Chapter 44: How to Goad a Mule

Copyright© 2005 by Argon

Historical Sex Story: Chapter 44: How to Goad a Mule - This is set twenty years after the events of "In the Navy". The lives of Anthony Carter and his family are turned topsy-turvy by the arrival of Ellen, a young shepherdess. Follow the lives of the Carters and their friends and relatives during the late regency era and explore foreign countries and cultures with them. History is not necessarily dry!

Caution: This Historical Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa   mt/ft   Fa/ft   Teenagers   Consensual   Romantic   Rape   Lesbian   Heterosexual   Historical   Tear Jerker   First   Oral Sex   Masturbation   Petting  

HM Sloop Clotho was a handy craft. Even Richard and Ellen noticed that on the short crossing to Portsmouth. She was flush-decked and carried ten twelve-pounders on each side, a modern man o’war and the captain’s cabin was comparably roomy.

They left Le Havre with the morning tide and with a lively westerly wind abeam, Clotho raced over the choppy waters of the Channel often topping 13 knots. Therefore it was still light when they passed the Isle of Wight and made for Portsmouth Harbour.

Emily McAllister still owned the house on High Street, but she had moved to London and the house was closed for all Richard knew. Therefore, Hogget was sent ashore to secure lodgings at an inn as soon as Clotho‘s anchor fell.

As it happened, the Royal George Inn had a sufficient number of rooms. I was well after midnight before Richard, Ellen and their entourage could settle down in their rooms. They had bade their farewell to the helpful Commander Parker and Richard had made a point to invite him to their house on Cavendish Square if he happened to visit London.

The way the good Commander had spent almost the entire passage with Marie, entertaining her with tales of his adventures and experiences, Ellen knew his visit to be due within days. Conversely, Marie seemed to have enjoyed the attention of Captain Parker, a first as far as Ellen knew. Ellen resolved to learn more about this officer. She did not want her cousin to experience yet another disappointment.

Richard was able to secure a coach for the following morning, for the last leg of their journey back to London. The travellers were up early and by eight o’clock the rented coach rattled over the worn out cobble stones of Portsmouth and towards the road to London. By late afternoon they finally reached Cavendish Square and Lambert House. There had been no way to forewarn Old Lady Lambert and their arrival came as a complete surprise, both for Richard’s grandmother and for the staff.

The old woman had tears of joy in her eyes when she hugged first her grandson and then Ellen. Ellen found her in astounding health, far better than after their return from India, but the reason for this was not pleasant at all. For the next person to greet them was Eleanor and she was wearing a house dress, meaning she was living with her grandmother.

Eleanor gave her brother a loving hug, but when she greeted Ellen she started slightly. Ellen was almost five months along in her pregnancy and it showed. Eleanor’s hug was lacking in warmth.

“You are with child again?” she asked almost accusingly.

“How nice to see you too,” Ellen responded, miffed at the cold reception. “Yes, I am.”

Eleanor realised her gaffe and was contrite.

“I’m sorry, Ellen, this came out wrongly. I was surprised, that is all.”

There were tears in Eleanor’s eyes and Ellen’s anger was blown away immediately. She hugged her sister in law.

“You can tell me later, darling,” she whispered into her ear. Speaking loudly, she continued. “Don’t be alarmed, my dears. This is not some illusion. Please meet my cousin, Marie Comtesse de Perigneaux. Marie, this is Richard’s grandmother, Lady Lambert, and my sister in law and best friend, Eleanor Ruiz de Costa!”

Ellen saw Eleanor flinch at the mentioning of the Ruiz de Costa name, but fortunately Marie sensed the mood and drew attention to herself.

“I am very pleased to meet Ellen’s and Richard’s relatives. I hope you will not find me intruding.”

Old Lady Lambert, after one look at Marie, gave her a warm and welcoming smile.

“Welcome to Lambert House! Any relative of our Ellen is more than welcome.”

Ellen caught Richard’s look and suppressed a smile. Lucas de Chaunessy would not have been welcome.

Eleanor had her misgivings under control now.

“I was pleased to learn that Ellen has a cousin. Welcome to London!”

