Chapter 30

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Sunday nights were known universally to be entirely uneventful. Polite society preferred to have excitement on Friday and Saturday nights, but on Sunday, preparations for a dutiful fresh week began, so Sundays always flew by in a blur of quiet solace or calm company. However, this particular Sunday night in Portsmouth promised to be everything but. Lady Diana Beaumont and Lady Alicia Kirkpatrick weren't exactly sure if everyone in Portsmouth had gone through a Sunday night such as theirs. Inside, they hoped so, because that would entail a dozen other people feeling and going through similar predicaments as them, and surely that thought was comforting. As the carriage started pulling up to the Brockenhurst estate, Diana saw the figures of her family standing at the gates, their presence darkened and made prominent by the yellow lights blaring from inside the main hall. The night was a blanket of cool darkness, and the same moon shone overhead. It was calming, coming out of the chaos to return to the stillness of the night.

The stillness didn't last however, as the carriage came to a halt and Isaac Algernon quietly helped the ladies out of it. The Countess rushed towards Diana, throwing her arms around her niece and bursting into sharp sobs that made Diana's heart feel as though it was being pierced. Her hands shook as she sucked in a sharp breath, trying to stop herself from crying, placing both of them on her aunt's back in an attempt to comfort her. Oh, how a loved one's sobs shattered her like nothing else.

Over the Countess's loud sobs directly echoing in her ears, it didn't take long for Diana to notice that her other aunt, had been bursting into sobs of her own as she embraced Alicia. Arthur Fleming and Frank Templemore stood a few paces behind, their hands behind their backs and their faces trained into stern composure, yet Diana could feel her Uncle's stance weaken as his lips twitched and eyes crinkled. She was grateful for her little cousins being nowhere in sight, the sad looks on their faces would've broken her beyond repair.

"You both are staying here for the remainder of your time in Portsmouth, and I refuse to be argued with," The Countess Agnes Templemore declared, authority evident in her voice as she sniffed and stifled another sob.

Diana and Alicia had been sent to their rooms with ladies maids, bathed, dressed in comfortable linen gowns with warm shawls draped around them, and were now seated in the drawing room of The Countess's private wing of the Brockenhurst estate, with cups of warm chamomile tea in their hands, all on the lady of the house's strict instructions. Diana tucked a strand of her loose raven hair behind her left ear as her gaze dropped to the singular tiny white chamomile floating in her tea.

"I second that," Frederica Fleming spoke up, determination clear in her voice, "I am beyond thankful for all you girls have done for me and Arthur and our children, but I cannot fathom the danger you have been through, it is horrific to even think about."

"All because of Lord Buxton and Lord Algernon," The Countess agonized, "How dare they involve you and risk both your lives for their disputes?"

"Lady Templemore," Alicia pleaded, "It wasn't their fault. It was that William Percy who sought to involve us. His sole purpose was to have something to hold against the gentlemen." She put her half full tea cup on the table and reached her hands up to gather her loose brown hair to the side, sighing.

"Aunt Agnes, Aunt Frederica," Diana spoke as she addressed both her upset aunts with quiet desperation lacing her voice, "They were willing to give everything to him for our sake. Their business, all their hard work, to feed whatever demands that reptile made of them. Please don't hold them in contempt; they don't deserve your disapproval."

The Countess sighed, before making her way to her niece and sitting beside her on the sofa. She brought up a hand to Diana's cheek and stroked it, her eyes softened and affectionate; "You have come to care for him, haven't you?"

Diana's eyes shot up at her, and she nodded slowly, "But that isn't why I'm defending him. They both truly are deserving gentlemen. I had been so blind, Aunt Agnes, so blind to the good in him."

"I understand," Lady Templemore spoke, shutting her eyes as he nodded once, "And I approve. But first, I would need to have a talk with both of them, and a strict talk at that. Lord Algernon excused himself and left before I could demand any amends or explanations. And I would like to converse with both of them about everything that has transpired, it would simply not do without."

"No," Diana quickly let out, "It isn't necessary, he- hasn't," she paused, not knowing how to continue. He hasn't made his intentions clear, she thought. In fact, Diana wasn't exactly sure if Lord Edward Buxton even had intentions with her, she wanted him to, she hoped he had, but she wasn't sure how she'd tell her Aunt all that.

"I see, they are not very expressive gentlemen, are they?" Frederica Fleming chimed in, her tone teasing as she tried to lighten the atmosphere, "Because I've seen and observed firsthand how much they care for you both, and I am not one to be lead astray that easily."

