“You must tell me everything about yourself, Miss Louisa Tavistock “good, bad indifferent, I want to know it all” Lord Spencer stated as he ripped a wing off roast chicken and took a huge bite of it.
“Now, Spencer, I told you before that my Louisa is a private person, even a little shy. See how easily she blushes so!” Lady Adeline chided.
“But, Big Sis, if I am to propose marriage to her I really need to know her as best as is possible to know another person” Lord Spencer retorted, winking at Louisa.
“A proposal of marriage?!” Louisa gasped.
“Oh yes, dear Louisa. I have made up my mind already that I am going to marry you. I won’t change my mind now that I have decided” Lord Spencer said in the most sensible and serious tone Louisa had yet heard him speak.
“And, pray, do I have any say in this… arrangement?” Louisa asked, annoyed.
“Don’t you pay him any mind, darling.” Lady Adeline comforted. “Spencer is an outrageous flirt and, if I’m being brutally honest, a bit of a cad, too. He has left a string of broken hearts behind him, haven’t you, Spencer?”
“Silly little girls with empty heads and all the ambition of a house-brick” Lord Spencer snorted. “Miss Louisa Tavistock, on the other hand, is a real woman and I say again, the woman I have made up my mind to take as my wife”. He was so serious that Louisa felt a small chill chase its way down her spine. At the same time a small smile played across her lips.
“Well, sir, I believe it is customary for a lady in these circumstances to offer her thanks for the kindness a gentleman has shown her. Although I am not a lady in the sense that your sister here is…” Louisa paused to nod at her hostess, “I am, however, possessed of good manners if not the breeding you might expect. Therefore, please accept my most sincere thanks and gratitude for the compliments you have paid me this evening, Lord Spencer” Louisa said with all the dignity she could muster.
“Louisa, I have not merely complimented you. I have made a proposal of marriage, a proposal that I will make good on. You must believe me on that point” Lord Spencer avowed earnestly.
“Again, I thank you” Louisa said, feeling slightly discomfited by the passionate declaration of the air force pilot and brother of her employer.
A slightly awkward silence settled over the gathering, broken only by the sound of cutlery clattering against flatware.
“So, other than proposing to complete strangers, Spencer, what else have you been up to these past months?” Lady Adeline asked after several minutes had passed during which the main course was consumed. As the plates were cleared away by smartly-dressed and deferential staff, Lord Spencer regaled his audience of two with outlandish and outrageous tales of high-jinx, derring-do and the more serious side of pilot training.
“We lost two of our chaps on a training exercise out over the Irish Sea a month or so back; Teddy Washburn and Harold Kettle”
“Oh, dear Lord!” Lady Adeline exclaimed in dismay. “You were at school with Washburn, I believe?” she asked.
“That’s right. Bloody nice chap, too. Could sing along with the best of them and played a mean game of rugby, too. Damn, but it’s bloody tough when you lose them like that!” His voice caught in his throat and the larger-than-life façade he wore most of the time slipped ever-so-slightly. Louisa caught the merest glimpse of the frightened, but brave, young man her employer’s brother really was. She felt herself warming to him a little more.
It emerged that the young Lord Spencer had had a fascination with aeronautics from the first time he saw a picture of the Wright brothers. He had wanted to join the Royal Flying Corps at the outbreak of the Great War but had been far too young to do so.
“Flying is all I have wanted to do and flying is what I love to do” he told Louisa at the end of the dinner before taking his leave with a gentlemanly bow.
He stole a kiss from her the day before he had to return to his squadron. The afternoon was unseasonably warm and Lady Adeline had retired to her quarters for a light nap. Finding herself at an unusual loose end Louisa had readily accepted Lord Spencer’s offer of a stroll around the gardens.
Once alone with Louisa Lord Spencer proved to be wonderful company. Although his over-the-top personality still broke through on occasion, especially when he was regaling his audience, even an audience of one, with one of his seemingly limitless store of amusing anecdotes his more caring, sensitive side also shone through. Louisa found that she was enjoying Lord Spencer’s company far more than she thought she would – and far more than she thought she ought to.
“I am not from your world” she told him as they sat primly side-by-side on a concrete bench that overlooked a formal garden. “I am from, what I guess you would call, humble – if not common – stock.”
“Where you are from is of no import to me, Louisa, darling” Lord Spencer told her, taking her hands in to his and looking into her troubled eyes. “It is who you are that matters most to me.”
“But your family, your parents, your friends, Lady Adeline, even, they have expectations of you. They expect you to marry well, marry into a family that is of equal social standing as the Courtenay-Hooper’s, surely?” Louisa protested.
“Oh, pooh and phooey to all that!” Lord Spencer spat dismissively. “Really, you’ve met a great many of the girls that are supposed to be my ‘social equals’. Be honest with me, how many of them are even fit enough to wipe your feet let alone be considered as marrying stock for me and into my family?
He sounded angry and aggrieved. Louisa hoped the question was rhetorical. It wasn’t.
“Well?” Lord Spencer insisted.
“Certainly, I can admit that very few bear comparison with Lady Adeline” Louisa offered diplomatically.
“Oh, you’re good!” Lord Spencer laughed. “What you really mean is that most of those filthy-rich husband-bait girls have not the brains, common-sense or intelligence of a rocking horse, is that not true?” he demanded, grinning broadly.
Louisa could not bring herself to verbally agree with the handsome young man. However an answering smile spread across her pretty face, which was the point at which Lord Spencer Courtenay-Hooper took Louisa’s face into his hands and placed a tender kiss upon her lips. She did not resist him, nor did she when he kissed her a second and a third time…
New words were becoming common-place, words that had an ominous ring about them. Although it was still less than twenty years since the Great War had ended, there was speculation in the printed press that defeated Germany was like an angry mother bear: more dangerous now than she ever was. The German Chancellor, Adolf Hitler, was making a most unpleasant name for himself what with his demands to his European neighbours over land taken from the country and the actions of his Nazi Party in respect of certain minority groups, especially Jews.
In Italy, that funny little fat man, Mussolini, was also making the wrong sort of headlines. He, too, was using his authoritarian policies to exert complete control over his nation, so much so that he even claimed that he was able to make the trains run on time!
Louisa read the newspapers to Lady Adeline as she completed her toilette, watching as her pretty face screwed up in a moue of disgust.
“Really, why can’t these people just live in peace with one another” she sighed.
“It appears to be in the nature of men that they need to fight to prove their masculinity, I think” Louisa offered tentatively.
“”Surely, that’s what the rugby field or football pitch is for?” Lady Adeline responded tartly.
“Certainly” Louisa answered deferentially.
There were times, Louisa Tavistock had learned, that it was wise and more profitable in the long run to show her employer that she ‘knew her place’, in spite of the casual and relaxed relationship the two young women enjoyed. Never for a moment did Louisa allow herself to even think that she and Lady Adeline were on an equal footing. It was an attitude and mode of behaviour that had thus far served her very well.
“I am worried about Spencer,” Lady Adeline admitted, turning to face Louisa.
Worry lines were etched in her forehead and around her almond-shaped eyes.
“Has he heard anything yet? Louisa asked.
“Nothing definite, but rumours abound.” Lady Adeline said.
“All we can do is hope and pray that common-sense prevails” Louisa offered.
“And that Mr Chamberlain, our brave Prime Minister, can appease Mr Hitler and prevent the disaster that many people are forecasting will befall this country and the rest of Europe should he fail.”
The year was September Nineteen-Hundred and Thirty-Eight. Twelve months later the world was plunged into a second World War that was to last six long years.
To be continued...