Marie’s impulsive hug left Eleanor slightly flustered. Looking closely, Ellen saw that Eleanor’s face was pale and haggard and her usually flashing green eyes appeared dull and impassive. Whatever had happened between Eleanor and Antonio had to be bad. She wanted to ask about Henry, Eleanor’s son, but she checked herself at the last moment. It did not help.

Neeta and Sadie entered with the two children. At the sight of little Anthony and Siobhan, Eleanor broke into tears and ran upstairs. Old Lady Lambert made a face, a mixture of disgust and pity.

“Henry is with Antonio and Eleanor only gets to see him once a week. It breaks her heart, but it’s also her own fault. She left Antonio; why, I have no clue. She doesn’t talk. She only goes to these evenings with this good-for-nothing Reverend Allday. But this has to wait. We have to notify your mother and father.”

“They have returned then?” Richard asked, his face still showing the worry he felt over his sister.

“Late June,” his grandmother answered. “Your mother is quite beside herself over Eleanor. Even she cannot find out what happened.”

“Haven’t you talked to Antonio?”

“He won’t talk either! It’s like trying to reconcile a pair of mules!”

Eleanor Lambert’s exasperation showed. Richard groaned, and they looked at him.

“I just realised that this has now become Ellen’s affair if I know my sweet wife at all.”

Ellen emitted a groan of herself.

“Not today! Today, I want to greet you, I want to greet Richard’s parents and I want to see Lucy and my father.”

Eleanor Lambert’s face became soft.

“How far along are you, dear?”

“Almost five months, I suppose,” Ellen answered with a tentative smile.

“How do you feel? Like you did with Anthony?”

Ellen considered the question and shook her head.

“I feel more like when I carried Siobhan,” she answered.

Old Lady Lambert smiled. “That will make your mother happy,” she told Richard. “A little Harriet.”

“Or perhaps a George or a Jonathan?” Richard answered, smiling back. He was referring to the names of Ellen’s father and stepfather.

“Men have no clues,” Eleanor Lambert told Ellen, shaking her head.

Harriet Carter was apprehensive when their coach entered Cavendish Square. Her husband was uncomfortable too, she sensed. Their last meeting with Eleanor had not gone well; it had in fact ended with Harriet berating her daughter for ruining her marriage. She still did not understand Eleanor’s reasons for leaving Antonio.

The fact that Richard had returned was the only reason for Harriet to visit Lambert House. Of course, they had exchanged letters, but the last news she had received from Richard or Ellen was almost five months old.

One look at Ellen changed Harriet’s outlook completely. She was with child again and she seemed happy and content. Thank God for her daughter-in-law! For all the troubles and heart aches she had caused in the past, Harriet loved Ellen like a daughter.

The joy Ellen showed at seeing her mother-in-law was also heart-warming for Harriet and she hugged the young woman with feeling.

“How far are you along, dear?”

“Almost five months by my reckoning,” Ellen beamed. “I believe it might be a little Harriet.”

“God bless you, Ellen! You bring happiness back in our lives.”

Richard was next.

“You do know your good fortune, don’t you?” Harriet asked as she hugged her son.

She felt Ellen’s hand on her shoulder.

“There is somebody I would like you to meet,” she said, pulling another young woman to the front.

Harriet did a double take. A slightly smaller version of Ellen, more slender and with light blue eyes, was standing at Ellen’s side.

“This is my cousin Marie, about whom I wrote to you. She will live with us, at least for the near future.”

“Good evening, Lady Carter,” the young woman said with a faint French accent.

Harriet sensed the apprehension of the young woman and she gave her an encouraging hug.

“Welcome, my dear. I was so sorry to read about your bad fortune in Ellen’s letters. Let us hope that your future will be free of such tragedies.”

Marie smiled in response and Harriet remembered the first meetings with Ellen. Marie had a captivating smile, too.

Next, Harriet excused herself and went upstairs to the children’s bedrooms. Sadie and Neeta were flustered when Harriet gave them friendly hugs and they introduced a skinny blonde girl to her, named Evi. But Harriet had no eyes for them anymore. Little Anthony was still awake and he looked up at his grandmother, barely recognising her. Two years are a long time for a child, but Harriet was patient with him. When Anthony showed her his favourite fairy tale book, Harriet sat down and read a chapter for him. When she finished, he demanded more and before Harriet realised it, it was nine o’clock.

