Chapter 4

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"Diana, can I bring Peter Rabbit with me? He loves carriage rides," Frances asked her cousin, who was holding her by the hand as they walked towards the black, horse led carriage that was parked just outside the Mansfield estate. 

Diana looked at the six year old, with her little blonde curly hair done in little ponytails with red ribbons and big olive blue eyes that looked back at her pleading to take on the stuffed cotton bunny in a blue suit that she held tight to her little chest.

"Of course darling," Diana smiled as she led her to the carriage steps, hoisting her up by the hand as the little girl climbed the steps to the seating. The chauffeur, who was standing by, in his navy blue uniform, quickly rushed over towards Diana's side as he saw that the child was already seated. He held his arm out for the lady to take support as she mounted the carriage.

As they seated themselves, Alicia, holding little Fanny in her arms, approached the carriage and was helped on by Diana.
"Fanny's already asleep," Alicia laughed softly as she stroked her little cousin's back on the carriage seat.

Diana smiled, "She'll be up as soon as she realizes we've set out, and she'll be far from sleepy then."

"Also, Oscar was asking if he could join us on our endeavor, and you'll be pleased to know that I declined his offer most immediately," Alicia stated, smiling mischievously.

Diana laughed, "And what reason did you present?"

Alicia shrugged nonchalantly. "I merely told him that it was meant to be a female endeavor, but he could come along if he did not mind caring for Fanny when she wakes up from her sleep. I may or may not have exaggerated Fanny's post slumber crankiness," Alicia answered, earning a chuckle from her cousin.

Dressed finely, with Alicia in her pastel blue empire waist muslin dress along with a white floral bonnet, and Diana in her purple dress with a matching red and purple floral bonnet, in the black carriage, the ladies were a spectacle to look at. The little ones, Frances and Fanny contributed perfectly to the splendour. They were dressed in matching vibrant cream muslin frocks each with red ribbons adorned in their short curly blonde hair.

The chauffeur, as he took his place behind the reins, sat proud to be escorting such gentry for the day. It was nothing but an honour to him, to be responsible of taking such polite and delicate company around town and he had made up his mind to bear his burden with gratitude and honour.

The carriage slowly took off at a steady pace as it seemed to glide gradually away, until the Mansfield estate was no more than the size of Frances' thumb, as she happened to compare it. Fanny had been brought out from her slumber as well, and now she sat on Diana's lap with her mouth parted happily as she observed the busy streets and people of Southampton.

Frances too, was quite enjoying herself, excitedly reading out loud the names of every establishment on the street and counting the number of white horses and white doves she happened to spot.

"It is such a lovely day," Alicia said as she breathed in the fresh autumn air.

"The finest day of autumn yet," Diana agreed as she looked around with a smile on her face. The carriage had now taken them out the busiest part of town and now they were nearing the countryside and the sudden change of colours from vibrant ones to subtle oranges, browns and mustard yellows seemed to take their breath away.

"Autumn is my favourite season," Frances laughed as a falling brown leaf drifted towards her and bumped into her face as she caught it in her tiny dainty hands.

"We know, darling," Alicia smiled at her.

Looking around, every second felt more beautiful than the next as birds sand their songs and the leaves crunched under the wheels of the carriage.

"Oh look, what a beautiful white horse, and there's someone riding it," Frances pointed out in the distance towards a rider coming close from over a hill.

"Is that Lord Edward Buxton?" Alicia inquired as she observed the gentleman, which was easy as he was closer every second.

"And there's someone else on another horse behind him," Diana noticed. The other gentlemen however, seemed unfamiliar.

"Maybe he is a friend of Lord Buxton's, from Portsmouth perhaps," Alicia predicted as the riders were now side by side, coming closer towards the carriage. It seemed that the ladies had been spotted. 

Diana and Alicia were quick to shift their gaze so as to not get caught during their curious examination by their specimen. And soon they felt the same examination being performed on them as one by one the horses were brought to a halt by their riders, beside the carriage.

The chauffeur too, brought the carriage to a stop as he figured the gentlemen to be acquaintances of the ladies he was escorting.