Forcing a smile, Diana's lips parted, but before she could say anything, Alicia spoke up, "Aunt Frederica, Lady Templemore, I think it's time Diana and I return to Southampton."

Diana looked at her cousin, caught by surprise at her statement. A few hours ago, Diana had thought the same thought. The thought of returning home felt welcoming, and it had made her feel so dizzy with want. But leaving her family here, made her feel dizzy with sadness as well. A flash of all the feelings Diana felt reflected in her cousin's expression before Alicia disguised it away.

"Yes," Mrs Fleming let out, "It would give me so much comfort knowing that you both will be safe back home. I can't help but blame myself for all that you two have gone through here, all because I was selfish and hopeless."

"Nonsense," Diana cried, before getting up to embrace her aunt, "We will be happy to return knowing that we've been of service in any way that we hoped to."

"You have, oh, you have," Frederica Fleming sniffled, tightly holding on to her niece. Alicia frowned at her tears as she got up and joined the hug, forcing back her own.

"It's settled then," The Countess clapped her hands in delight, "I can't say I'll be sad to see you both go because in all honesty, I wasn't glad you ventured out here in the first place. And recent events have confirmed my predicaments entirely."

"Oh, Aunt Agnes," Diana sniffed as she shook her head fondly before breaking away from Aunt Frederica to embrace The Countess.

"I'll have a carriage called for the first thing in the morning, the earlier you leave, the earlier you'll arrive," Lady Templemore instructed with a smile, patting her niece's back slowly.

"I am alright, Aunt Agnes, truly," Lady Diana Beaumont reassured The Countess for perhaps the hundredth time that following Monday morning at the Brockenhurst estate. Having vocalized those words for such a number of times made Diana realize that maybe they weren't entirely true. She wasn't alright. She was an entirely different person now, having experienced what she experienced. Surely her definition of the word alright had changed as well. The truth was, she wasn't quite sure what being alright entailed now. Was she breathing? Yes. Had the burdens on her mind ceased? Yes. Was she excited to return home? Yes. Did she feel full and content? Not to be sure. Did she know what would fix that, or rather, who could fix that? Yes. But those were fragments she had divided being alright into, and she wasn't exactly sure whether to dictate them to her aunt in depth.

"I'm glad," The Countess of Brockenhurst sighed in relief, "I wouldn't want your mother to think I couldn't take care of her daughter better than she does."

"What? That's ridiculous," Diana dismissed, playfully linking her arm around The Countess' as they all walked out the Brockenhurst estate towards the carriage that waited outside, "You take care of me like no other."

"Are drowning you and allowing you to get kidnapped, included in that statement?"

Diana gasped in disbelief, "Aunt Agnes, please. That was none of your fault and I can't possibly stress that enough. It wasn't anyone's fault and I won't have any of you taking the blame."

"It did happen under my supervision," The lady of the house counter spoke, her voice lowered in remorse.

"So many other things happened in your supervision that I can never forget," Diana interjected, a smile forming on her face, "I would much sooner go through all of that again knowing that I'd have you at the beginning and end of it all. There can't possibly be anything better for me than that."

The Countess Templemore stopped before the carriage and frowned in fondness, before turning to embrace her niece once again, silently holding her until chatter erupted in the atmosphere and the pair's loved ones came happily pouring through the doors to approach the carriage.

"Diana, we've had a letter from my mother and we are summoned back," Alicia called as she approached with a letter in her hand, letting out a chuckle, "Just in time."

"I sent another last night, addressed to your mothers to tell them they can expect you back in a day," Frederica Fleming spoke, touching Diana's arm softly. She could feel that the consolation was both for herself and the arm that been though such pain. It was better now that she was going home.

"Do you have to go?" Michael Fleming's voice came from his mother's side and Diana and Alicia smiled at their little cousin. "We will write to you, and we expect you to visit us. You will won't you?" Alicia shot him a pointed glance with a smile playing on her lips.

"After all, we visited, didn't we? And now it's your turn," Diana chimed in, bending doing to lightly squeeze his cheek playfully; an action the growing boy didn't approve of, but allowed just for the occasion.

A series of footmen, followed by the butler came out, holding Diana and Alicia's belongings in suitcases and fastening them on the imperial mounted on top of the carriage. The Countess had appointed them the use of her personal carriage all the way to Southampton so that the ladies wouldn't have to go through the trouble of switching to a passenger coach for the journey.

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