She looked up when she heard the chime of the great clock downstairs and there was Ellen standing in the door to Anthony’s room.

“It’s bedtime, Tony,” she smiled. “Did Grandmother Harriet read to you?”

Little Tony nodded enthusiastically.

“You will see her often now. We are back at home and Grandmother Harriet and Grandmother Lucy can visit us. Now say ‘Good Night’ and get ready for bed!”

Neeta came in to supervise Tony’s preparations for the night and Ellen led Harriet out into the corridor.

“What in the world happened with Eleanor and Antonio?” she whispered.

Harriet felt miserable again.

“I don’t know! When we returned, she had already moved out of their house. She won’t tell me. She just sits and stares into the air. She’s miserable, but she won’t let us help her. She visits this Reverend Allday and his group of biddies twice a week. I have tried to interview him, but to no avail. I feel that he is behind this.”

“You don’t mean... ?” Ellen gasped.

“No, not that!” Harriet responded. “At least I can’t imagine it. But she is always quoting this man if she talks at all. It’s all about ‘leaving the sinful ways’ or some such nonsense.”

Harriet let her exasperation be heard.

“Do you want me to meddle?” Ellen asked with a sigh.

Harriet regarded the question. Eleanor would clam up to Ellen if Ellen tried to interfere.

“Not directly. I don’t think it will help. I hate to tell you knowing how close you two used to be, but Eleanor resents you. She resents your happiness and your good fortune.”

“I noticed that already,” Ellen sighed. “She tried to cover it, but she almost became hostile when she saw that I was with child.”

“See, why would she resent that? It must be that infernal Allday who is filling her head with nonsense.”

Ellen thought about the situation. Old Lady Lambert had tried to reason with Eleanore and so had Harriet. Both had failed to penetrate Eleanor’s impassive silence. Only her own pregnancy had produced emotions. Ellen decided on her course of action.

“Will you let me handle her? I believe I may have an idea,” she asked Harriet.

Harriet shrugged. “What do you plan?” she asked.

“I’ll do nothing,” Ellen said grimly. “Let’s see how she will handle that.”

Ellen started her campaign the very next day. Lucy, Jonathan and Violet came to dinner. At the table, Ellen was leading the conversation. How happy she was to be with child again. How much she loved Richard for his tender care and resolute defence of her honour. How exciting it had been at the Bavarian court. How well the children had adjusted. She rambled on and on.

Of course, Richard and Marie had been filled in, but Jonathan and Violet were astonished at this unknown side of Ellen’s personality. Lucy seemed to look through Ellen’s posturing, but then, she and Harriet had doubtlessly spoken to each other.

It worked. Even before the dessert was served, Eleanor put down her silverware with an audible ‘clang’ and left the table with a mumbled excuse. Once she had left Ellen’s loquaciousness evaporated, allowing Lucy and Jonathan to fill her in on what had happened in their lives.

The biggest news was that James and Millicent Donovan had returned from India. Their belated return was due to the birth of their first child before they left Calcutta, a little boy named Alistair. James Donovan had applied for a staff position under Joanthan Wilkes, and Ellen’s stepfather, after trying the young physician for a month, had accepted him. Ellen made a mental note to visit with Millicent at the earliest convenience.

The Princess Victoria had indeed assumed the patronage over the hospital charity, and Lucy was overjoyed to tell Ellen of a sizeable increase of contributions. Not only that, but Lucy had been presented to King William at a levee, and the King had thanked her for her two decades of charitable efforts. In addition, the hospital trustees had agreed to name the new maternity ward after Lucy.

Lucy made light of these things, but Ellen knew the pride her stepmother felt. Even more than Ellen, Lucy had come from humble origins, and the recognition of her tireless work meant more to her than she would let on.

After the Wilkes had gone, Richard and Ellen sat with Marie and Old Lady Lambert in the tea room, discussing the news they had heard. Eleanor rejoined them casting a reproachful look at Ellen. Ellen blithely ignored that however and resumed the role of happy wife and expecting mother. Eleanor fled when Ellen rested against Richard’s chest sighing contentedly.

