Before. And Now
White Hall Palace, Westminster by City of London
SE England, Great Britain
(Now) 1 November, 1688 anno Domini
Prologue: Her Glacial Fleeing
Blasted irksome it was! Lord Padraic’s infuriating maxims kept darting ’round the bare ankles of Lady Becca’s thoughts; like house cats startled, fur standing on end, the apprehensive felines’ claws unsheathed and piercing into her mind’s tender flesh—demanding not to be ignored.
“ ‘May you live in an interesting age,’ he’d spoken so agreeably years ago, and “May you leave without returning,” she murmured now, mirroring his words, whilst chiding her shadowed reflection. She whispered; so her lower lady’s maids in their room so near hers would not stir from their sleep, as she made certain her great skirts brushed nothing into a breakable clatter.
Lord Padraic’s sayings had been overheard years ago by an essentially forgotten brown-skinned little girl; during a “simple” Royal supper for Foreign Ambassadors who, to little Becca at the time, had seemed to be surly towards His Lordship; but she’d been so young and had assumed her understanding of adult behavior was wrong. It wasn’t. Plus, the old Conduct Book her elderly tutor had happily given her was just confounding the matter.
Lord Padraic eventually told her “interesting times” were not a good thing and often dangerous, and that “leaving without returning,” meant you’d never come back, which was horrible, if you had left your home and family, and wanted to return!
Becca had learned these rather polite curses from His Lordship, whilst seated beside him, as her young escort, Lord Marcus DuMaurier, was sitting higher at table, according to his noble born rank and esteemed favor. Her rank was having been born a “very common little wench” of the Gentry middle class.
The “unfortunate” Lord Padraic, a full Lord of an Ancient Noble Irish Family and an Irish Ambassadorial Counselor, was seated just at salt and below a Common Girl Child of some “alleged” Wealth, but of no truly lasting Powerful Connections, and of what many thought a somewhat questionable family. His Lordship’s position at table was obviously mean as an insult; since their combined placement meant neither was favored to sit above salt and closer to His Majesty’s Power, nor disgraced or ignored enough to sit below salt; and utterly disconnected from his power.
Everyone at Court knew Ambassador Lord Padraic’s Irish and Catholic goals were in disfavor at this English Protestant table. However, he was a nobleman born, powerful in his own right, and a political animal who knew how to endure humiliation by English disrespect to an Irishman.
Having endured an entire first year of court residence, no one still had no idea what to do with little Mistress Rebecca DeLann. She’d merely arrived at age eight; abruptly coming from “nowhere” and moved into the heart of their King’s Royal Court. Her unusual presence yet frustrated, infuriated, and utterly confounded Courtiers and Parliamentarians alike; because none could outright dismiss nor utterly abuse her, because of her Royal Patron.
But many of them had industriously tried.
Becca yet remembered Her Tender Child’s Feelings at that long-ago meal and of Lord Padraic’s Frustration in communicating his People’s Needs, whilst being situated too below Power to be heard, and too close to a foolish low courtier with Ambitions. The fool was of the Gentry, just like Becca, although he was newer to the Gentry than her long-standing family. To add to his pride, he’d just inherited his Baronet’s “Sir” title from a distant relative; making him new at Court. This Baron Knight was bloated with currying higher favor by being malicious, spiteful, and scornful to the child and the disfavored.
Yes, the child had known these words all meant the same, but a Child’s Sensitive Feelings are a Child’s Sensitive Feelings; a little girl without her parents or even a sibling by her side to defend her, at all times.
It wasn’t the words; her parents and Her King were teaching her how to let such malice wash over her and away; but….
The Spirit of Things. The Spirit Power behind their feelings, sharpened by their thoughts’ intent pained her, or poisoned her slowly depending on….