"Good morning, ladies," Lord Edward Buxton announced, taking his top hat off a little in a greeting gesture.

"Lord Edward Buxton," Diana acknowledged, her facial expression conveying her surprise, "Good morning to you too."

He was dressed quite recklessly for an appearance in town, Diana thought. He wasn't wearing a coat, only an undershirt with a messily done cravat and black pants with black tasselled Hessians. She could not help but notice how attractive he looked. His black hair was messy under his hat, but even after all that, he still looked mildly presentable and handsome. 

His partner too, was as eligible as he was. Dressed nearly in the same messy way, his friend had the same aura about him. Yet, the latter felt quite different, like the other side of a coin. 

"Allow me to introduce my business partner and friend, Lord Isaac Algernon," Lord Edward Buxton stated to Diana and Alicia, and then he turned to look at his friend.

"Isaac, this is Lady Diana Beaumont and Lady Alicia Kirkpatrick, they are Adam Seymour's cousins," He finished.

"And these," Diana started with a smile on her face as she gestured at her little cousins, "Are Lady Frances and Fanny Allan."

"More of Adam Seymour's cousins," Alicia added with a slight chuckle as she placed a kiss on Fanny's cheek, who was still seated happily on Diana's lap, excited to be introduced. All of their life they have been acquainted to others for being a particular cousin's cousin. It was mostly for being Oscar and Adam Seymour's cousins, because the two had quite formed different and popular reputations of themselves in Southampton.

But none of them had ever minded being introduced like that. They were grateful to have a big family as they do, because there was always so much love to give and ever more so, to receive. And hence, they could not be happier.

"I dare say, such beautiful faces are a pleasant sight for sore eyes. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance," Lord Isaac Algernon declared as he bowed his head a little in curtsy, and Diana felt her instincts correct, for the latter gentleman was much open and had a warmth to his tone than his friend had. 

"And it is our pleasure, to make yours," Alicia replied as her eyes caught Lord Algernon's. At the first impression, he had declared himself handsomer than many gentlemen in Southampton. Alicia wondered how she could've deduced such a thing in this acquaintance of mere minutes, perhaps she had added too much sugar in her tea that morning. She felt a blush creep up to her cheek as she realized she had been staring at him, and he had been staring right back. Quickly, she averted her eyes. 

"Would you ladies like to take a walk, that is, if you are not otherwise engaged for something else?" Lord Edward Buxton suddenly inquired as he looked at Diana, who was looking back at him. The request was much too informal for such an early stage in their acquaintance, and Diana was beginning to realize just how bold Lord Buxton could be. 

"Oh," Diana uttered in a little surprise as she turned to look at Alicia. Getting the confirmation and encouragement she sought from her cousin, she turned around to face Lord Buxton, "We'd like that," she answered softly.

Getting off of their horses, the gentlemen helped Diana and Alicia off the carriage, each taking their gloved hand and leading them down the three steps to the ground. Diana held Fanny in her arms and set the little girl down on her feet in the grass. Frances, being as excited to take a walk as she was, jumped down the last step of the carriage stairs at her own accord, giggling as she did so. Alicia let out a small breath of relief, always startled at her little cousin's eagerness. 

"So, Lord Buxton, I see your business in Southampton has further engaged you," Diana inquired as they walked alongside, with her holding little Fanny's hand. Alicia, who was walking alongside Lord Algernon at a distance from Diana and Lord Buxton, and was holding onto Frances's hand.

"Yes, there have been some issues interrupting the usual way we do things, but we have taken control now," Lord Buxton replied, looking into the distance with his hands at his back. His words however did little to convince himself, let alone Diana. 

Diana noticed how he didn't seem to be in the habit of bringing up his business unless asked. And when asked, he didn't much care to elaborate. She liked that, knowing that he probably had tons of successes to brag about, but no heart to boast. 

"What occupies you in Portsmouth, my lord? I mean besides your business there," Diana inquired confidently, observing his facial expression as he looked ahead. 