Over the next days and weeks, Ellen reacquainted herself with her vast circle of friends. The Turners were invited to tea, Samuel and Rebecca York came for dinner, as did Lord and Lady Hornblower. Ellen made the most of the time before her advancing pregnancy would make social contacts difficult.

In all that time, Ellen never asked Eleanor about the reasons for her fallout with Antonio. Once a week, sometimes twice, Eleanor would visit her church group with Reverend Allday. When Eleanor returned she would look at Ellen expectantly, but Ellen never asked her about those visits either.

Sometimes, Eleanor would look at Ellen and her children wistfully, other times, especially after the visits with the Allday church group, she looked at Ellen with disapproval. Since Ellen was not aware of any wrongdoing and since Eleanor never voiced her misgivings, Ellen ignored those looks.

Ten days after their return, whilst returning from a meeting with her publisher (her book still sold well), she suddenly found herself face to face with Antonio Ruiz de Costa on the street. Ellen was shocked. Antonio looked terrible. His face was gaunt and his eyes deeply set. While he was dressed immaculately, the clothes were too wide and made him look like a scarecrow.

“Excuse me for waylaying you,” he began haltingly.

Ellen was in no mood for excuses. She simply stepped close to him and hugged him. To her utter surprise she felt him tremble in her arms. Holding him at arm’s length, she noticed that he had to fight for control.

“We need to talk, Antonio,” she said softly.

She steered him into a nearby coffee house where they were able to find a table in the rear. Ellen waited until Antonio had placed orders for them before she grabbed the bull by the horns.

“Antonio, you need to tell me what happened. How can we help you and Ellen if neither of you speaks to us?”

He looked at her doubtfully.

“I ... didn’t think you’d want to hear my side. You and Eleanor,” he choked, “are friends.”

“Yes, I am. But I’m your friend too, and so is Richard. What happened?”

They had to wait, for the waiter came with Antonio’s coffee and Ellen’s hot chocolate.

“I don’t know myself, Ellen. From one day to the next, she refused me. Before, when we had small quarrels, we would make up and forgive each other.”

“Make up?” Ellen asked with raised eyebrows.

“You know what I meant, Ellen,” Antonio sighed. “Eleanor always was a passionate woman and I never treated her badly or roughly. Then one day, she pushed me away when I wanted to ... kiss her, to make up for a disagreement. She screamed at me. She accused me of using her for my pleasure. That’s not true! I always tried to give as much and more than I received.”

Ellen shook her head. “And then?”

“I protested. She claimed I treated her like a plaything. I was at a loss what to say. I became angry and left the house to get my head clear. The next morning she accused me of being a coward for running away from our problems. It became worse. That evening, we were invited by Don Alfredo, the Mexican envoy. As soon as we arrived Eleanor left me standing alone. In my anger, I drank too much, that is true. I swear, I only made conversation with two of Don Alfredo’s daughters, but on the way home Eleanor accused me of infidelity. Of course I became angry. I said that perhaps I should question her visits with that Reverend too. That was when she demanded that I drop her off at your house. I haven’t seen her since. I don’t know what happened to the wonderful woman I married.”

Ellen was silent. This made no sense. Even if Antonio was only presenting his view point, Ellen could not see any obvious grounds for Eleanor’s extreme behaviour. There was one thing she needed to know, however.

“Antonio, I have to ask this – do you want her back? Do you honestly want her back as your wife?”

“You mean to ask whether I can still love her?”

Ellen nodded.

“Yes, I’d give or do anything to win her back. Look at me! I can’t eat anymore. I don’t sleep.”

“I shall try to get to the bottom of this.” Ellen sighed. “It’s not easy. Eleanor is as stubborn as a mule. You shouldn’t have married a redhead. You should have taken a placid blonde.”

Ellen smiled at him. Her words had the desired effect and Antonio cracked a weak smile.

“I seem to remember that Richard didn’t have an easy time either. How do you manage to have that harmony now, Ellen?”

“We talk about everything; what we do, what we see, whom we meet. Most importantly, we tell each other what we feel. It takes courage to offer your innermost feelings to the other. Doing this we have avoided misunderstandings. These days it doesn’t take courage anymore because we trust each other unconditionally.”

Antonio nodded. “Perhaps this is what went wrong with Eleanor and I. We never spoke our mind for fear of hurting the other.”

