AJ is a creative writer in her spare time, mainly writing characters from the late Victorian through the Edwardian period. Whether it's a smutty ficlet, a fluffy piece, or (her favourite) a smuffy lengthy almost-novel-sized thing, AJ loves her characters and hopes you do too! (Please note, some ideas will most likely be historically inaccurate).
William lay there for a moment, his chest barely rising and falling. Another night, another “attempt”… and what a disaster it had been. He sniffed, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He wanted to get up, but he knew getting up would lead to waking up, and waking up would lead to that awful situation he’d had since they’d married. He sighed, turning slowly, trying to rise from the bed without waking her… but her leg was tangled with his. She woke.
“Good morning,” she said softly, gazing at him. “I thought you were awake.”
“Yes,” William smiled. He settled back down. “Did you sleep well?”
“I did,” Elizabeth smiled gently, kissing him. William returned it.
“It is early… what is the hour?”
“It’s six thirty,” William sniffed, stiffening a little as she rested her head on his chest. Her hand slid beneath the sheets and he stiffened further, adjusting his legs so her hand couldn’t go any further.
“Oh…” Elizabeth smiled against his skin, her hand still stroking his thigh. “Well… could… perhaps we could…” she looked up at him. “You know…”
“What?” William looked down at her. “Walk?”
“No!” Elizabeth giggled. “Repeat last night? It’s such fun…”
“I…” William licked his lips. “Not… not this morning, there’s…” he struggled. “I wanted to sort out my business before I catch my train. I’m sorry, darling…”
“Oh… of course… of course, I’d forgotten about that.” She kissed his chest. “Are you excited to see Lord Minterne again?”
“Yes, yes…” William sniffed. “Come, I’ll ring for your maid.”
“Won’t you at least take breakfast with me?”
“I don’t plan to this morning,” William murmured. He’d gotten fat, in the few months he’d been married to her, she’d badgered him to eat almost every hour… he didn’t like it at all. “I’ve been fed up enough, I think.” He stood from the bed, grateful of the space.
“I think you’re too thin… you need some meat on your bones… I wish you’d let my papa send you a ghillie, William…” Elizabeth stroked the sheets where he’d been lying. “You’d be even more handsome if you had some muscles -“
“And I don’t want to have muscles. I’m happy as I am.” He sniffed, stretching as he reached for his robe and then rang the bell.
“You’re not.” Elizabeth watched him. “You’re not happy as you are… I can see it. How you look at yourself in the mirror -“
“I am fine.” William shot her a look and moved into the dressing room. Johnson was filling a bath for him, almost full. “Good morning, Johnson… I’ll get in now, if that’s okay.” Johnson nodded.
“Good morning milord. I’ll just add this last bucket for you…” he pulled the copper bucket from the open fire and tipped it into the water as William stripped. “I’ll fetch your clothing, milord. All your effects are packed and have been sent ahead of you this morning.”
“I’d be lost without you, Johnson,” William murmured, gazing out of the window as he picked idly at a scab on his arm. Given to him by Elizabeth’s nails. He hated long nails… “Thank you.” He turned and climbed into the steaming tub, hissing with pleasure. “Perfect…”
“Breakfast, milord, will be your usual - toast, eggs and a sausage.”
“Not this morning, Johnson. Please. Tell Lady Marazion I’ve eaten it, though… do what you will with it. If I have to eat another meal in the next three weeks…”
“You’ll need your strength, milord -“
“I haven’t been hungry since I married her.” William looked up. “Please, let me be hungry… just let my poor body get through what she stuffs into my mouth hourly…”
“Very well, milord.” Johnson smiled. “You are filling your suits out a little more these days… perhaps a regimen would be beneficial. Will you walk a little while this morning?”
“I’ll take an earlier train than planned.” William looked at him, and then down. After a tense pause, he reached over for the soap. “Thank you, Johnson. That’ll be all.”
“Very good, milord.” Johnson left quietly.
