Chapter 17

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"I don't know what to say," Mrs Fleming responded with a meek smile, after her nieces finished telling her all that they thought she needed to know; and that consisted of the gentlemen's introduction through their cousin Adam Seymour that day at the Southampton county fair, all the way to Diana meeting him in his office, leaving out the undignified argument he had presented because they did not want to further agonize their aunt. They also left out the two times the girls had met the gentlemen before the fair, and the time they had run into them just days ago on their way to the Brockenhurst estate. The last thing they wanted was their Aunt to get the wrong idea. They were all huddled in Aunt Frederica's appointed room at Brockenhurst, while the boys ran around, engaged in a game that merely consisted of chasing after each other as carefully as possible so as to not receive a scolding from either their mother or their elder cousins. Alicia had, upon thinking, come to the conclusion that if their aunt had already met Lord Buxton and Lord Algernon that day at the county fair, along with the rest of her family, than she would've been at the same page as Diana and Alicia. And now that she thought about it, goodness knows where Uncle Arthur and Aunt Frederica wandered off to that day, but then again, both of them could use the few minutes they get to themselves so Alicia shrugged and let it go.

"Don't worry Aunt Frederica," Diana spoke with a confident smile, "You don't have to face him, he's only here because of Frank and his interest in the business that is all. We promised to make sure you have a good time here in the open air and we intend to keep that promise," she finished, exchanging determined glances with Alicia.

"Thank you girls, for thinking of me amidst this strange ordeal," Frederica Fleming gushed, taking both of her nieces' hands and squeezing them to assure that she was fine, "But I would very much like to converse with him."

Diana and Alicia looked at their aunt in confusion; she seemed perfectly content with the idea of her husband's patronizing employer being under the same roof as her for the coming three days.

"Perhaps if I can strike up an acquaintance with him, it would be beneficial for Arthur," Their aunt responded, hope twinkling in her eyes.

Her nieces, however, exchanged glances with each other. It was so astounding to Diana, how different her Uncle's wife was from all of her other aunts. She and Alicia had always thought of it as a good different, and just when Diana assumed she had perhaps seen all of Aunt Frederica's good qualities, her aunt would always shock her with something different every time.

Mentally, Diana tried to put herself in her aunt's shoes. Would she, a wife tired of her husband being away all the time with nearly not enough pay to compete with his efforts, a house and three children to take care of, be wanting to strike up a friendly acquaintance with her husband's employer? The very man whose absence could cure more than half of her worries? No, Diana would rather give him a piece of her mind than allow him her good opinion. But then again, Aunt Frederica was the wisest person she knew, and Diana was not.

"I dare say, that man does not deserve any good opinion, let alone yours, Aunt Frederica," Alicia spoke, making her sentiments at her aunt's wishes clear.

"Everyone does, my dear," came their aunt's earnest response, "Everyone deserves, at least once, to be understood and respected, despite their actions."

"Well, that didn't go as I expected," Alicia declared as she and Diana made their way to their own rooms just down the hallway, to freshen up for lunch.

"Aunt Frederica is full of surprises," Diana chuckled, lightening the tense atmosphere; after all, they were here to relax. They simply can't let a couple guests ruin their stay, "At least she's handling it better than I did."

"She doesn't know him like we do," Alicia justified, "She doesn't know how they can disguise their personalities like they did in Southampton and switch faces like they do here in Portsmouth."

"That must be tiring, to keep up a pretense like they did back home," Diana observed thoughtfully. Goodness knows why they did it, why they didn't just parade their real self around like they do here.

Alicia shrugged nonchalantly, she had already let her judgement be clouded when she was easily persuaded of their character back home, and she refused to be in that state again. How naive she and Diana had been, she cringed.

The Countess had arranged for lunch in the gardens of the Brockenhurst estate, under the open sky and amongst the scent of a dozen flowers and the hymns of bird songs. The sun looked as though it still hadn't made up its mind to set just yet, and had decided upon looming around for an hour or two more. A big round table had been arranged covered with neat white table cloth, just by the gazebo, as the servants rushed to make sure there were exactly enough plates and utensils, before the footmen came around holding silver dishes of food in their hands.

"The men won't be joining us for lunch, my dear," The Countess approached Diana, who was just standing near the table holding Theodore's hand, waiting for everyone else to come before she took a seat. The Countess had changed entirely for lunch, switching out of her glamorous splendor to lighter and softer colors that still splendidly made her the most extravagant figure in the gardens, "They will be having their lunch separately, towards east of The estate. I have asked Frank to oblige to the arrangement before we all properly sit down for dinner together, tonight."

Diana nodded in relief, observing her The Countess's expressions, waiting.

"I honestly don't know why he thought proper for his business partners to be invited at the estate," Aunt Agnes sighed, "It is entirely vulgar, if his father were here he would have been receiving a good scolding, because Goodness knows Frank needs it! In fact I have good mind to write to my husband of his son's foolish endeavors."

Diana sighed in relief again, she had been waiting to see The Countess's view upon the matter, and now she was satisfied that they at least matched her and Alicia's own.

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