Ellen touched his arm in a friendly gesture.

“Let me work on it. I’ll try my best to give you and Eleanor a second chance.”

“You give me hope, Ellen.”

“Give my regards to your mother,” Ellen smiled, hugging Antonio once more.

As a result of her conversation with Antonio, Ellen stepped up her efforts to ignore Eleanor. This in spite of the fact that she could observe cracks in Eleanor’s armour already. Eleanor was constantly short of temper and she was barely able to hide her exasperation at the overt displays of tenderness between her brother and Ellen.

Consequently, Ellen went out of her way to demonstrate her love to Richard. The situation came to a head a week after Ellen had met Antonio. She was sitting at the breakfast table with Richard and Eleanor. When Richard stood to leave for his office, Ellen remained seated but she reached out with both arms. Richard bent down to give her a farewell kiss. When their lips parted, Ellen pulled his head down so that she could whisper in his ears.

“Last night was wonderful, darling. I love having you inside me!”

Then she kissed a blushing Richard once more with great feeling. Richard had barely left the room when Eleanor exploded.

“Have you no sense of decency or propriety, Ellen?”

“Why, yes, I have,” Ellen answered calmly. “What did I do?”

“Your shameless cavorting around Richard is more than embarrassing. Is it not enough that you obviously give in to his base instincts? Do you have to encourage him?”

“Eleanor, Richard is my husband. I love him and he loves me back. Of course I let my love for him show.”

“Some love! You rut with him almost every night!”

“Why, are you listening in?” Ellen laughed.

“Of course not! I cannot help but overhear you as you even spur him him on!”

“And why, my dear Eleanor, is this wrong?”

“Don’t you see it, Ellen? You base your marriage on sinful lust, rather than on true ethereal love!”

“So far, it has worked admirably for our marriage,” Ellen countered. “I happen to like sinful lust as you choose to call it. For me, and I’m sure for Richard too, ‘sinful lust’ is one expression of our true love. To what ‘true love’ are you referring?”

Ellen’s tone was challenging and Eleanor answered hotly, without realising that she was opening up for the first time.

“A love that is based on respect rather than the urges of the flesh! A love of the soul. A love that is not tainted by lewd behaviour.”

Ellen raised her eyebrows.

“This from the woman who once introduced me to self-inflicted pleasure?”

“Well, I for one have seen the light!” Eleanor shot back. “I do not give in to those sinful urges anymore. I have bettered my life!”

“Some betterment!” Ellen snorted getting a little riled herself. “You lost your husband and your child! How is that better?”

“Antonio will see the light too,” Eleanor answered, but without conviction. “Reverend Allday says that men need longer to see the divine reasoning. Their urges are stronger, and their discipline is weaker. It is us women who must better them.”

Ellen looked back at Eleanor with a questioning smile. She did not answer though. After a few moments of silence Eleanor took the bait.

“Really, Ellen, you must come to your senses. Come with me tomorrow. I’ll introduce you to the Reverend; he is a most insightful man. He can bring you on the right path again.”

“All right,” Ellen answered lightly. “If you insist, I’ll accompany you. Do tell me more about him. How did you meet him? What made you seek his guidance?”

Over the next two hours, Eleanor, in her eagerness to convince Ellen, told her the entire story from her view point. It was obviously a catharsis for her to be able to talk to a seemingly understanding friend. Ellen felt slightly bad for misleading Eleanor, but she saw a singular chance to get to the bottom of Eleanor’s estrangement from Antonio.

It seemed that Antonio was quite an able lover, so much indeed that Eleanor could never resist him. Whenever she felt bad, whenever they had minor arguments, Antonio would take her into his arms and lead her into their bedroom. In his arms Eleanor would be swept away on the waves of passion.

The disagreements remained however, and Eleanor more and more resented Antonio’s play with her emotions. His knowledge that he could easily get on her good side again also made him disregard her wishes and opinions.

One incident particularly enraged Eleanor. She had been to a tea where a proponent of the new women’s suffrage movement spoke. Eleanor had always been interested in politics and she embraced the idea that women should have equal voting rights. In the evening when she was lying in bed with Antonio, she spoke about those issues.