"I own Hampshire's largest cotton mill in Portsmouth along with Isaac. We have many branches of the mill in different areas of the county. The lands in Portsmouth were my father's; he signed them to my name five years ago, but I have long earned a name for myself through my mill. The lands are something that I have not earned for myself and the income I get from them, however large it may be, I couldn't care less for," Lord Buxton replied with determination. "So I have much keeping me in Portsmouth, my lady. Thousands of tenants on lands and workers in our mills that depend on me there." 

Diana suddenly felt her respect for him increase. He was a man of substance and a drive to work for his own goals in life in his own way. She seemed to like him more, all of a sudden. He reminded her so much of her father. Lord Beaumont also shared similar traits; he would rather work to earn a name for himself than live off someone else's giving. That fact solely was very attractive in a gentleman, at least to Lady Diana Beaumont it was. 

She had, when she was little, naively decided that she would marry the man who discreetly reflected her own father's honourable traits, and she hadn't found anyone that even considered, yet here this gentleman was. A blush crept to her face at the  thought. 

She lifted her head to look at him. There was this intense expression on his face, the one that he sported at the ball a few days ago. The one that clearly disguised his thoughts or feelings and kept them safe from public judgement and observation, yet betrayed the depth of them just enough. 

"I think that is very courageous of you," Diana uttered slowly and watched him turn his face to look into her eyes. She found no need to elaborate, and he found no need to ask. 

"I appreciate that," he uttered, his gaze into her deepening.

Diana broke away her gaze as she felt herself getting overwhelmed; she distracted herself by looking down to her side at Fanny. The little girl was tugging on her hand a little and pointing towards a blue butterfly that had landed on a flower nearby that she wanted to examine.

Diana brought Fanny closer so the flower and watched her little cousin gaze at the creature's blue wings in awe. Lord Buxton had walked up to her side as she did so. 

"Do you like flowers, my lady?" The gentlemen spoke as Diana turned to face him, her focus still on her little ward, "Of course, what lady doesn't?"  

"Do you have a favourite?" Lord Buxton inquired further and his female company smiled, "I love white roses. I always have." 

The gentlemen nodded, knowingly. As though he was carefully placing the obtained information into a safety vault in his mind. 

"You have beautiful eyes," Lord Buxton's suddenly let out, causing Diana to turn to look at him again, in surprise. These compliments were jolts inside her, sudden, unexpected. 

He seemed to be fuelling her overwhelmed heart without having the intention to do so. What was it with him, all his sudden compliments and his drive that caused heat to reach up to her cheeks and her heart beat twice as fast? He looked as though he did not mean to inconvenience her, but meant all that he said and was about to say. For a moment, she wondered if it was to be believed. 

"You do have a way with flattery," Diana observed as she composed herself. She mustn't allow herself to be taken away with flattery, no matter who it comes from. 

"Not flattery, Lady Beaumont," Lord Edward Buxton responded, "Merely, honest observations."

Before she could register the response, an soft inquisitive voice interrupted her.

"Diana, do I have beautiful eyes too?" Fanny's sweet childish voice came, and Diana looked at her and broke into a smile. Her words were soft and mushed together as the little girl had still yet to clear her speech. She stood there with her big blue eyes gazing up at her elder cousin's in curiosity, the blue butterfly now fluttering above the little girl's head. 

"Yes, my darling," Diana gushed as she bent down to kiss Fanny's cheek as her little cousin clapped her hands in happiness.

Lord Edward Buxton smiled at the scene, and he was glad the lady couldn't see in her diversion. The way Lady Diana Beaumont dealt with children was the most pure thing he had ever seen. He had never been around children, and had long since his childhood forgotten what warmth children could bring. He could see just the amount of love that was embedded inside of the lady in front of him, and with it shining through her eyes and smile, she seemed to light up everything. The first time he had seen her at the ball, she had caught his fancy, but he could see that there was more to her than just her looks. She seemed, to him, to be the most beautiful lady he had ever seen, with purity radiating inside out. 

Lord Buxton stopped himself just then, his mind was reeling. He mustn't allow himself to get carried away, because Southampton didn't really exist to him. It was nothing to him. All that he was to keep fighting for, was in Portsmouth. And a lady, even one such as her, can't possibly change that for him, could she? 

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