An hour later, William was bent over a bush outside, his fingers down his throat trying to bring up the surplus food Elizabeth had moaned at him to eat. Three courses of breakfast had been served to him, and he’d felt sick, sluggish… so he’d taken a walk, and taken advantage of her desire to write her letters. He managed to bring up most of it, sitting a while on the bench beside him. Johnson was stood there, watching him.
“JOHNSON!” William cried. “Do you have to creep?!”
“I… I’m sorry, milord… I wasn’t sure what you were doing -“
“Fetching up that wretched breakfast is what I was doing. Learn to lie better, Johnson, please.” He sniffed, wiping his mouth on his handkerchief. “Is the carriage here?”
“Yes, milord. The footmen are fetching it now. The coachman didn’t like the sound of the left wheel, so he had the carriage boys look at it. Sure enough, he’d heard a loose bolt… good jo he checked, you could have been hurt.” William nodded.
“I’ll be sure to thank him.” He plunged his hands into his pockets. “Well, I’ll go and say my goodbyes, and then I’ll come back and be off with you.” He made his way inside, a little better now that he’d emptied his stomach. Elizabeth was stood waiting for him. “”The carriage is here, darling. I’ll go now.”
“So soon?” she kissed him, then she grimaced. “William! You taste and smell vile! What did you do?!”
“Threw up, as I told you I would. I’m not Henry, Elizabeth. Get it out of your head. You married an Englishman, not a Scot.” He sniffed.
“I’ll listen to you in the future,” she murmured softly, adjusting his tie. “Off you go, my handsome man… I love you, and I’ll miss you.”
“Likewise,” William said softly, kissing her forehead.
“Christopher, if you don’t stop pacing, I’ll take your knees out from beneath you and you won’t walk again.” Lawrence watched the boy who stood by the fireplace, and then walked over to the other side of the room.
“I’m nervous,” he muttered. “Well, nervous - she wants to come, Lawrence. She wants to come… well, she wants a party - oh, GOD, OCTAVIA, SHUT UP!” Kit clutched his head.
“Go and let her out, then,” Lawrence murmured. “We’re not expecting anyone for a little while yet, and even then it’s only one man and his valet.”
“Right,” Kit nodded, trembling. He sniffed. “Right…” he ran from the room, his chest constricting. He knew what was happening to him, and it hit him full force as soon as he closed the bedroom door with a bang. He crumbled, descending into a fit of tears which removed him of his ability to stand and rendered him a stiff, useless ball, curled up against the world. The episode lasted ten minutes, and by thee end of it, Octavia was lay there.
“Oh, darling… this can’t keep happening…” she murmured, standing up. She moved to her case, removing a simple tea gown and a loose corset. She dressed herself, taking care to cover her face with makeup before she deftly added her hairpieces. She clipped it all into place, and sighed. “Christopher, go to the doctor. Please. These attacks are too much.” She rolled her eyes at his response. “Well, fine then, I will. And you’ll listen to me.” She pursed her lips and retouched her lipstick, and then made her way downstairs. Lawrence looked up and smiled.
“Tia,” he murmured. “Tea’s here. You’ve just missed Kit. Darted upstairs… is he alright?”
“Yes, yes, he’s a stupid boy, Lawrence,” Octavia murmured, pouring herself a cup of tea. “I keep telling him to go to the doctor about those episodes he keeps having…” she sighed, settling herself into the seat opposite Lawrence. “But he won’t have it.”
“Go on his behalf, then,” Lawrence said, watching her. “I’m worried about him… and you.”
“Oh, I’ll be fine, darling man,” Octavia laughed. “I think he needs a partner. A life partner.”
“He needs something…” Lawrence placed his bookmark into his book and sat back, stretching. “Wretched book. Kit’s recommendation and it’s awful.” His eyes twinkled.
“Now now, Lawrence, I will tell him what you think of his choices…”
“Oh, I think he’s made some questionable choices, Tia… not least in his choices of literature.”
