Our story opens on Wednesday, June 22 nd 1727. The day King George the first, died in Germany, but more importantly, it was the day I was born. I was christened Richard Oliver Philip Stapleton in our family chapel, the second son to Earl Cecil Stapleton of Stapleton Hall. My mother, Elizabeth, nee Carlton, had an easy time in birthing me so I was told, unlike my elder brother Edward who nearly killed her in the process of being given life. The doctor using a crude set of forceps to pull him free which left him with indentations either side of his head, though with his hair kept long, they were not noticeable
So it was with some trepidation that my mother awaited my coming and was much relieved at the outcome. Two sisters followed over the next few years, Emily and Joan which pleased my mother but not my father.
Our home, Stapleton Hall was built during the reign of Elizabeth on land that was granted to my great grandfather, ten thousand acres in Warwickshire, for services rendered to the crown, plus his elevation to the peerage. It’s a massive manor containing eighteen bedrooms, various drawing and morning rooms and a large hall that was big enough for balls to be held in there and even had a musicians gallery for this purpose. The inside servants quarters were up on the topmost floor, under the sloping roof.
The kitchens were at the rear as well as the other functioning rooms, laundry, pantries and the like. It was behind these that the vegetable gardens were laid out where they were out of sight when you approached the hall up the long drive between the avenue of poplars mixed up with oaks. Off to the side and only just visible from the drive, were the stables for the horses and where our carriages were kept, plus other outhouses and it was amongst these that the outside staff were quartered.
Most of the estate was down to farming from where the revenue came to keep us in luxury, as befitting our position in life. Plus it was rumoured that there was still quite a quantity of booty that my great grandfather had squirreled away from the Spanish wars that was slowly released as and when extra monies were required.
My early years are somewhat hazy in my mind but I think that is understandable considering my age though I do remember being put astride a pony when I was only just able to walk. So the two became natural to me as I grew up to become a fine horseman as well as being able to walk in a straight line. These efforts were much derided by my brother Edward because he didn’t have a sense of balance due to the pressure that had been exerted on his head when he was born, so he could neither sit on a horse or walk properly without the occasional lurch to one side. This was enough to set him against me though I didn’t know how much till later on in life.
We had two tutors who lived within the house, one of them being a clergyman who also saw to the spiritual side of the hall’s occupants in the chapel every Sunday as well as the festivals.
We had our classroom next to the nursery and here we were taught, or I should say, had our education rammed down our throats. It was some relief when the girls were old enough to attend which took some of the pressure off us two boys.
I knew by the time they came into the classroom that Edward would inherit the estate upon my father’s death, so he had more to learn about everything than I did. I therefore spent as much time outdoors that I could get, even when the weather was inclement. I would be out with my horse and constantly roam all over the estate and even out onto other peoples land that surrounded us.
I was thirteen years old when I first met my love on one of these forays through the woods and down to the river. Her name was Caroline Wetherby, daughter to the squire whose land adjoined ours on one side. I espied her sitting on the river bank where the land sloped down and her horse was able to take a drink, so I rode down to speak to her. Just as I reined in my horse and began to dismount, a fish or something, jumped clear out of the river which startled my horse and sent me tumbling to the ground to bounce out into the river.
This must have appealed to her sense of humour, for she broke out laughing and I couldn’t help but smile at the lovely sound she made. I climbed out of the water, dashing it from my eyes as I grinned sheepishly at her.
‘What an entrance,’ she cried. ‘You made quite a splash!’
‘It was purely unintentional I assure you madam,’ and was I glad at the lessons that had been hammered into me in respect of manners and politeness. What helped was the fact that the young girl before me was around the same age as my sister Emily at about eleven years of age with as much presence of mind which made it much easier for me to talk to her. Not only that, I could see she was much more of a beauty than my sibling. Her eyes were of a light hazel hue that were a contrast to the chestnut curls, the like I’d never seen before, that fell down each side of her face. If they were not natural, how in heavens name did she get them to look like that was an inconsequential thought. Her face was clear of blemishes and her nose was small but seemed to tilt at the end and I had a sudden desire to kiss the very end of it. I was taken aback by my sudden feelings that were completely alien to me in regard to a female that wasn’t related to me, and this put me at somewhat of a disadvantage. I suddenly became tongue tied as I looked at that adoring face and knew that in a few years time she would be the most beautiful girl in the whole world.
