Chapter 18

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After dinner, Frank Templemore entered the drawing room ahead of all the other men, and all the ladies followed, with of course, two little boys at their side.

"Diana, it's been years since I've heard you play," Frank called suddenly, his loud voice instantly catching Diana's attention as she broke away from the conversation she was indulged in with Alicia and The Countess, "Won't you play for us?" he asked hopefully, motioning towards the golden intricate pianoforte, sitting in the corner of the room in all its glory.

"Yes, my dear, nothing would please me more," The Countess agreed, touching her niece's shoulder and encouraging her.

Diana nodded; it had been two years since she'd played in Frank's company, but it had definitely been months since she'd played the forte herself. The last time she had played was at Bellevue Hall in Southampton, that day before the ball at Mansfield where she had met..

Her gaze suddenly flickered to Lord Buxton, who stood just next to Frank, and their eyes met. Instantly freezing, she broke away and offered Frank another obliging nod, before making her way to the forte. It felt frightening suddenly, to see a person's countenance change so much just over the course of a few months. It felt as though the man she had danced with at her Aunt's ball was just one of Lord Buxton's many personalities.

Forcing herself to stop thinking about him, she focused her attention on Frank as he took her hand and helped her seat herself at the piano. Preparing her fingers as she pressed a few keys, as she waited for Frank to offer to turn the pages of the music sheets for her, as any gentlemen ought to.

But much to Diana's dismay, her cousin had other plans. "Lord Buxton, won't you offer your assistance with the music sheet?" He chided and she froze in her spot. Frank really did go out of his way to do things people would not expect of him.

Frank beamed a smile as Lord Buxton muttered an approval, before making his way towards them. He could tell, from his cousin's slight drop of her shoulders, that she had expected him to offer his own assistance. Frank hated to disappoint her in any way, but this weekend was about him. He needed to incite his mother's, as well as Diana's interest in the business venture he was to go forth with, so that she could see how truly capable he had become. Then she would see him as a mature man, and perhaps then he could receive a different answer..

His plan for the weekend was solely to get his business partners better acquainted with his mother and Diana, and as of the moment, Frank had begun doing just that. With a nod to Lord Buxton, he retreated to the audience.

Diana stiffened, making sure her composure remain as unbreakable as possible. She despised that, for her, music was about letting go. There was an unspoken rhythm between her fingers and the keys, they seemed to always work together in harmony and her mind would drift off to places unknown. She would close her eyes and feel the notes she played, letting them lift her off the ground. Diana hated the interference this man would cause, despised the assistance he was to offer her by turning the pages; for it was far more inconvenience than she'd encounter if she turned the pages herself. Why am I letting him affect me so? She thought, silently scolding herself. No, she firmly spoke inside her head, she play her favorite composition, and enjoy it too, despite the disagreeable gentleman turning her pages.

Lord Buxton cleared his throat slightly, so as to urge her out of her thoughts and let him know of the composition she would be performing. Diana ignored him, and without turning to acknowledge his presence, she took a deep breath and let go of some troubles for the time being and started to play. She didn't need Lord Buxton to help her, Diana knew her favorite composition by heart, having performed it countless times back home. The keys felt like silk as her fingers glided on them, the glorious sound of Beethoven's Fur Elise drifting around her, engulfing her in its serene harmony. Closing her eyes, she couldn't help but giggle slightly as she remembered her mother's voice begging her to play something else whenever Diana would perform the piece at home, as Lady Beaumont, as well as the rest of her sisters, found Fur Elise too tragic.

For Diana it was far from that, it was otherworldly. Whenever she played it, it was as though she had ceased to exist, and the only thing that was really her was her soul, which had somehow drifted miles away into the stars of even the morning sky. The body felt like an empty shell, awaiting the spirit. As the composition got intense and faster, she continued with expert rhythm, not caring about the gentleman standing next to her neglected by her behavior, not caring about the fact that she was far from home; in a city that felt like a cage and that she would suffocate if it wasn't for Alicia, Uncle Arthur's family and Aunt Agnes. For just this moment, Diana refused to care about what would become of her Uncle's family when the time came for her and Alicia to leave; for God knows it consumed her every conscious thought.

As she played, she allowed a smile to form on her face, as though she played to Beethoven himself, as though he sat somewhere in Aunt Agnes' drawing room, smiling gleefully at the lady performing his composition. The composition neared its end, and Diana felt herself coming back to reality slowly as she begun to feel her feet on the ground. With the last key pressed, she finally opened her eyes to the faces of some of the people she loved the most. A round of happy applause sounded, and Diana smiled.

"My, that was exquisite," The Countess exclaimed, wiping a tear out of her eye, "Reminds me of your last birthday, everything seemed perfect then."