What enraged her was not so much Antonio’s first reaction – he broke out in laughter – but his idea to settle the issue. He maintained that Eleanor needed a worthwhile task and he proposed to try for a second child to ‘keep her busy’. The outrage Eleanor felt in this moment made her refuse his advances for the first time.

With Antonio’s standard way to deal with differences thwarted, he did not know how to deal with Eleanor and their arguing was bitter, leaving both Antonio and Eleanor resenting the other.

In this mood Eleanor was susceptible to the invitation from another woman, Hannah Elsworth, to accompany her to a Bible group, held by a ‘phantastic’ new reverend, Jonas Allday. For Eleanor’s hurt ego, Jonas Allday offered the right answers. A total rejection of physical intimacy seemed just the right way for her to cope with her overwhelming desire that allowed Antonio to dominate her. His preaching of a divine love to replace the sinful lust was the answer to her troubled and confused mind.

Antonio reacted with confusion to her rejection of his advances. She never had a chance, she claimed, to explain to him why she felt that she had to place their marriage on a different basis. Her refusal insulted him and he left home most evenings to spend time with acquaintances. Eleanor’s efforts towards reconciliation were always met with Antonio’s attempts to rekindle their physical love, something Eleanor refused of course. This further alienated them and it became known in the closely knit community of Spanish and South American expatriates that Antonio Ruiz de Costa’s marriage was struggling.

The final straw was when they visited an evening reception at the Mexican envoy’s home. They had barely arrived when Eleanor was pulled to the side by three of the Hispanic matrons who berated Eleanor for being a bad wife. They told her that Antonio would be in his right to look elsewhere for companionship. It was in this mindset that she saw him dancing and laughing with the young and, as Eleanor had to admit, beautiful daughters of their host.

The bitter argument that followed made her leave him. She maintained however that she still loved him and that she hoped that he would see her reasons.

When everything had poured out of Eleanor, she sat silently and looked at Ellen dubiously. She was waiting for Ellen’s reaction. Ellen did the only thing that came to her mind – she hugged Eleanor.

There were at least thirty women of all ages but only four men in the congregation hall when Eleanor and Ellen entered it. Ellen received a few scandalised looks for her pregnancy was very obvious now.

When the Reverend Allday entered they all stood. He was a rail-thin man, nearly bald, and his black frock smelled of a mixture of camphor and unwashed body, something Ellen found particularly revolting. His mostly female followers seemed to adore him though as Ellen could see.

He went around in the hall greeting some of his followers personally. When he approached Eleanor she introduced Ellen to him.

“Reverend, this is my sister-in-law, Lady Lambert. I invited her to come along.”

Allday looked at Ellen as if she was dirt under his shoes.

“Milady, it is not appropriate for women in your state to frequent social gatherings!”

“Oh, I am most sorry, Reverend. I thought this was a church service. Surely, you would not exclude expecting mothers from church service?”

Ellen put on her best innocent voice, but she spoke clearly and the flock listened in intently.

“I find it in bad taste, Milady. How can I preach against the sinful union of man and woman when you flaunt the result of just such sinful behaviour?”

“Sinful behaviour? I am a married woman and mother expecting my third child! What is sinful about that? Did not the Lord ordain us to be fruitful and multiply?”

Ellen still spoke in a detached tone as if the discussion was purely academic.

“The women in my congregation wear modest attire and they cover their head. Your appearance shows that you are a sinner, a temptress who flaunts herself!”

Somehow, the good Reverend hated her very sight Ellen noticed with surprise.

“But I do not flaunt myself as you choose to say,” she protested in a mild voice. “My dress is modest and as for my hair, this is how I was born. Is it not rather that your own sinful thoughts are misguiding you?”

The latter sentence was accompanied by a teasing smile. This Reverend was easy to goad.

“Vade retro, Satanas!” Allday thundered.

A sideway glance told Ellen that Eleanor was listening to the Reverend with growing anger.

“A woman bearing a child is Satan, Reverend?” Ellen asked mockingly. “May I remind you that you too were born by a woman? She was pregnant with you like I am pregnant with my husband’s child. Surely you do not believe that you were delivered by a stork?”