‘My name is Caroline Wetherby,’ she said, breaking that sudden silence that had come between us, extending her hand. I made a leg and took her hand in mine and stammered out my name. How I got the words out I do not know, feeling her warm hand in my wet palm as I bent my head and kissed it with the briefest of touches. My body was all of a tremor at her touch and I had a sudden surge of love and affection that made me want to take her into my arms and kiss her. But I was gauche and still not sure how I should react to my feelings in this situation. I felt her hand tighten in mine and I guessed that she was about to rise from her sitting position and therefore helped her to her feet. ‘Thank you kind sir,’ she said in her sweet voice. ‘I think ‘tis time I was riding home.’
‘Must…when…oh dear,’ I stammered.
‘My dear wet Richard,’ she said with her little laugh. ‘I do think I like you. If you are asking when will I be riding this way again, well, let’s say that we might meet here again about this time on the morrow.’
‘Oh Caroline,’ was all I could say as she took up the reins of her horse and stood by the side, waiting. I quickly gathered my thoughts and went and made a cup of my hands for her to put her booted foot in to mount her pony. I couldn’t help but notice that her boots were of the finest leather and had the high heel that was necessary to hold her foot firm in the stirrup. I took her weight and heaved her up to mount the side saddle and couldn’t resist stroking my hand down the leather clad foot as she took hold of the reins.
‘Tomorrow then Richard,’ she said as she pulled on the reins and wheeled the pony away and directed it into the river to make its way across to the other side which I found out later, belonged to her family.
In the past two years, I had been finding out about adolescence every time I awoke in the mornings and knew not what was causing my problem. I was not close enough to Edward to ask him what was causing my early morning problems with my body and no way could I discuss it with my father or any female member of the family. But this was in the afternoon and the touch of her hand and to touch and feel her foot, shod though it was in leather, produced exactly the same result that I had been experiencing every morning on awakening. My breeches, even though wet, couldn’t hold my body back from reacting, and I wondered if Caroline had noticed this and felt mortified that she might have done so and that was the reason that she had left so quickly.
I was in a quandary as to the state I was now in and was it caused by seeing this beautiful young girl, and if so, would it happen every time I saw her?
I mounted my own horse and found it very uncomfortable sitting in the saddle in this state and it took some time for my body to get back to normal. It was short lived and I found out exactly what it was and for what it was intended. I was riding back home when I saw Dulcie running towards me shouting that Henry was loose again.
Henry was our bull and was jokingly called the ninth because he had more wives that his namesake. Well he was loose in the field and the cows were lowing and moving about in somewhat of a melee. Dulcie appeared frightened with Henry trotting his way towards her and she scrambled up into a tree calling upon me to help her. I urged my horse forward and successfully herded him back into his own field and after dismounting, re-secured the gate to confine him. I then went back to where Dulcie was still sitting up on a branch of the tree that she had taken refuge in.
‘It’s safe now Dulcie,’ I called up to her, ‘you can come down now.’
‘I’m not sure I can Master Richard,’ she replied. I got down off my horse and stood just below her feet.
‘It’s not very far. Jump and I will catch you.’
Now whether she contrived this or not, I never found out, but it seemed that her blouse had been snagged on one of the branches of the tree she was in. She eased herself off the branch and jumped down towards me, her skirt flaring up to reveal that she wasn’t wearing anything underneath so that I had a clear view of what a female had always had hidden from sight. Not only did I see this as she fell down into my arms, but the whole of her upper body, the blouse being ripped from her to remain in the tree.
First it was the view of what was between her legs and then the upper works of which I’d only ever seen the upper parts and not their entirety. The upper works, as she landed, seemed to bounce with a life of their own as she came into my arms and pressed her breasts tight against my still wet shirt. I could feel the hard pebbles of her nipples and fullness of her breasts against my chest as I held and steadied her from the jump.
When my own body reacted of its own accord at this sight and contact, I knew then what it was all about.
