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Tour of Bagshot Park

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It was 11 miles south of Windsor near the village of Bagshot.  It had been renovated in 1633 by the famed architect Inigo Jones for King Charles I.  It was on 51 acres of land, mostly wooded.  It was not a palace, but a small country estate.  It had been sold by the Crown, along with another, to dispose of small properties rarely visited by King Charles II.  It had been purchased by Langdon with the wealth of his wards and, as such, he was merely the trustee of the property on their behalf.

It had been the venue for a visit by the Duchess of Savoy and her son.  It had also been a secret meeting place for he and Davina once during the offseason.  Now it was to be the temporary home of visiting Italian dignitaries.

It had been only a 30 minute ride by Elam to warn the servants that they needed to clean up the main house in advance of guests.  As such, it had led to a whirlwind of activity by the caretakers, including cuttings of purple aster and white hydrangia flowers, that bloom in autumn.

Langdon rode at the head of the coach carrying members of the Gonzaga family, and their retinue of servants.  He chose the most scenic entrance through the front, allowing stops to admire the woods as they went.  It would afford the caretakers more time to spruce up the residence.

"This estate was visited by the Duchess of Savoy and her son Victor Amadeus," Charles explained as they entered the abode.  It was important to demonstrate that other Italian royalty had been housed here.  "We still correspond to this day."  As they walked through the main house, which was only sparsely decorated, the Earl told the history of the lodge and its use by the King's father.   There were sufficient bedrooms to accommodate a king and his retinue, as well as an army of servants, many of which might be housed in the outer buildings or in the spacious attic areas.  There was a grand hall for dances and a grand dining area for banquets.

There was a garden well populated by different blooming flowers and surrounding a small well.  There was a small area for a theater, as the King's parents had been fond of performing plays before the civil war.  There were plenty of benches to afford visitors a chance to rest and marvel at the garden.  There was a barn and a stable, as well as out buildings for laundry, cooking, and smithing.

"And there you have it," the Earl declared at the conclusion of the tour.  "Do you find the lodgings to your satisfaction?  London is less than a day's travel from here, so even when the court moves back, you will not be too far."

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There had been no doubt in Maria’s mind that her family would agree to look at the hunting lodge that Lord Langdon had offered them. They had left the servants packing the few things they had moved into the closet they had rented and were soon on their way. She and Cesare had wanted to ride, but the Duchess of Gonzaga insisted they join her in the carriage so that they would all have a good idea of how long the journey was. If they deemed it too long, they would have to decline.


The time passed quickly for Maria and she enjoyed the scenery. The lodge, when it came into view, was even larger than she had expected and she eagerly disembarked and followed Lord Langdon inside with her mother and cousin by her side.


The Duchess was quite interested in the fact that some of her illustrious relatives had stayed there, and she looked over at her daughter when the young soldier mentioned that he still corresponded with them. Neither had known that he was personally acquainted with the current Duchess of Savoy and her son. Maria had not mentioned his marriage, and now she wondered just how high in status his late wife had been. She had assumed that the former Lady Langdon had been a minor noblewoman.


They listened to the history of the hunting lodge as they toured it, every now and then whispering among themselves. It needed a bit of redecorating, but it was undeniably suitable for their needs. Maria had brought quite a few servants from her household to Windsor, and they would be able to whip it into shape in no time.  It even had a ballroom. Perhaps they would throw a party before the season’s end. The garden was lovely as well. Maria imagined spending many happy hours there as long as it wasn’t too cold. And the stables could easily house all of their horses.


“It is perfect,” the Duchess said. Though petite like her daughter, she had a commanding presence that made her seem larger than life. “We shall take it. I don’t know how long we will stay, but at least until the end of the season. You have solved our most pressing problem, my lord, and I thank you for your generosity.”


Maria smiled at the handsome Earl. “I’m glad I got lost in the palace today. You came to my rescue in more ways than one.”


Cesare glared at his cousin, but remained silent.


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Charles was not nervous about their interest in the lodge.  No matter the condition, the freedom afforded by the lodge was far superior to cramped quarters amidst plebians.  The only risk was that the coach ride was too long.  Even if it were, the amenities offered by the lodge were worth any amount of commute.

The Duchess was in charge of this family and, as such, Charles deferred to her.  In his limited time in the Italian States, it had become apparent that many Italian mothers were commanding figures, regardless of physical stature.  "Grazi Your Grace," he replied.  It was clear that her English was not as good as her daughter's.

The Duchess thanked his generosity.  That suggested to him that he would not seek any coin for their tenancy.  One could not discuss business or money with ladies, especially high born ones, so he would need to bide his time until he could speak with Cesare about the matter.

