Chapter 5

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"Weren't they supposed to be here for business? It seems quite odd that they'd stay for the fair," Lady Diana Beaumont observed the following morning as they reflected on the past events.

"Gentlemen, no matter where they start, come down to that same vastly predictable route," Her cousin and confidante, Lady Alicia Kirkpatrick  laughed as she leaned forward to take her tea from the silver platter that the maid held up, "Can't you see that they are trying to secure our interest?"

"What gives them the impression that they will succeed?" Diana asked as she raised her brow and took a sip of her tea. It was no lie that she and her cousin Alicia, have been pursued by many gentlemen, ever since they were seventeen, but the ladies were not as careless as to toss around their hearts so. Although being firm believers in the fact that the organ did not solely exist for the purpose of pumping blood. 

Her words did little to convince her own self, however. Lord Buxton was perhaps the most bold gentleman she had ever encountered. He had taken her by surprise and was anything but predictable. Alicia shrugged and smiled as she sipped her tea. She too thought Lord Algernon did seem to be a respectable and handsome gentleman, but so did many; it was what lay behind all those layers that counted. Since this was her first acquaintance with the gentleman, she couldn't form her opinion just yet.

Shrugging the thought of the gentlemen off, Diana looked towards her little cousins in the far end of the drawing room. Frances and little Fanny were in the middle of their music lessons by their music tutor, Mr Humbert.

Frances had quite gotten hold of her piano lessons; she was able to play five precise compositions on the instrument with ease. Little Fanny however was having all the fun she could with her little golden harp. Mr Humbert tried as hard as he could to get the little girl to co-operate, but Fanny really did really have a heart and mind of her own.

"Lady Beaumont, there's a letter arrived for you," A maid spoke as she came in the drawing room. She had a silver tray in her hand, on which lay the letter. Diana nodded and smiled, gesturing for the maid to bring her the letter.

As she leaned in to take it from the tray, she read the sender's information and a smile spread across her face.

"It's from Jessie Churchill," Diana spoke, and then she opened the letter.

"She is back from Portsmouth and has invited us to the rectory for tea," she summed up the contents of the letter and lifted her head to look at Alicia. The letter was lengthy, aside from the invitation, having borne vague news of an incident that happened upon Jessie Churchill's arrival, which was completely uninteresting and of no intrigue to Diana. 

"Tea at the rectory seems quite unorthodox," Alicia observed, looking at her cousin as they exchanged debating glances.

"I am sure we can convince her to have supper outside in the rectory gardens, besides I dare say, it's been such a while since we've seen her," Diana reasoned. Tea at the rectory, for young ladies of their stature, was perhaps the top of the most unorthodox things that could ever exist, and Jessie Churchill, no matter how equally unorthodox, was their friend. 

"Yes, then I am afraid I have no reason to object," Alicia shrugged.

It was half past two in the afternoon and Mansfield estate was quieter and more pleasant than usual. Miles and Henrietta were at their school, which was a ten minute carriage ride away from the Mansfield estate, taking their usual law, history and geography classes for the day. They were to return at six pm. Mary Ann and Judith were in the middle of their Latin lessons by a hired tutor in a room upstairs. The girls, one being thirteen and the other ten, weren't old enough to go to a public school just yet and this was the traditional way of getting their education started before that endeavor. Lady Kirkpatrick was upstairs too as she liked to watch her nieces in their baby steps towards mastering the language. 

Glancing towards her little cousins amidst their music lessons, Diana noticed little Fanny's droopy eyes as the little girl yawned a small yawn. Diana smiled.

"I think that is enough harp lessons for Fanny today, Mr Humbert," Diana said, nodding her head towards the tutor as she made her way to Fanny in a sofa chair, cuddling the little harp in her lap. Putting the harp aside, Diana picked her little cousin up, and the girl immediately wrapped her tiny arms around Diana's neck and made herself comfortable as she closed her eyes.

"Martha," Diana called and minutes later, a maid rushed into the drawing room. "Take Fanny and put her to bed," the maid was instructed and Diana helped the maid take Fanny in her arms. "After that, please ask Lady Rebecca Seymour to the drawing room and inform the chauffeur to prepare the carriage," Diana further instructed, and the maid quickly nodded in response. Then with a curtsy, she turned around and took her leave.

"I am sure Rebecca can watch Frances during the reminder of her lesson," Diana said as she looked towards Alicia, who nodded in response. It was improper to leave a child, as young as Frances, alone with a tutor. The family always took turns with that sort of responsibility, not only was it improper, it was also highly dangerous.

"Frances dear, Alicia and I are going out for a while okay? Rebecca will be here to watch you play," Diana called to Frances, who turned to look at her cousins and uttered a cheerful, "Alright," as she bobbed her head to the sound of the piano rhythm she played.

