Charity was seated on a gold and green chaise lounge, just in front of a bow window, draped with rose coloured velvet curtains which even then were letting in streamers of sunlight through the whorled glass of the panes.
It was drawing towards evening time and had been a glorious day. The scents of warm summer had relaxed her into a languid frame of mind and this was apparent in the elegaic fluidity of her pose.
It also showed in the sleepy insolence of her eyelids and the rosetinted sheen of her rosebud shaped mouth. She had been attired in a lounging garment of palest ivory, offset with fine dangling flounces of lace at the elbow and about the neck. She did indeed, look like a portrait of one of those celebrated French Court beauties. There had come a firm knock on the door.
“Please enter,” she had called in a fair imitation of an educated voice. Though he seemed a little embarrassed and not quite the mighty Lord, she had nonetheless started to move to her feet to make a small curtsey once she had ascertained her visitor's status. She blushed mildly, for despite his surliness and dark looks, he did seem to Charity on this early eventide to be positively one of the best looking men she had ever seen. He seemed to her to be possessed of a rare sort of magnetism, so that her eyes were riveted to his face, his masculine beauty all but threatening to denude her of her reason and senses completely. “My dear Charity. My dear Miss Charity Cottrell.” His tones were warmer than she had anticipated; there was a nonchalance now in his posture, for he rested one leg slightly off the ground and found a rest for it on the slat of a chair.
"Yes, Your Lordship?" She had lowered her head, so that she might gain time to compose herself and her thoughts. She raised her head slightly. He was not after all looking directly at her, his eyes seemed to be trained on the flower which she had tucked into the neckline of her gown. Her hand went to move self-consciously towards the opening where her ample breasts flowed over the creamy lace, but she thought better of it.
“The surgeon has informed me that you are all but recovered now, and well, let me come succinctly to the point Miss Cottrell: I am afraid that very soon I shall have to ask you to vacate the rooms you have been occupying in my house.” She looked crestfallen.
He continued: “’Tis not particularly my wish that you should be removed, shall we say, posthaste and without further ado, from Cheniston Mansion, but ’tis more on account that my mother plans to be in London within the next few days. My dear Miss Cottrell, Charity, perhaps you can understand that your presence - an unchaperoned, wonderfully attractive young woman like yourself - would cause all sorts of complications and embarrassments once my mother were to find out. And I cannot have my mother held up to any sort of gossip-mongering or scandal. As for myself, well, I care not a jolt what ‘Society’ in general, may say about me, but... there is also your position to consider. For I need not draw the picture of what would be made of your name and features should your stay in my house become public knowledge... and, from what I have discovered ...”
Charity’s head flew bolt upright, her mouth all but dropping open with surprise and fear, “But...”
“Ah, but then, Miss Cottrell, concussions of the head can be a funny business. I did hear you talking, albeit rambling mightily, I do assure you, but with a certain clear lucidity: I do believe, therefore, that I am now in possession of a much more intimate picture of what has happened to you since that first, all too brief, acquaintance in the past.”
Charity’s eyes all but glazed, her face blushing scarlet.
“Never fear, Charity Cottrell, your secrets are safe with me. However, to resume my earlier converse: it will be necessary that your presence be ghosted clearly away from Cheniston Mansion and therefore I shall have to ask you to be ready to leave within, say, the next three days.”
Charity lowered her head; she could feel tears swelling behind the pale silk of her lashes. Was there to be no respite, then, from the torments which Fate was throwing upon her? She pushed a scented handkerchief to catch the tears which fell from her eyes, trying to mop them up before Lord Seyton Clover had a chance to see her distress. Noticing these movements, Lord Seyton Clover squared his jaw in her direction, a look of surprise and dismay over his own features. “Alas, Miss Cottrell, do not shed tears so fast and freely. I do not intend to drop you back into the gutter whence, sadly, I rediscovered you!”
Charity could feel her heartbeats returning to a more normal tempo. A sudden chill touched her body, made her shiver. Was it to be - then - that this noble gentleman was to keep her after all, as his mistress? As though again divining her innermost thoughts, Lord Seyton Clover moved from his position and the examination of his fingertips, which he had been acutely observing whilst Charity pulled herself together and he stood before her. Cupping her blanched face, which she felt to be both volcanic hot and polar cold, he tilted the perfection of her heart-shaped face towards him: “You know Charity, you sometimes remind me of a perfect Botticelli Madonna.” He began stroking her hand. She flinched momentarily.
