I seem to have forgotten if he said anything dreadful about you or me, surely not, we are far too sincere and generally good."

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Elizabeth had found her husband to be weak and compliant in their marriage.  Women had no respect for such men and generally took advantage of them.  His recent outburst had been something of a shock to her.  The Duke had grown a backbone and it scared her because he held all the power, as a matter of law.  She had expected him to just cater to her wishes, and now he had become someone else.

"Oh," Elizabeth replied to the comments about a masquerade.  Darlene could tell that the Duchess was no romantic.  In that regard, she was different than many ladies at court.  She did not thrill at the thought of a masked gentlemen flirting with her in disguise. Some called her mad for having a passion for spirits and the occult, rather than for men.  To her, her wifely duty was a duty.  If there was a failure, it was with her husband's inability to impregnate her.  It was not her fault.  After all, her mother produced nearly a dozen children.

In contrast, she liked the idea of sending Marie north instead of herself.  "An intriguing idea," she gushed with support.  "Shall we do it while you meet with Chris, or in the night when the darkness hides Marie's features?"  It seemed like the latter was better, unless Darlene met with her husband late at night.

"Forensi channeled the voice of my grandfather, or your Thomas.  Did it not warn us to flee?  That was an act of goodness surely.  So, he could be a force for good."  She was trying out her arguments before a receptive audience.

"You are so right about those two ... women you invited.  That Catholic spy Wellsley sabotaged everything.  The dark spirit said she betrayed her mistress, trying to poison the Prince of Wales, did you know!"  Chris had shared her secret with his wife.  "He called her a whore, likely having intercourse with some Hellspawn!"  Witches were known to do such things.  Forgotten was the fact that it called Darlene a whore and that she had sold her soul.  "And that Carrib woman.  The spirit said she was no countess.  What countess lives in Jamaica really?  You were there Darlene.  There are no titled persons there, just pirates and farmers.  She is obviously lying, and we need to expose the truth if we can, just as she provoked the spirit to attack us.  Had she not been such a shrew, Forenzi would not have attacked.  It was she that provoked him," the Duchess accused.  "Those two, Darlene, are evil.  They are the ones that attracted the evil spirit.  You and I attracted the kind spirit," she insisted.

"Thompson witnessed the event.  He could corroborate our story and point my husband against the true culprits.  Forenzi was nothing but a vessel.  They were the ones that filled the vessel with darkness.  I think you are right that neither wore true silver.  It might have burned their skin."  She had pushed back from Darlene and was wringing her hands in angst as she spun her post-hoc narrative.  "You should see Chris with dispatch.  And Thompson too."  

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The masquerade was dead in the water, with neither able to imagine anything fun at such an event.   

"Oh I suppose leaving at night might be sensible, but poor Marie." Darlene looked at the maid, who'd been terrified enough already, without sending her to travel dubious roads in the dark. "She can just pull the cloak hood up over her head and take one of the Duke's pages in livery to make her look all the more important." 

"Good heavens, now that you put it like that, I must admit they were the worst persons possible to invite." Darlene's regret was palpable. "And you are right, I would have met her if she was truly a Countess. Jamaica is so tiny, and my parties were always well attended." 

It was very easy to believe the awful things said about the other two since his words had been bitingly true about herself.  "... if we do go to the Masquerade after all, we must look for them and see what evil they are hatching." she dropped her voice to say and then shuddered at a thought, " Laying with hell-spawn, how utterly vile. A perfect compliment to treason.  She shall birth vipers for certain - or they shall eat out her insides before they even come out!  She shall become a walking husk, or perhaps already is right now."

Darlene was growing paler, while the ghastly topics were quite exciting to her, in fact.

With Elizabeth pushed back away from her, and also looking quite pale, Darlene felt her heroic pulse quicken.  "Then I shall go right now and try my very best.  Oh, but where on earth would either be?"

 

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"Early before sunrise then," Elizabeth offered. "That would allow Marie the darkness and a full day carriage ride might get her 40 miles before they notice she is not me."  She pondered more.  "I shall say that I am shamed by the banishment and shall wear a mask to hide my scandal and shall utter no word until we reach our destination.    Maybe, if Marie just nods and keeps the mask on.  She shall need a maid to attend her.  I shall hire one today to be a traveling maid."  Elizabeth was starting to believe that, with luck, the footmen would not notice the masquerade until they arrived in the north.  "Or I hire an actress and she dresses as me as Marie attends her."  That sounded better.

Speaking of masquerades, the Duchess found Darlene's idea sound.  "Yes, let us find the two vipers in disguise.  Do you know a gentleman that could lie with them and learn their secrets?  With enough wine, their evil spirits will brag about the poison they sow."  That seemed a perfectly reasonable basis to attend the masque. "Then they can be exposed for the traitors and frauds that they are."