Addressing the Duchess and her daughter, Charles flattered "the lodge seems all the brighter, and the garden all the grander,  with your presence.  I know that you shall love it here."  He paused to see if they had any questions or concerns.  The caretakers were introduced to the new tenants and told to assist with the transition, and to keep an eye on things for Langdon as well.

"There is to be a masque Saturday night at the castle," he informed them.  "I expect full costumes and masks, as opposed to simple masks on sticks.  I worry that there is no time for you to procure outfits.  I suspect that the shops have plenty of masks for sale.  I have a few Venetian masks I purchased for myself last year.  I do not expect to use one. If you are in need, I shall make one or three available to a servant you might send to me.  There is usually some dancing and flirting in the gardens and in the various rooms of the castle.  While most of the attendees will be proper, there is an element of courtiers that may take advantage of the anonymity to engage in libertine behavior of the type ascribed to Versailles."  He directed this towards Cesare and Maria, expecting that she might need to translate for her mother, if she wished.  Maria was a widow, as opposed to a debutante, so he imagined that she would not be offended by the warning.   

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He likes me, Maria thought. Lord Langdon’s compliment was certainly not directed at her mother. The Dowager Duchess of Guastalla was gracious and dignified, but she was no longer as attractive as she had been in her youth. Why would a handsome young gentleman be interested in a lady who was pushing sixty? “We like it already,” she replied with a slightly flirtatious smile. Cesare continued to glare at them. He really should learn to hide his jealousy.


Their host explained that there would be a masque on Saturday night and warned them about some of the less respectable activities that might take place. All three of them had visited Versailles and the younger two were well aware of what went on there. A look of interest replaced Cesare’s scowl. Maria remembered how much they had enjoyed the decadent French court.


“If we borrow your masks, then you will know who we are.” Maria’s dark eyes narrowed mischievously. “Wouldn’t you rather be surprised?” One of her friends had written to her about the masque and she had passed on that information to her mother and cousin. They had all brought costumes with them. She saw no reason to tell Lord Langdon that, though.


“Do you mind if we make a few changes to the décor?” the Duchess asked in her heavy Italian accent. Maria hoped his answer was yes. Her mother had a talent for decorating and excellent (and expensive) taste.

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Charles was not skilled at reading ladies, but was more experienced with reading the minds of gentlemen.  Cesare seemed somewhat possessive of the ladies; but then, he was their male guardian, so it was to be expected.

"Yet I would be the only one at the masque that would know your identity," he replied, still offering use of the masks if she requested it.  "They are at your disposal."

The Duchess asked about decoration and Charles saw no reason to deny the request.  He thought the decorations were fine for a hunting lodge, but he supposed the place could use some paint and wallpaper.  "But of course," he replied to the Duchess with a nod.  "Though, as a hunting lodge, I would ask you to consider any touches to project masculine and hunting themes, as well as feminine themes as well."  He could only hope that his request was understandable.  He had a small fright that they would drape the place in pink and lavender with nude statues of men all about.  It was probably a silly fear, or maybe it was a spirit warning him.

He paused for more questions and requests.  If not, he was ready to take his leave.

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“Thank you,” Maria said. “Venetian masks are quite stunning.” She had several of her own but had not brought them with her. Had Lord Langdon’s masks once belonged to his late wife or had he been to Venice himself?


She translated his answer to her mother into Italian. The Duchess spoke English fairly well, though sometimes she misunderstood what she heard. She needed to know that the Earl wanted to keep the hunting theme but didn’t object to some feminine touches.


The older lady nodded. “It shall be as you wish.” She said something in Italian to Cesare and he followed her farther into the house, leaving Maria alone with Charles.


“My lady mother wants to look around more thoroughly to figure out what changes she wants to make. She took my cousin with her because he has an excellent memory and will remember almost everything she says. I think she should have asked you if you minded, but she is unaccustomed to rejection. She has quite a bit of power in Mantua.”


The young Italian smiled at Charles. “While we wait, I would like to take another look at the garden. Will you escort me, my lord?”

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Charles smiled politely as the exchange seemed to convey an understanding.  Hopefully there would be more lions on display, than swans; not that he had anything against swans, especially when Susan and he personified the pair of contrasting creatures.

It seemed natural that he was left with Maria and he was still learning female wiles.  As a gentleman, he could not refuse her request.  "Of course," he replied and offered his arm.  As they walked, Charles imagined that Maria would have many questions about Windsor, England, and even himself.  Yet, he thought it would be more modest to profess an interest in her and her land.  It seemed like a way to make her feel more comfortable with the new environment.  "Your English is remarkable good my lady," Charles complimented.  "Did you study it as a child or did you learn it in the time with your husband?"  It seemed a neutral topic.  "Perhaps you can tell me about your life growing up in Gaustalla and how you ended up becoming a Baroness in faraway England."  That seemed a far more interesting tale, as he was led to believe that the elite families intermarried and rarely ever ventured far from the Italian States.

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