“When is luncheon again?”
“Whenever our guest arrives… it should be soon, don’t worry.”
“Tell me again why he’s coming so late? He’s missed the party…”
“That’s why. He didn’t want to come to the party.” Lawrence ran his tongue along his teeth. “Tia… he’s had some troubles…” he sniffed. “It’s not my place, actually.”
“Come now, Lawrence, you mustn’t tease me! What troubles?!”
“No, no, it’s for him to tell you if he wants to.” Lawrence sat forward and plucked a biscuit from the plate on the tea tray. “Be gentle with him is what I want to say to you. Be gentle, or send Kit back.”
“Right,” Octavia nodded. “Gentle. Kid gloves gentle?”
Shortly before midday, the door opened, and a footman announced the arrival of William. William stepped in, wringing his hands. He saw Octavia and swallowed.
“Oh,” he said quietly. “You’ve a guest. I’m sorry…”
“What? William! How are you?” William said nothing. “Is everything alright, chap?”
When William looked at him, Lawrence ushered him out of the room and into the adjacent room, closing the door. William hid his hands. “What’s happened? Is Elizabeth alright?”
“Yes,” William muttered. “I thought you said they’d all gone home?”
“Octavia is harmless.”
“Is she a lover?!” William’s eyes lit up for the briefest moment.
“God no, dear boy!” Lawrence laughed. “God no… no, nothing like that. A good friend… not to be trifled with. Now, you - what’s happened?”
“Oh… I’m… I had a bit of an episode in the carriage.”
“Oh…” Lawrence took his hands and inspected them, frowning when he saw William’s nails bloodied. “Where?” William lifted his sleeves and showed Lawrence the gouges. Lawrence sighed. “William… is it bad?”
“Why do you think I sent almost everything I own, Lawrence? I need a break.”
“It’s been five months, William. Things need time to settle -“
“Yes. Quite. Let’s go and keep your guest company.” William turned abruptly and opened the door, shaking. Lawrence shook his head and complied, accompanying William into the drawing room.
“Octavia, this is Lord Marazion,” Lawrence said as Octavia stood. “William, Lady Octavia.”
“A pleasure,” William smiled, but he couldn’t hide his shaking hands from the woman. She frowned.
“Likewise,” she smiled.
“Lawrence has never mentioned you.” William sat, his filter broken for the time being. Anything could be said. Social convention, for the moment, was gone.
“And why should he? We’re hardly lovers, dear boy.” Octavia’s eyes glinted at him. “He has mentioned you, however. It’s nice to put a face to the name.” William stared at her as Lawrence began to recount the time when they met. “Do you paint, Lord Marazion?”
“Eh?” William snapped out of his gaze and looked at her.
“Do you paint?”
“No, Lady Octavia… why?”
“Your staring is making me think you’re studying me for a portrait later. Goodness knows, a portrait would last longer.” William flushed.
“I’m sorry.” He sipped his tea and sighed.
“I’d rather not,” William murmured. “Elizabeth has had me eating too much. I’m sick of food.”
“So you’ll at least take a little fruit? Some lettuce? A cucumber sandwich?” Lawrence smiled softly. “Polite conversation?”
“Of course.” William relaxed visibly, and Lawrence broke into a grin. He knew William and what the boy needed. He’d send him home nice and restored.
The day was spent pleasantly, but it wasn’t until dinner, when William had spent a bit of time drinking, that the mood turned decidedly more comfortable. Octavia wasn’t a threat, and she certainly wasn’t the average lady who looked pretty and said nothing of substance… no, she had a tongue in her head and lacked a filter. But there was something about her, in her eyes, that William wanted. He didn’t know what, but he wanted it.
Dinner was an intimate affair, where the finer details of life were discussed. It wasn’t until the small hours, however, that Octavia stood and retired. She kissed both William and Lawrence goodnight and left the room, yawning as she went.