Diana frowned, a pained expression taking over her face as she got up and approached her seated aunt. Putting her arms around The Countess, she embraced her as she bent down, consoling her to the best of her abilities. Diana had played the same composition on her twenty first birthday, the whole family had gathered at Bellevue Hall, it had been bittersweet, especially for The Countess, for that was her last visit to Southampton and for her it had been a heart breaking one. Lady Templemore had always departed Southampton with the announcement of a firm date as to when she'd return again, but due to her husband's affairs in London, The Countess hadn't had a date to give, and that had upset the lady to no end. On the day she was due to leave the county for London, Lady Templemore had received the news of the passing of a girlhood friend of hers, a certain Lady Crippleware, another event that had upset her to no end, all in the span of a day. 

Frank lightened the atmosphere as he praised Diana's skill, and she gratefully thanked him. Alicia and Aunt Frederica exclaimed with happiness as they gushed about the performance, and her little cousins were equally delighted.

The men then resorted to a table as Frank suggested a game of cards. Aunt Frederica and The Countess sat themselves by the fire in the drawing room, talking about all kinds of matters. Michael and Theodore, tired for the day, sat on a settee, reading a storybook Frank had earlier presented to them, and Alicia and Diana conversed as they took a stroll about the room.

"Poor Lady Templemore, she's still so upset," Alicia sympathized, "The littlest of things remind her of that memory."

"Yes," Diana sighed, "It wasn't easy for her, to lose someone so close. I can't imagine ever going through that." Lady Crippleware was an opinionated lady, having remained a spinster, she had acquired her family's fortune and attained her social standing in the Southampton society. The Countess was girlhood friends with the woman, and they had countless incidents her aunt would narrate delightfully over tea, or whenever the occasion called for it. Diana couldn't imagine losing a close confidante, she couldn't imagine ever losing Alicia. 

"She's very strong, despite everything," Alicia shot The Countess a glance, who was busy in conversation, the traces of sadness wiped off her face.

"I hate that it happened the day after my birthday," Diana took a deep breath, "It's so sad that that day reminds her of that death."

"The Countess will heal, Diana," Alicia reminded her, "It will just take some time for happy memories to be made that can overpower the sad ones."

Diana nodded hopefully. The Countess was the strongest woman in Diana's family; she was independent, brave, smart and so intelligent. Diana looked up to her father's elder sister for guidance in ways she never looked up to her other aunts for. Aunt Agnes was a diamond in a sea of rocks, she held herself high and gave respect for it to be earned, she never let anyone affect her countenance and was always free with her thoughts, actions and opinions.

"Diana, Lady Kirkpatrick," Frank's voice called suddenly and both the ladies stopped to look towards him, "Ah, if only whist could be played with six instead of just four," he mused regrettably, "But please join us if you wish to see young Mr Fleming and I rob Lord Buxton and Lord Algernon of their dignity."

Four? Diana and Alicia gasped in surprise as they fully took in the scene at the card table, there sat Michael with a firm look plastered on his face as he held up his deck of cards and appeared to be in deep thought beside Frank.

"Michael," Diana laughed playfully as she approached the game table with Alicia, "I didn't know you could play whist."

"Neither did I," Alicia chuckled as well, "Look at you, all grown up."

Michael narrowed his eyes slightly at his elder cousins gushing over him in front of the men, but that only made his cousins beam more in delight.

"And he's quite the player too," Frank approved with a nod as he put a card forth.

"He's an intelligent boy," Lord Algernon added, "Do you play whist ladies?"

Alicia exchanged a glance with Diana, "We can, but we do not enjoy it," she responded to the question with a smile and a shrug.

"Yes," Diana agreed, "I would rather play anything else."

"Since you ladies are indeed in want of some different entertainment," Frank trailed with a mischievous grin on his face, "I say we raise the stakes, gentlemen. What do you say to the losing pair assigned with the task of making Lady Kirkpatrick and my cousin, Diana, laugh."

Diana scowled playfully, "I dare say, you and Michael shall win at that without even trying."

"That is, if we were to lose this game," Frank pointed out as he elicited another grin, "Which we certainly shan't."

Alicia felt a sudden discomfort take over her as she shifted in her steps slightly. She knew Frank Templemore well enough to know that he was indeed a skilled whist player, and Michael looked as though he had been somehow playing the game for years, the way he wriggled his brows and tapped his chin with his finger before making a scoring decision. How awkward of a situation would they be placed in if Frank Templemore and Michael did indeed win?

"Well then," Diana declared with a smile, "I certainly hope you lose."

The game went on for another half hour as Diana and Alicia sat themselves at the settee, talking stroking Theodore's hair as the little boy lay asleep with his head on Diana's lap. Frank Templemore's excited claim made the ladies turn their heads to look towards the game table. "Three to one," He chuckled, "You lose gentlemen."

Diana's hand froze midway in her little cousin's hair, and she could visibly see Alicia's jaw tighten.

"Now for your punishment," Frank continued with a hearty laugh, "There are the ladies; you must entertain them until they laugh. If you manage to earn even a slight chuckle, your punishment is over."

As Lord Buxton and Lord Algernon made their way towards the settee, Diana turned to face Alicia with a shrug, "Well, at least we now know that Michael's a near expert at whist."  

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