The real question was where the Duke and Thompson were.  "There is a Life Guard office that looks more like a cell if you ask me," Elizabeth began.  "Chris cannot abide the place and you are more likely to find Lang .. ." She stopped short of saying his name completely. "Someone else there like Dundarg perhaps."  That lanky Scot had been seen around the castle.  He used to be Albermarle's aide, though difficult to understand.  "Chris and Thompson like standing on the battlements during the day and then they wander the drawing rooms at night.  Chris likes to gamble," she revealed.  When Darlene volunteered to give it a shot to persuade the Duke, the Duchess let out a sigh and proclaimed "what did I do to deserve such a devoted friend as you?" she flattered.

 

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"Ooo, good thinking." Darlene was occasionally surprised by the Duchess's cleverness; traveling into the daylight before sunrise was a brilliant idea.

"While in my experience, it is better to keep plans as simple as possible, fewer things can go wrong.  You can borrow my maid if you want; she can get out of your carriage once it's well outside Windsor district and catch another returning this way.  And I trust Maisie implicitly." 

On the topic of the 'ladies' that had caused the seance to fail, Elizabeth got quite worked up. 

"What makes you think I'd know any men like that?!" Blinking, Darlene spluttered.  

It was ironic that the Duchess nearly mentioned Langdon, because when she'd mentioned Davina being a whore to hellspawn, that was the man Darlene had imagined as the devil in Davina's bed. Or up against the wall. Or atop the grave of a saint.

"Lets not lower ourselves to their level, but we really ought to keep a careful eye on them. For the sake of the country, if nothing else." Darlene thought she sounded very noble to say that.  "That is what my Thomas would want us to do."

Well, Thomas would usurp the task and make the ladies sit home and do their needlework while he adventured to save the world.

"Dundarg?" Choosing to ignore the almost-mention of Charles, Darlene instead focused on this other.  "He was my cousin's lover, don't you know? Lady ORoarke was utterly smitten by him, but I believe he caused a great deal of trouble for her.  It was very confusing.  Men really are such trouble."

While the likely whereabouts of the Duke and Thompson were much less convenient.  "It's a big climb." Darlene lamented, starting to reconsider her offer.  Elizabeth's gushed appreciation and kind of locked it in, however. "I am sure you would do the same for me.  That is what best friends do: look after each other." 

"I hope he is not angry at me too..." She bit her lip and looked downward, with absolutely no idea how a conversation might go.  With hesitance, now the possibility was getting more possible, she asked, "What do you most need me to say? What is he most upset about?" 

 

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"No, if Maisie slips away, as soon as they arrive at the coaching inn at night they will realize they have been fooled and will return on the morrow to inform my husband.  The ruse must continue until they reach our castle north of York.  Then they will be five days to the north and too late to return.  I need to hire an actress for a week or two," she announced.  One of those gypsies might do it for a piece of jewelry."  She had been led to believe that gypsies were willing to do most anything for money, including illegal things.  "I shall find someone today," she announced.  That would keep her busy for a time.

The masquerade goal seemed less climatic, but Elizabeth agreed.  "Men of all ilk must approach you all the time.  You are like honey to bees.  Surely there must be a share of libertine men that beg your favor."  Yet, it was apparent by Darlene's response that her friend found the topic to be uncomfortable.  Watching the vipers seemed of limited utility.  They were likely to just dance and seduce men, to her mind.  If the men were not masked, perhaps, they might learn something from the men.  "How will we know the two if they are disguised?" she suddenly asked.  Was it not easier to hire someone to follow them during the day?  It seemed so difficult.

"Your cousin was attracted to a lanky Scot that can barely speak English?" the Duchess inquired.  "She must not have known many other men," she surmised incorrectly.  One might say no one knew more men that Heather O'Roarke.  "All men are trouble," she quite agreed.  "It is a pity that we need them so much."

As for climbing the stairs, Darlene seemed discouraged.  "Silly, send a Life Guard soldier to find Chris and tell him to meet you in the Life Guard office at a set time later today or tonight.  Let him come to you.  He will.  Tell him that you have urgent business.  I promise that he will come to see you.  It needs to be very private, and not in the gardens or a drawing room where you might be overheard by servants."  There were advantages to being a lady.  Elizabeth would have been convinced that Darlene could have any man volunteer anything at her whim.

"He hates the Count.  He thinks him a fraud that drains my money for silliness.  He does not understand that mediums, like artists, need sponsors.  They have few other ways of earning coin.  Artists are aplenty but true mediums are as rare as an honest merchant.  You need to defend Forenzi.  He did nothing wrong.  It was the spirit that possessed him.  Forenzi is a slight man with no strength to compare to the madman that possessed him.  You saw how easily he over-powered Thompson.  The man that we know is gentle and unable to do that physically.  You cannot condemn a man for something he cannot do naturally.  Nor can you deny spirits when you see what they do."  She was trying to arm Darlene with arguments.  "Tell him to send our friend to France," she suggested.  He has a small place in Paris. I can write him and invite him back when it is safe.