“Well?” Lawrence asked softly. “What do you make of her?”
“Odd,” William murmured. “There’s something about her I can’t seem to put my finger on, but I’ll get it soon…” he yawned himself. “Do you mind if I sleep in tomorrow?”
“Not at all, chap… not at all. Come on, I’ll come up with you.”
With William installed in his bedroom, Lawrence moved along the corridor to Octavia’s room. He knocked lightly, and Kit answered him.
“What did you think of him, then?” Lawrence asked, sitting on the edge of the bed.
“Lawrence…” Kit looked down. “You must truly hate me.”
“You… I…” he shook his head. “You know why.”
“You like him?”
“Leave me be, please,” Kit murmured. “I’d like to sleep in tomorrow. Decide my heart from my head and act like a normal human being.”
“You won’t remain as Octavia?”
“No. Goodnight Lawrence.” Lawrence stood.
“Goodnight, chap.” He left the room quietly, smiling to himself. Kit would enjoy William’s company just as much as William would enjoy Kit’s.
William was already downstairs when Lawrence stepped into the room the following morning.
“Good morning,” William smiled, his eyes twinkling. The boy, Lawrence thought, at 23, was handsome. He had a handsome face, eyes which had made many young women melt, even though he wasn’t very well-built. He knew he’d been through a lot at the hands of his father, a cruel and vicious man who had beaten and cut William when he’d discovered a long-standing tryst with Oscar Wilde… that had changed William. After his return from exile in Paris, working as a lackey in the Embassy, William had found Elizabeth and married her. Their world had seemed perfect, but Elizabeth’s expectations of William had been too high, and after a while it seemed to make him… less. Less of everything. Less a man, less a human being… He’d written to Lawrence, begging him to invite him for a long stay, begging him to take him in for a bit. The tone of the letter, the desperate scrawl from a man usually so refined in his script and penmanship, had moved Lawrence, and he’d had no option in his heart but to send the invitation immediately.
And the change in the boy after one day was glaringly obvious.
“Good morning, William,” Lawrence smiled back. “Are you well?”
“I slept like a log, Lawrence,” William sighed, stretching back. “I woke early, refreshed, for the first time in months… eight months, to be exact.”
“Eight months… you’ve not slept well with Elizabeth?” Lawrence took a seat and smiled, thanking the footman who placed a plate of eggs and bacon in front of him.
“Please,” William murmured. “She… she isn’t… Lawrence, I’m unhappy with her. I wish I’d just run. I’d rather be penniless and happy with a man, with Oscar, than I would with her… She was prudish, shy when I met her… then she changed after our wedding night. My scars didn’t put her off… nothing did. But I struggled… I… I struggle -“ he looked down and closed his eyes. “I… never mind.” He shook his head. “It’s not for now.”
“I appreciate that, William,” Lawrence sighed. “Remain here as long as you wish.”
A moment of silence passed between them, and William picked at the slice of toast he’d buttered. Lawrence began to eat quietly.
“You still haven’t taken Geraldine’s photographs down,” William said softly, leaving the toast alone.
“No,” Lawrence said, sitting back and wiping his mouth. “I’ve no intention to, either. I loved her, William. Despite her flaws, despite her brother… I loved her.” The memory of Geraldine, William’s Aunt, made a small, sad smile pull at Lawrence’s lips. He sighed. “I loved her, and she mellowed when we married. You know that.”
“I don’t remember her well enough to know her, Lawrence.” William sniffed. “I just… I wish I did. Because apparently papa was a lot nicer back then too… her death and my little sister’s death hardened him…”
“Your father is a cruel, hard man, William. Deaths didn’t harden him. His brother’s death hardened him, if you have to blame it on a death. But that only hardened him because he had to take the title… nothing more. He was a fine man, a good man, when he had his first love, and when he was the second son… but then he had his father’s empire on his shoulders - he became the heir, Lord Marazion, with a Cornish empire and the weight of Europe to carry as well as his brother had planned to… and it broke him.” Lawrence bit a slice of toast. “It broke him and it made him hard, made him realise that sentiment made a man weak, and he couldn’t afford to be weak.” William sniffed in response.