“Miss Cottrell, please believe me: I would not harm you and my intentions towards you are both worthy and honourable.” He removed his fingers from her hand and smoothed the pale wonder of her hair. “Do you,” he said, looking over her head and out through the window, “have any accomplishments? Oh, disregarding those which Dame Nature has lavished and loaded you with? I mean, for instance, can you memorise; recite; sing; play an instrument? Can you draw or embroider?”
Charity looked bewildered. She had thought that he was making love to her, and now this! What on earth was passing through his mind?
“Pray, let me continue. I,” here he looked somewhat embarrassed, "pride meself on a small gift for words and music and I have, fast nearing completion, a work which I should like to put on at one of the more prestigious theatrical or musical establishments in London. And, well, my dear young lady, I have need of someone totally unknown to take the principal - and perhaps,” his voice drifted off, “only role. Tell me,” he swept onto one knee before her, clasping yet again, her hand in his, “Tell me, are you in the least musical? For if you had but one grain of a gift I should get the winnower to make that into my, - no, our, - harvest! I should employ the very best to make you into a great - a truly magnificent ‘artiste’: the best that London Town shall ever, or will ever, have set eyes on!”
His own eyes were burning with an inner passion, invoking her to say ‘Yes’. She felt mesmerised by those dark orbs glowing, burning ecstatically, into her own. His lips, as she looked at them, were trembling with an earnestness that his request be answered in the most affirmative way. She endeavoured to remove her hand from where his fingers were clinging onto hers. But His Lordship would not relinquish his hold.
“I did undertake some lessons upon the pianoforte and with a singing master when I was very much younger. But I am afraid I should not consider myself possessed of a great talent nor a great singer's voice. I have not the stamina for that kind of life.”
'You have the chest though, my dearest,' thought Lord Seyton Clover, scanning the heaving expanse of luscious bosom. He changed the expression of near, sheer, lust upon his features and swung a triumphant gaze in her direction: at the same time, throwing her tiny hand high into the air, where - to his besotted vision - it looked like a pale, small dove suddenly flying heavenward.
“By my leave, dearest Charity, then there is more than hope. YOU SHALL DO IT FOR ME. You shall do it for me, my lovely maiden!”
Charity looked doubtful: “I could but try Your Lordship...” “Can you memorise?” “I learnt the rudiments of such a skill, for yes! My dearest Papa was eager that I have some unusual skills.”
She turned her head away and with a shy demeanour studied the carpet. “Excellent! Excellent!” “But,” said Charity, still not fully comprehending what was to become of her, “Where should I live and what should sustain me?” “Have no fears, my lovely one: I shall be your benefactor, your maestro, your protector. Methinks, ’tis a woman like you I have been searching for...”
Noticing again the reserve now drawing lines of suspicion about her features, the nobleman went on to reassure her.
“No, no, my chérie. I am an artist and you shall be my masterpiece! You shall know this. The whole of London, the whole of the known and civilised world, shall know this, in due course!” He was once more upon his feet, his eyes shading into unseeable distances, the glow of excitement spreading a distinct glow about his form.
“I shall be known as something other than a dandified aristocrat! You shall see! Miss Charity Cottrell, merely by uttering the words you have, and with such a gracious manner, you cannot possibly imagine how delighted, how ambitious, you have made me!”
With a sudden reassessment of his business with the young woman, he again resumed a taciturn air:
“So, you shall be ready to move when I bid you so? And,” he was headed now towards the door, “Miss Cottrell. Charity, I would ask of you to keep this arrangement secret, between ourselves, and of course, whoever in due course comes to instruct you. I do hope you understand my need to request this?”
"I have no one who would be at all interested in my doings," she replied, using a very small voice. He reached the door, bowed low and then said: “I am sorry. That was very clumsy of me. I shall see you tomorrow, at luncheon. No, no, I shall come before this to your room, for we have further things to discuss. Good evening, Miss Cottrell Charity.” His eyes warmed towards her and were matched by the pleasing cadences in his voice. “Good evening. Your Lordship.”