As for the rest, "he must not send me away while court is in session.  It is a stain on his reputation.  If he wishes, we can spend the recess apart.  I can visit our other estates while he plays soldier in London, or visit my family, and then return when court is next in session.  A duke must be seen with his duchess during court.  It projects strength and union.  He would be seen as weak if he were estranged from his wife and pearl of the Cavendish family.  We can pretend to be united in all things," she suggested.  "Worse if he was known to imprison his wife.  It will cause tongues to wag surely."

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"Good heavens Elizabeth, do not go anywhere near a gypsy!” Darlene was very surprised that the Duchess considered hiring a Romani, renown to murder and thieve, and even steal babies in the middle of the night.  “If it comes to that I would prefer to pretend to be you, I shall only be gone a few days, I shall probably be back again Tuesday or Wednesday. After all I really am not interested in the masquerade ball.

“Goodness, if you hire a gypsy, I shall feel compelled to tell Lord Albemarle about this plot that he can save you from yourself!” Darlene was plainly quite upset at the mention of gypsies.

“Well, you shall know them by a number of things; their height, their shape, and hair colour, and their voices. There is almost no other Jamaican accents at court, so you shall recognise Anne Elizabeth very easily.  While Davina has that certain tone, you know what I mean.” 

At this point Darlene was imagining she’d not go to the party, since she’d be in the road pretending to be the Duchess.

“And they are both stupid enough to think that nobody will guess their identity, so it shall be very easy to watch them getting up to no good with men of ill repute. And you shall recognise the men of ill repute just as easily, if you just listen to their voices, it will be a dead giveaway.”  She sighed, “Really, for a Masquerade to be the secret that everyone pretends it is, it would have to be done with silence from all parties.  Voices are equally, or even more more distinctive than looks.”

 “All right then, I shall send a note with Maisie.”  The urgency seemed suddenly far less, as Elizabeth did not want her to rush to see the Duke immediately.   So Darlene looked about to take a chair, they might sit comfortably and talk.

“He is probably jealous of the Count, that is why he dislikes him. If you are fortunate he might be quite passionate about proving himself to be the better man tonight.” She winked and grinned.

“But I’d not realised that you sponsored the Count, I had thought he had some estates somewhere, and this occupation was a distraction. Not a financial need.”  The knowledge shaded her option a little bit.

“But yes, you make some fine arguments to why he must keep you here.  To save face, it is the only way. Really, the greater risk is that my mistake in friends might sully your reputation if they talk about what happens.  He ought to banish them from court, far more than banishing than you.”

“Oh, but I don’t think we should risk sending him to France. What about to Scotland, nobody would ever look for him there.”  

“That said… prison is not actually that bad though.” Darlene said, cause she personally knew, “but you shall not go to prison, that is such a big thing that a fortune tell is bound to have foreseen it, if it was in your cards.  You are perfectly safe from The Tower, I am certain of it.”

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"Heaven above," the Duchess was startled by Darlene's view of the gypsies.  She had heard horrid things about them being thieves and all, but she had wondered whether those tales were overblown.  Yet, Darlene spoke like an expert on the subject, so Elizabeth had little recourse but to agree.  "I could not lose you, even for a day, you are so dear to me.  I shall look elsewhere ... perhaps a tavern girl or one of those whores at that place of ill-repute in town, though there is little distinction between the two types of girls.  They earn coin on their back.  I'll give them coin to sit regally in a coach."  Surely some girl would be easy to bribe, but she needed to move quickly.  "If only there were an actor's troupe at Windsor.  They would be perfect."  Little did she realize that Darlene had experience with such troupes some years in the past.

As Darlene hinted at Chris wanting to show how manly he was this evening, she could not disguise her scoff.  Things were not well between them and Elizabeth was not used to using feminine wiles to get her way.  She preferred the more direct approach.

"I do not worry about the Tower."  She would be spared by her family.  It reminded her that Darlene had been incarcerated for a time.  Killigrew had to be a horrid man to provoke Darlene.  No doubt he tried to take advantage of her and it should have been he that was arrested.

"Scotland?  At least there is culture in Paris," she replied.  "Only ladies ear dresses," she uttered in a rare jest.  Her husband and family held castles in the north so she was well-acquainted with the Scots.  "He needs to hide somewhere safe where I could summon him again.  Have you a house in the countryside somewhere by chance?" she asked.  She was not sure whether Oakham had reverted to her husband's family.  "Might he hide with your brother, I wonder?"

Darlene made excellent points about the masque.  Her friend was impressed with how sensible Darlene was.  "Maybe we should not speak and signal each other with secret fan signals?"  That sounded modestly fun.  "They will show their true colors," she agreed.

 

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