Marcus knew and understood, protected her empathy as best he could, as she was learning to protect herself. Uncles Charles had suspected something and had asked her counselor, Mistress Anne Rand, the clever midwife, and “witch” some said. Either way, he was now doing the same, most time; protecting Becca from Powers Beyond Normal Human Sight.
Now though, Becca couldn’t clearly see her escort and protector, Lord Marcus, from her low placement, as the horrible Baronet made the meal’s atmosphere stressful and not conducive to eating heartily; even though His Majesty had had his Cornish Cook make savory and fruit Cornish pasties for her alone beside the game pheasant, swan, roasted beef and pork, fricassees, salads, and custards on most plates.
She had a little of some of the many dishes. Her Mother had told her “take a little. It keeps them happy that you’re enjoying yourself. But, only a little also keeps you from looking like you’re a glutton. Or becoming too fat, My Child.”
Becca was one of the few who added more roasted vegetables and fresh fruit to her plate than custards and sweets. Both her African grandmothers could always tell by her ashy skin and wan eyes when she didn’t eat enough vegetables.
Becca had known His Lordship hadn’t appreciated his seat so low nor with being partnered with the youngest and only untitled commoner at table, who was neither an adult nor of significance to Government or Court, a Parliamentarian or Political Minister, or even the Significant Wife or Powerful Mistress of one. She was merely “the King’s queer little pet”. Even her glorious patron, Charles II of the Royal House of Stuart, who kept her near, had yet to decide what to do with her in such early public situations, where even Buckingham, who was more brother to him than the king’s brother, James, had refused to come.
This had caused Becca to make a silent prayer for “Poor Lord Padraic”, who was enduring the insult of not only a common, useless girl child, but also an utter fool across from the girl, who obviously felt the Irishman was in so much disfavor that a newly titled commoner felt superior to a born Earl of Ireland, and certainly above an untitled girl child.
“Why they seated me,” the Baronet was whinging, “across from such a lowly, useless, common girl of no—.
“May you live in an interesting age, sir,” Lord Padraic abruptly stated in a bold, praiseful manner, interrupting the man’s constant insults and vicious chides at the little girl’s expense. And then His Lordship had added, in an agreeable tone, “I hear you’ll be travelling soon. May you leave, without returning.”
Becca’s eyes had grown round and large, not fully understanding, but hearing the tone, feeling His Lordship’s Triumph, and witnessing the other’s dismay, as Lord Padraic stated each Irish curse clearly in English and in a pleasant manner.
New to Court and new to insults by High Lords of Ireland, the Baronet ceased his ignorant, ill-tempered chatter so abruptly his mouth and eyes gaped wide like a indignantly surprised fish.
Little Becca had giggled in a child’s hardy delight, for she was yet not fully schooled in Stately Court Manners. Her inappropriate and infectious laughter not only captured an inquisitive glance from His Majesty and a frown from Her Majesty sitting on his left far away at the head of table; but caused the Irish Lord to finally reassess and acknowledge her existence in a positive fashion.
He winked down at her, as his equal conspirator.
The meal became digestible and happy after that, as Becca asked His Lordship if he wanted a pastie or two, His Majesty would allow her to share, if she liked.
“I would be most happy to. I’m ashamed to say I’ve never had one.” He took one from Will, her server, ate it, and took another.
Lord Padraic had subsequently ignored Sir Gape Fish, as she renamed the baronet in her retelling of her supper adventure to her noble escort, young Marcus, aged fourteen. From that collusive moment of giggles and a wink, a smiling Lord Padraic accepted his lot and spoke exclusively with her—little Mistress Common Nobody; making it quite apparent to all the “more important people” dining that evening, that he was “giving up the fight and clearly gutting his career and ambitions, for himself and his people.”
His Lordship watched the dispirited Sir Gape Fish fumble with the newer Florentine-style multiple-tined fork and new duller French supper knife, whilst mumbling darkly about “unmanly Italian … French affectations”; before giving up in embarrassment and hunger, to use the older double-tined English fork, which had been graciously included. The hereditary Knight then sneaked out his own sharp meal knife, the kind now forbidden at the French Court, since the times of Cardinal Richelieu.