“Well, then,” he said quietly. “He must be the hardest man in the world, because he has no sentiment other than anger and coldness.” Lawrence gave him a small, sad smile. “And when he realises that I’ve left Elizabeth on her own… well. Let’s just say I’ll be hunted, and if my head isn’t mounted on the mantelpiece at Trevear, I’ll be lucky. Or cut into pieces and scattered across England and Scotland…” he paled. “Most likely Scotland, if her brother gets his hands on me…” He palmed his face. “I can’t go back, Lawrence.”
“Then stay,” Lawrence said gently. “I’ll keep you safe.” The look William gave him was one of trust, hope, sadness… relief. He was safe here, he knew. Even when the Scots came for him… if they did. It was an ‘if’, for now, nothing more. “Now,” Lawrence continued, sipping his tea. “I don’t know what your plans are for the day, but I’ve nothing to do.”
“I thought Lady Octavia would have come down by now. There’s something peculiar about her, Lawrence… I can’t quite put my finger on it…” he smiled softly. “She’s…”
“Outrageous?” Lawrence chuckled, his eyes soft. William grinned and nodded. “I agree. You like her?”
“I do. She’s a card. A charm. It’s disarming, but I suppose a lot of men find that challenging?”
“A lot of men ask her to marry them… they overlook her rather large hands and feet, it seems.”
“Really? I hadn’t even noticed… her hands…” William shook his head. “I suppose she sleeps late?”
“Not usually… she likes the sunrise. I’ll go and see her in a little while.”
Kit sat on the bed, the detritus from the tantrum Octavia had had last night all around him. Her dresses had been thrown, her jewellery scattered, her hairpieces lay in odd places here and there. Kit sighed. He’d locked his room last night, after Lawrence had left him. His request to sleep in had, it seemed, been respected, because it was approaching nine-thirty and still no-one had knocked. All the better. He wanted so badly to go downstairs and continue his talk with the charmingly dangerous young man downstairs, but his behaviour wouldn’t be natural if he were to be Kit for it. He lay back and let out a low, long groan. He’d had an argument with her last night. He closed his eyes.
“Christopher, darling, he’ll probably fall in love with me,” Octavia drawled at him, picking at her nail. “You know that. He’s a man… they’re not all like you. Like us.”
“Yes, I know that, Tia, but still - I… it’s my heart that’s feeling something, isn’t it?! Not yours?! Do you like him? Are you in love?!”
“No. Well, he is dangerously handsome… and those eyes would make me melt…” Octavia yawned. “But you can’t guarantee that the boy will accept me, even if he is like you… you know that. And besides, he’s met me now. You’d have to come clean to him about me, and the last time you did that - in Switzerland, remember? The last time you did that, you were beaten half to death. What say he outs you worse? What say he tells people about us?!”
“He - he wouldn’t! Octavia, I - I think I’m in love with him! I think I’ve fallen in love with him and I don’t want you to ruin this for me. Please. Go away for a bit. Let me be me - let me be Christopher Fitzwilliam-Whittaker… please… give me that.”
“No!” Octavia picked up her bottle of perfume and threw it out of the open window. She grabbed the pearls around her neck and tears began to drip down her cheeks. “I’ll do it. I’ll destroy them -“
“No! No, Tia, please -“ Octavia ripped the pearls from her throat and threw them, scattering them. Then the earrings, then the hair pieces. “HE’D BETTER BE WORTH IT, CHRISTOPHER!” She ripped the dress from her body, destroying her image in a fit of screaming and roaring and tears, until Kit was left in the middle of it all, his body covered in scratches, some open, some not too deep. He sobbed until he’d had the energy to crawl into bed, naked, and sleep fitfully. And now, here he was. Octavia was right. William had met her, and Kit had watched. He didn’t know enough about the boy to be able to guarantee that Octavia and Kit being the same person wouldn’t be a problem.