Soon, Lady Rebecca Seymour entered the drawing room and Alicia and Diana informed her that the two would be heading out for supper at a friend's and that they needed her to chaperone Frances during her lessons.

With Rebecca happily obliging, Diana and Alicia made their way into the front drawing room, which was the bigger and the more glamorous one of the Mansfield estate. It was also the more formal one, where the guests were mostly received. The aunts and uncles were undoubtedly there this afternoon.

Entering the drawing room in question, the ladies informed their parents of their invitation for tea at the rectory by their friend Jessie Churchill. There were a little concerns arising from the fact that the ladies were to have tea at the rectory, and how unorthodox it seemed. After explaining the concerned that they will be having tea in the gardens instead of inside the rectory itself, the parents, aunts and uncles were successfully convinced.

Oscar Seymour, who had business that was taking him towards the rectory's path, asked if he could escort Diana and Alicia along, and the ladies willingly obliged.

"Miss Churchill was in an engagement last year, if I recall correctly," Oscar recalled as the carriage made its way to the rectory on the sunny afternoon. There was news of the sort unraveling in the county last year, and since the vicar, Mr Churchill, was a respected member of the Southampton society, the matter did not take much time to indulge everyone's interest.

"It was only a courtship, I don't think they were engaged," Diana replied, then she continued, "And, it is impolite to bring up such a matter, Oscar."

Oscar shrugged nonchalantly. "Such idle connections are unnecessary and time consuming," he uttered, disregarding Diana's remark, "Either get engaged or not, all this dilly dallying is not befitting someone from our parish rectory," he continued.

Alicia felt herself roll her eyes at her cousin's ignorance. "And what, may I ask, do you know about honest connections, dear cousin?"

Oscar's smug expression changed to that of confusion at being cornered like that. His eyebrows did a little dance as he struggled to find the words to defend his honor, "I-I know plenty, you seem to forget that I, being older than you ladies, have acquired much experience in these sort of things."

It was Diana's turn now to roll her eyes at her older cousin's observations.

"Oscar, being a year older than us, does not make you more experienced," Diana stated sternly, and then her expression changed to that of a mischievous one as she exchanged glances with Alicia and continued, "Poor Miss Fisher has been telling the county all about your admirable courting qualities."

Oscar scoffed in disregard, "I'd rather court a fish."

Alicia and Diana laughed at Oscar's response. Being as full of himself as he was, it was enticing to aggravate him, and Miss Fisher's mere mention always seemed to do just that. It wasn't that she wasn't an accomplished girl; in fact she was more accomplished than it would do good to be. She was of Alicia and Diana's age, and even though she had the ability to be a regarded lady like them, her fortunes had held her back.

Miss Fisher came from a middle class family and had no fortune to her name. Thus, she seemed to have made it her mission to try and snag every rich gentleman that seemed to cross her street. Diana and Alicia had, on occasion, tired to take the lady under their wing, but she had turned out to be exactly the Mrs Hart kind of company their family frowned upon. 

Shaking the thought of the girl off her mind, Diana noticed that they had arrived at the rectory. Mr Churchill and his daughter Jessie Churchill stood at the gates to welcome their guests.

Mr Churchill quickly scurried towards the carriage as it came to a halt, with the intention of helping the ladies off. Oscar Seymour, who had noticed the vicar's intentions, quickly jumped off the carriage himself and before the old vicar could approach, Oscar was already helping his cousins off as he took their gloved hands one by one and lead them down the small steps to the ground.

"Ah," The vicar uttered the disappointed sigh, then putting a broad smile on his face, he continued, "I must say how delightful it is to have such delicate company at the rectory this evening."

Diana and Alicia smiled and did a little curtsy towards the vicar before approaching Jessie. They embraced Jessie in a hug.

"Jessie dear, it is so wonderful to see you," Diana gushed as he hugged her friend. "Yes," Alicia agreed, "Thank you for inviting us."

"No, Thank you for coming," Jessie responded, equally as happy to see her friends.

Jessie Churchill had been a friend to Diana and Alicia ever since they were little. Meeting on every Sunday at the church as little girls, friendship hadn't taken much time to blossom. Being older as they were now, they hardly ever got time to spend with each other, with all their lives getting as intricate as they were.

As Jessie led the ladies inside, Mr Churchill turned to Oscar, who was getting ready to climb into the carriage.

"Ah, Lord Oscar Seymour," Mr Churchill called, "Won't you stay? My daughter, Jessie, made excellent pastries for the evening. You know how good of a cook she is, I dare say, God has blessed her hands so."

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