Becca ate slowly, diffidently, so he could see how to use both utensils together, and not eat off the sharp knife, or any knife! He wasn’t learning. When he slices his tongue or lip, no, he was obviously an obtuse learner, who’d learn nothing, neither quickly nor ever. Mistress Becca learned fast, usually, her mind facile, her senses intuitive and so, with meeting so many people now, and observing them at length, she could practically see like a painting who was quick, who was slow but trying, and those like the new Baronet.
Worse yet, he did a thing which truly appalled Becca, as she’d wondered had his mother and servants loved or spoiled him so much, they’d never taught him better manners when amongst Better Company. Then, surmised, even at her age, after hearing his mother usually called him “his father’s son” that, perhaps, the woman who had unluckily bore him into this life has always despised this spawn forced upon her by the detestable husband her family forced her to marry and, thus, allowed this fool to CHEW WITH HIS MOUTH OPEN!
To the eternal spirit shame of his father. And a complete embarrassment to fellow Middle Rank persons, such as herself.
Lord Padraic observed Becca delicately ignoring the disgusting open maw view across the table, as she handled the newer utensil with easy grace. “Mistress Rebecca, have you used such forks and knives before?”
“Yes, your Lordship. We’ve had several lovely sets sent from my grandmother in Florence. In fact, this utensil setting for the full table was a gift to Their Majesties, for their generous kindnesses to me.”
She saw Lord Padraic think on that a long moment.
“Where are you from, Mistress Rebecca?”
“Cornwall near Tintagel, I usually say, for more have heard of it or can find it upon a map. Although our Little Tintagel is far from King Arthur’s Tintagel and closer to Land’s End. Oh! I can see the west sea from atop our home!”
Becca abruptly realized that he must think her a Fool, for the sea could be seen from nearly anywhere of importance in Cornwall, which was sided with leagues upon leagues of beaches, inlets, and coves, but His Lordship’s tone and gentle words next told her he saw no fool in her.
“That must be delightful, my child. Your enthusiasm cheers me. May I ask, what you like most here, in Westminster and London?”
“His Majesty, Her Majesty, and all the colors of the Court! And my Tutor, who teaches me much; including the proper use of what he calls ‘the new letters of our alphabet’.”
“Where are your parents!”
“Near, but … they aren’t so openly welcome here, as I, for I live at Court, but they do not. They find it ‘uncomfortable’. I miss them and my sister … my brother, too. They all can visit, sometimes….” She sighed, as if about to cry.
“I am sorry for that, my little dear. A girl should be with her family; but such superior high connections will eventually be worth the pain you feel now. Hmm. What of these lords and ladies? What think you of—? Oh. What is wrong, my dear girl?”
She said blandly, as having learned it by rote, “I am told I am not to say my mind about anything, most especially not about my Betters, for I am ‘a child, a common girl, and an uncommonly brown one at that’. I ‘must have no opinion about anything’.”
“Who has told you that? And you must tell me because I am…,” he nodded in decision, “your friend.”
“My Lady Crawford—a poorer Crawford, the other Crawfords do not care for,” she added in a discreet whisper. “She was displeased with me for, although she was born a Lady of the Nobility, and I was not, the King had made her my maid.” His Lordship laughed, and heads turned. “And when he’d found that she’d burned my hair, my neck, and forehead with a hot curling iron, he shouted that he would send her to The Tower.”
“How shameful of her! Did he?”
“No. I begged him not do so. She hated that, too, my begging for her sake; although she was terrified and in tears that she would be sent there. I knew it is one of her great nightmares. He banished her from Court which ceased her funds as my servant. Her in-laws, the Crawfords, said their late brother, her husband, had left in his wake much debt-making by high gambling and quite horribly stupid investments. They’d paid his debts at his death, and she should be glad; then they informed her in her banishment that their brother’s ‘good child’ of her was yet a Crawford. She bore two Crawford children, but they only like the one. They are very mean and told her she was no longer one of them, nor her other child, and should be gone, since she was no longer useful to them.”