Although, Lawrence’s friends were wholeheartedly liberal. So there was that.
No - William’s father… what was his name again? Thomas? Thomas Truro? That man gave Kit the shivers. That man had a name, and his name was not to be uttered… the rumour was that if you so much as whispered Thomas Truro’s name, he’d appear and, if you were queer, he’d torture you until you begged him to kill you, and then he’d make you shoot yourself in the head with a silver bullet.
But Lawrence’s friends were all openly liberal!
Oh, the pain of it. The pain which tore through Kit’s chest every time he thought of it. Octavia usually knew what to do when he was upset, but he’d upset her… he should have just listened to her. Her dresses were ruined, her hair destroyed… it’d take him months to get her back now. Months. All because of one man. ‘He’d better be worth it, Christopher’… those were her last words.
Kit sat up on the sheets and assessed the damage. The dresses could be donated and repaired, the hairpieces might be salvageable… the jewellery was a write-off. He stood, setting to work, methodically cleaning the place until there was a knock on the door.
“Kit?” Lawrence. “Kit? Christopher? Octavia?” Kit, his arms filled with dresses and fabric, moved to the door. He turned the key and stepped away, hiding his face. “Kit? Are you oka- oh… what happened?” Lawrence stepped inside quickly and closed the door quietly. “What happened?”
“Octavia left in the middle of the night,” Kit muttered. “She left me alone. She didn’t like that I’ve fallen for William and now I’ll have to tell him what I am and Octavia usually does that and now she’s gone.” Kit’s voice was monotone, lifeless. “He’ll destroy me like thee man in Switzerland tried to.”
“Oh, Kit,” Lawrence said gently, moving over to him. “Darling boy… sit. Sit. Put those over there, I’ll send in a maid… sit…” Kit put the dresses down and did as he was told. Lawrence placed an arm around him. “Get to know William. I’ll say you arrived this morning. That Octavia left because you were coming and neither of you -“
“Forgive me, Lawrence, but I cannot bear to lie to him.” Kit sniffed. “I cannot bear to have to tell him the truth. I… I’ll take a bath and I’ll stay up here. I’ll slip away tonight… or if you take him out -“
“I’d sooner take both of you out, Kit. William… he isn’t…”
“You told me what his father is, and so it’s logical that he will be the same!” Kit stood, running a hand through his thick, coppery hair. “It’s logical that he’ll hate me like his father hates us! God, we both know that!”
“Have you ever met William before today?”
“No. I’ve seen a name written in The Times. When the wedding between the Scots and the English was announced… My father was astounded that the Duke of Stirling would let his daughter marry into that family.” He sniffed. “He didn’t know much about Lord Marazion, though. And why would we? He’s an English Lord, he has nothing to do with a family who lives on the Scottish Borders…” he shrugged. “I’ll leave later.”
“Stay, Kit. Stay.” Lawrence stood and put his hands on Kit’s shoulders. “Trust me on one thing, Kit. Trust me on him. He’s a good man. He’s open-minded and liberal. Oh, if only you knew how liberal… that’s why I love him dearly.” Kit stared at him, his eyes filled with horror and grief. “If you slip away, Kit, I’ll tell him Octavia isn’t truly a woman.”
“You wouldn’t dare…”
“I would. I’d tell him. He didn’t even notice anything off about you last night. He said you were magnificent. I know Octavia, Kit, and I saw both of you battling for attention last night. When he looked at you, Octavia was there. When he wasn’t looking at you, it was you sitting there, dressed as a woman. He didn’t spot a thing… but he won’t mind. Trust me.” Lawrence squeezed his shoulders, and pulled him into a short embrace, and then patted his back. “Bathe, shave, and come down for something to eat. An hour ought to be enough time for you.” With that, he left the the room, and Kit descended into tears.