There was an audible giggle from some of the women present, but the mentioning of his mother had a frightful effect on the Reverend. With a cry of rage he tried to hit Ellen with his fist. Fortunately Ellen has watched him closely, but by stepping back to avoid the blow, Ellen stumbled and fell, landing heavily on one of the chairs. Desperately, she tried to regain her balance to fend off the maniac, but that proved unnecessary.

With a scream of rage, Eleanor launched herself at her erstwhile mentor, hitting him and scratching his face with her nails. When Allday managed to grab Eleanor’s hands in a strong grip, he came to regret his preaching of modesty. For Eleanor wore no hoops or underskirts under her skirt, and thus her unimpeded knee impacted with full force in the Reverend’s groin.

He doubled over in pain only to be hit by the fist of another woman. Five or six of his parishioners rushed him now, kicking, scratching and beating him amidst angry screams. He had hit a pregnant woman and that made every mother in the room his immediate and mortal enemy.

This was something Ellen had not foreseen, but she welcomed the development nonetheless. Watching the mêlée, she carefully examined herself. She felt no pain or other discomfort though. Heaving a sigh of relief she stood carefully. A tearful Eleanor was at her side immediately.

“Oh God, Ellen, I’m so sorry. I never knew he could be so violent! I would have never exposed you to him if I had known.”

In spite of the scare she just had had, Ellen had to smile. Eleanor had called Allday violent! Yet, she herself had reduced that man into a moaning heap.

“I think I’m fine, Eleanor,” she tried to comfort her sister-in-law. “I was scared, but I’m fine. He missed me and I stumbled, that’s all.”

One of the older parishioners approached her.

“He’ll never hit a woman again, Milady,” she stated grimly and Ellen believed her. What was left of the Revered Allday was barely able to move.

“I must thank you ladies for coming to my aid so readily,” she said in her most friendly voice. “It is obvious that this man holds a deeply seated grudge against women. He poisoned your mind with his preaching to satisfy this hatred. I can only advise all of you to come to your senses. If you push away your husbands as he urged you to do, they will seek solace elsewhere and you will be the ones to be left alone and unhappy. Make an end to their misery and to your own and embrace them again. Think of your marriage vows. You vowed to love your husbands and to honour them, and they vowed to worship you with their bodies. This should be your guidance, not the ranting of a deranged person.”

Ellen looked around at the stunned faces.

“Now, if you will excuse us, I really need to rest. Will you come, Eleanor?”

With Eleanor holding her hand, Ellen walked out of the hall with her head held high. They clinbed into the coach and gave orders to return to cavendish Square.

Ellen suppressed the smug smile that she felt coming. This had been easy. She would have never thought it possible to free Eleanor from the Reverend’s influence so quickly, but the man’s irrational hatred of her had made that possible. Where had that hatred come from?

“Why did he hate you so much?” Eleanor asked, eerily echoing Ellen’s thoughts.

“I have no idea. When he saw me he became insane. It was something about me being with child. He must be a twisted person.”

Eleanor’s lips twitched. “He is now.”

Both young women looked at each other and burst out laughing. Ellen laughed so hard that her belly ached. Wiping tears from her eyes with one hand, she took Eleanor’s hand with the other.

“You are not mad at me? You surely noticed that I baited him?”

Eleanor nodded. “He was rude to you first. I don’t know what possessed me to listen to this man.”

“You were unhappy and confused, darling,” Ellen reminded her. “I fear, my dear Eleanor, that you must be even braver, now. You must face Antonio. You must explain your misgivings to him. You must tell him where he hurt you. I believe he did it unwittingly. He must learn to listen to you and you must learn to speak your mind.”

“I don’t think he’ll ever want me back,” Eleanor answered, the elation gone completely.

“I know he does,” Ellen returned. “He wants you back at any cost. He told me so himself.”

“You have seen him? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“If I had told you, would you have spoken with me? Would you have poured out your heart? Would you have given me a chance?”

Ellen looked deep into Eleanor’s eyes and she saw understanding.

“I suppose I wouldn’t have,” Eleanor answered.

“See! This evening you will sit at dinner with us and you will speak to Richard. Explain yourself to your brother. He is worried about you. After dinner, you will play with your nephew and niece. You are their aunt and you never acknowledge them.”

Eleanor nodded. “I know I behaved badly. I was ... resentful and envious of you. I’m sorry. You seemed so indifferent to my situation. All you did was to moon over Richard, and talk to that ... to your cousin.”