She whispered, “Because she had no Wealth or Property left after her husband’s ill-use of her bridal funds and she had no secure or high connection to power, except a Gentry child, me, and had lost that, too. Even her birth family would not help her. I’d thought, then, that it served her right; until months later I heard her joints in her legs, feet, and hands were hurting her so much and that she had no income and little to nothing more to sell for her cheap, little rental and food for her and her sweet baby girl.”
She paused to not cry. “So, I and my Betrothed, Lord Marcus—.”
“Ah! So that is true?”
“Not officially, but for us it is.”
He’d smiled warmly at that; but not like it was absurd.
“You have such lovely thick, dark curls; so, what happened to Lady Crawford, my Mistress Rebecca?”
“She no longer does my hair!” He chuckled with her, as she continued. “My Lady Crawford pretends anger now; that she was ‘a sentimental fool’ when I went to her, and told her My Lord Marcus had demanded I—. He didn’t,” she giggled, then sobered. “I think she might know…. I humbly begged her come back as my Governess, not my Lady maid, since I am no titled Lady; to teach me things I must know as a low Courtier of Our King.
“His Majesty would no longer pay her way, for he was still displeased with her; but I pay it from my small income he and my parents give me; although His Majesty has given me a lovely increase as ‘a gift’, he says.“
Lord Padraic smiled at that, and she could tell that he wondered something.
“My Lord, I know he helps me pay her.”
“Good, my clever, sweet-hearted girl. And when you are older, perhaps next week, and look back, you will know even more about all of this. I am sure of it. Do you like the Lady, now?”
“She did not like me, but I always felt she was a good woman. We play a private game now. My Lady Crawford says I am ‘a horrible child’ but when I take her hand, she no longer pulls away. She tells me important things she knows, as one who has always been a Lady. She even tells the most smallest of things that are quite useful; because it is very complicated here. Don’t you think so?”
“Yes, I do. However, dear lass, would you give me examples of useful things she’s taught you?” Little Becca did, and then they discussed the English in Ireland, and “the Irish Situation”, well, situations, for she had many questions.
“I know I cannot know all about your mission here, my Lord; but what can you tell me? I want to understand, for the gossip seems all lies and … bigotry. Oh! If I may be allowed to say such, my Lord.”
“You may. You understand people very well. And I jest not when I say, Mistress Rebecca, with your natural talent for people, you will thrive here and surpass many. I pray my God and yours ensure it.”
“Thank you, Your Lordship,” she beamed through blushes.
“And, My Dear Girl, please, write or come to me for advice or help of any kind that you may ever require.”
King Charles, far up the table, had noticed their intense conversation punctuated with companionable laughter, and next day, he requested to listen to her experience with the Irish lord, and to hear of all they had discussed.
Lord Padraic’s eventual courtesy to “a common girl, who never should have been at a king’s table,” changed a painfully, long supper that was making her stomach sour and hurt into a warm Treasured Memory. His Friendship marked the first time she had truly felt accepted by a significant High Lord, who wasn’t a DuMaurier, and truly belonging at His Majesty’s Royal Court, beyond the king who had invited her to stay.
His Lordship was the first adult nobleman to take her hand, gently, and bow, respectfully, with affection over her little tan hand.
Belonging is such a powerful feeling.
And he’d told her something important before returning to his beloved Ireland.
“Remember, My Precious Girl, life is simple; because whether you live or merely exist, one day you will die; but it is people who are complicated and make life confounding and a frustration. Knowing them, seeing them for who they truly are and who they pretend to be, will make your Path more clear, if not easier. But, I’m certain you already know that, and will know it all the better as you grow up.”