Chapter 16

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"Be on your best behavior children," Frederica Fleming instructed as her children, all snuggled in the carriage, departed for the Brockenhurst estate that breezy Friday morning in Portsmouth. It was almost twelve pm, and the sun had taken its place in the sky, although not much affecting the cold weather. Diana smiled as her little cousins nodded obediently, both them dressed like tiny gentlemen. Marta sat to the left of Aunt Frederica, and the boys sat on their mother's right. Alicia had her gaze fixed outside, and Diana observed her aunt, who held her new born baby in her lap and continuously kept smoothing her skirts with her free hand after touching her hair to make sure it hadn't shifted.

She reached and put her hand over her aunt's, squeezing it in comfort as her aunt looked at her. "Aunt Agnes will adore you," Diana spoke, her smile assuring. Her father's elder sister was acquainted with everyone from her mother's side of the family, except Aunt Frederica and her children. Uncle Arthur had met the Countess on one occasion or two, in Southampton, but the rest of family hadn't had the pleasure since they were almost always in Portsmouth. But Aunt Frederica was honest, earnest and pure, and Diana was sure The Countess would love her company.

Mrs Fleming smiled and squeezed Diana's hand in return. Diana could tell that her Aunt wouldn't have been as nervous if Uncle Arthur had come with them. The way Aunt Frederica had insisted before breakfast, and even after breakfast, earnestly asking him to join them; Diana had promised she would offer her consolation in every way she could during this weekend. Uncle Arthur had left for work, like every morning before. He was promised good wages for his effort on the weekends, and he hadn't had the means to refuse. He had, however, promised to come by at the estate after he was done for the day, but he had also made it clear that he couldn't stay because his work the next morning would not permit him to.

Breathing deeply, Diana held her aunt's hand throughout the short journey, and soon the Portsmouth landscape crowded with buildings, people and streets had turned into lush green hills with green grass. Straightening herself up as she recognized the bend and how they were only minutes away before the estate came into view, she noticed Michael pulling at his cravat and immediately leaned in to assist him by loosening it a little, as Alicia fixed Theodore's sleeves that rolled up because of his childish inability to sit still. Diana and Alicia had come to notice that the boys were not used to fully dressing like that. In Portsmouth, the boys' day to day attire was simple, consisting of full length high waisted trousers and undershirts with a solid colored coat. They weren't used to wearing tailcoats, high collared shirts and cravats. Their presentable clothing was very few, tucked away in a wardrobe safely, until it was needed in urgency. The only times Aunt Frederica and Uncle Arthur dressed the boys in the presentable attire was when they visited Southampton, and even then Diana Alicia's mothers and aunts would find everything faulty. Diana felt a sharp ache in her heart; Aunt Frederica was a wonderful parent, despite her circumstances.

"We are here," Alicia spoke, as everyone turned to look out the carriage window as the Brockenhurst estate's large rectangular figure came into view, growing larger every second until it seemed to tower before everything and everyone.

The carriage came to a halt in front of the estate and a footman hurried and approached. He opened the door and helped Diana out and then he turned to assist everyone else. Before she too could help, The Countess's hearty laugh sounded in her ear as she saw her approach the carriage in all her regal splendor and her arms spread out for an embrace, she was followed by Frank Templemore, who in turn had a big smile on his face yet his arms stayed behind his back. Diana smiled and embraced her Aunt, a chuckle escaping her lips.

"Oh, how I missed you," The Countess beamed, slowly patting Diana's back before they separated. "Mother, she was here only three days ago," Frank laughed as he approached and took Diana's hand and kissed the top of it, "And besides, you haven't ever said that to me, and I've been away months on end."

"Well, that says a lot, doesn't it?" The Countess beamed again, earning a chuckle from Diana as Frank rolled his eyes playfully.

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