(Hugh speaking) "I believe the majority of the better furniture was saved in this way, including that table, and the State Bed that the first Earl had made especially for the visit of King Charles following the Restoration."
"The one the King never slept in, Norton?"
"It is the great family shame. King Charles was to visit for a sennight not long after he regained his throne, and a great redecorating was done as a result." Etta knew this story well - her mother had told her the short version when she was four, but the rest had been divulged by her father when he was well in his cups one night. "He was due here on the first day of June, and the staff and my ancestor, the Viscount Piers Headingly, worked the whole night before to make the final touches perfect for the king. The sun rose, and they took a light meal, the better to greet their King and offer him the best refreshments."
She paused, walking to the windows to look out over the vista. "The rest of the House, that surrounded the front Courtyard as it was then, was clean and sparkling, and the Great Hall filled with fresh boughs. The sun came over the old southern cloisters, then traversed the sky until it was overhead, with still no sign.
"Then, just as the Viscount was arranging to send his son and heir, William, to find out what had happened to their Royal visitor, a messenger rode in with an urgent missive. His Majesty, it seemed, had been unavoidable detained at the previous house, the residence of Sir Phineas Leach. He would need to stay there another week, and thus would not be visiting Blackfield after all. His Majesty apologised for his change in plans, and promised to make a visit in the future."
"And I take it he never did, my lord?"
"He did not, Norton. Although he travelled extensively around his realm, he never quite made it to Blackfield. At first my ancestor thought he must have somehow insulted the King. You must remember, this was at the time that the Earl of Rochester was frequently in and out of the king's favour, and this fate was a disgrace indeed. But then, at the end of the month, a sealed missive came to the Earl, signed with the King's own hand, summoning Piers Headingly, Earl Audlem who has performed a great service to the Crown.
"But what service, my lord? If the King never arrived?"
"The service, Norton, was never mentioning that the King had not visited. When the Earl went to London the next year, the King complimented him on his beautiful House, to which the Earl apparently responded as if the King had indeed seen it. Yet, all that time that His Majesty was supposed to be here, he had been at Sir Phineas' instead.
"In the company of Sir Phineas?"
"Alas, no. Sir Phineas had been sent to Scotland on an urgent errand of great diplomatic importance."
"But then the King…"
"Was kept from boredom by Lady Phineas, who, I believe, so entertained the king that he gave a title to their third son, who was born a scant nine months after. I believe the sons ever after held the middle name of Fitzroy in honour of His Majesty's favour to the family."
"Goodness!" Hugh's eyes boggled as he laughed, but Mrs Crossley seemed uncomfortable, and Etta cursed herself for telling such a bawdy tale in front of a woman, even one as worldly as her housekeeper.
"So if the King Charles bed has been saved, I am content. The Hall had accumulated far too much furniture over the years. "