Now it was out. Eleanor was secretly jealous of Marie. Ellen pressed her hand.

“Marie is my cousin, Eleanor, but you are my sister. Do you remember the night after my engagement, when we lay in bed together? I was so happy that night, and you were part of the reason. We used to tease each other like sisters. Eleanor, I want that back. Well, maybe not all of it, but the closeness.”

Eleanor stared at Ellen digesting the words. Her lips moved silently, not able to form the words, but her eyes were articulate enough. Ellen bent forward a fraction and softly kissed Eleanor’s lips. A bump in the road jolted them apart, but a warm smile had formed on Eleanor’s lips under that kiss.

“I wish we could turn back the time to that night. I was so happy then.”

Ellen’s eyes sparkled.

“Richard is gone to Birmingham. Come to my bedroom tonight. I’ll enjoy the companionship. But no tickling!”

The change of the atmosphere in Lambert House was palpable; even Marie noticed it. The conversation at the dinner table was by no means animated, but there was a particular lack of tension. When they had finished eating and the servants had cleared the table, Eleanor asked Oldroyd to close the doors. When the family was alone, Eleanor rose from her chair.

“I want to apologise to all of you, in particular to you, Grandmother, and to Marie. Ellen and I have already spoken and she knows what I have to tell you. I have behaved terribly over the last months. Grandmother knows me, but Marie has only seen me in this terrible mood. I would ask her to give me a chance to start fresh.

“Grandmother, I know you meant well, but I was unable to appreciate your attempts to help me. I’ll apologise to Mother tomorrow. I had an eye opener today and I have to realise that most of what I did in the last months was misguided. I’m sorry.”

Marie reached over the table to touch Eleanor’s hand.

“Let me know if I can help. Sometimes, it is easier to speak about things with a stranger.”

“What do you intend to do about your husband? Don’t you think he deserves some thought too?”

Old Lady Lambert, as usual in the last years, came straight to the point. Eleanor nodded, but she blushed.

“I am not quite ready for him. I need some more time to examine my feelings. The situation is not my fault alone.”

“I never said it was, dear. You both have to resolve it though before you destroy everything.”

“Please, Grandmother, do not push me!” Eleanor pleaded.

The old woman looked grim. “I do not have enough time left to be patient. I am seventy-six and I want to see you happy again before my time comes.”

Eleanor stood her ground.

“That just means I have to make sure that I can be happy again.”

The old woman raised her eyebrows in surprise, but then she nodded.

Oldroyd cleared his throat.

“Commander The Honourable Earl Parker to see you, Milady!”

Ellen looked up from the newspaper she was perusing. She looked at Marie. Her cousin blushed prettily.

“Show him to the tea room, Oldroyd, thank you,” Ellen replied.

Richard was not yet back from Birmingham and Eleanor had taken the coach to visit Harriet Carter. Ellen rang the bell and Evi appeared, wearing her new servant’s uniform. The girl was still skinny and no amount of food seemed to change that.

“Have some tea brewed, Evi, and bring it to the tea parlour please!”

Ellen was always courteous with her servants. The girl curtseyed smiling back at Ellen and left. Evi was not loquacious even though she had learned to speak English quite well. When she spoke she had a peculiar, even funny accent.

Together with Marie, Ellen went into the tea parlour. Commander Parker shot up from his chair upon their entrance, and he kissed the proffered hands. Ellen greeted him and expressed her joy to see him again. Marie concurred to that. Earl Parker explained then that his command over Clotho had ended and that he was living in his father’s London townhouse for the moment whilst his own Berkshire home was being remodelled.

Marie expressed her interest and Parker told her about his estate which he had inherited from his uncle a few years back. Ellen noted that it was only sixteen miles away from Woodbridge Manor.

The tea was served and the conversation continued. At one point Ellen excused herself and left Marie and the commander to continue their talk. When she returned to the tea room the atmosphere in the room was changed. Marie gave Ellen a shy smile and the commander seemed at a loss for words.

Ellen expressed her hope to see more of Commander Parker soon and was rewarded with a grateful smile from Marie. The commander then asked Marie whether she would ride with him the next morning and Marie accepted with a blush and a smile.

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