‘Oh thank you Master Richard, you saved me,’ and she held me tight to her and I couldn’t help what my body was doing down below. Dulcie pressed herself very close so there was no way she didn’t know how I had reacted to her embrace. She smiled up at me at the realisation and moved slightly away so that I could clearly see her naked breasts. A pink tongue peeked out from between her lips and the way it moved across her lips made my thighs quiver. She felt this movement and her hand came down between our bodies and felt what I had tried to keep hidden.
‘I think it’s time the Master became a man,’ she said as she gave me a very seductive smile. I was thrilled and mesmerised not only by her touch on me but by the vision of those two lovely breasts just below my chest. I was trembling in anticipation of what was going to happen and didn’t make any attempt to stop her from undoing my breeches and taking me in her hand. With her other hand, she did something to her skirt and it just fell away from her hips to leave her completely naked before me.
I throbbed and ached at the vision before me and didn’t resist when, with her hand still holding me, pulled me down onto the green grass. Oh Caroline I sighed as Dulcie guided me and took my virginity.
Over the next three years I went out riding to meet Caroline and we would meet at the ford and gallop across the fields several times a week. I came to realise later that I was actually beginning a courtship of her. I watched her young body develop into that of a woman but took my carnal desires to either Dulcie or one of the upstairs maids. Quite often we would not ride but sit in the sun and talk or read to each other and I came to love her very much. We would also meet at one of the several hunts that we had in the autumns and we would smile at each other but not get really engaged in conversation. It was on one such hunt that her horse was startled and bolted and I was quite proud of the fact that I was the first to react and quickly caught up with her and managed to control her animal.
She had been quite shaken up by the wild ride and had to dismount and she fell into my arms and I kissed her for the first time as she clung to me. She responded to my kisses by returning them and we fell to the ground and lay for quite some time, kissing and saying that we loved each other, but that’s as far as it went at the time.
When I was not with Caroline, or Dulcie, or even with the upstairs maid, I was taking fencing lessons as well as pistol shooting. These skills I would need as my father had said that I was to join the 12 th Hussars as an ensign when I reached the age of seventeen. I did look splendid in my uniform and was quite proud to show it off to Caroline before I left to join the regiment. She was most upset and cried and clung to me as we kissed goodbye, promising that our love would never die. I admit, that even I had a tear in my eye as we parted, but that soon disappeared as I said goodbye to the family. My two sisters cried as well as my mother and it was smiles and handshakes from my brother Edward and father as I mounted my horse and left for the war in Germany.
I must say that I acquitted myself very well and achieved a field commission to lieutenant on the very day of my birthday. I was also proud to be in the field when we defeated the French at the battle of Dettigen five days later on the 27 th June 1743. I returned home to be greeted as a hero, and as they say, to the victor goes the spoils. Caroline gave herself to me that very week down by the river at our special meeting place.
She was so happy that I had returned unharmed and wished that she had more to give me, but her virginity was more than enough for the moment. I vowed that when I returned the next time, I would ask her father for her hand in marriage. We made love several times over the next few weeks that I was home and I couldn’t get enough of seeing her naked body spread out on my cloak, her arms up to welcome me into her embrace. Too soon I was back with my regiment and fretted for a whole year before I received news that my father had died and I was given leave to return home for the funeral. Here I was given the most shattering news of my life. Not only was my brother Edward now the Earl of Stapleton, but was officially betrothed to my darling Caroline.
Now I understood the smirk on his face, him knowing how much I was in love with her. When my father knew that he was going to die, called upon Edward to say that he would like to see him married before this event took place and it was Edward who said that he would like to marry Caroline Wetherby. So the two families got together and it was agreed and the announcement was made and her fate was sealed. My brother saw how the news had devastated me and he then went on to gloat and tell me how much he had hated all that I had achieved. Expert horseman, fencer and pistol shot as well as being so good looking, but he had needed a wife to carry on the name of Stapleton, and that his choice was my Caroline.
How I hated him at that moment and rushed out and rode round the estate like a wild thing taking out my anger and despair on my poor horse. Then a couple of days later I met up with Caroline and she fell into arms, crying her heart out that it was not me that she was to marry. She had pleaded with her parents against the match, but they were adamant that the marriage to Edward would go ahead as planned even though my father had since died. They wanted to see her as the Countess of Stapleton and nothing would budge them in their decision.
We cried as we made love to each other on the greensward and vowed that we would still keep our love going in spite of her marriage. It was that day that I made her pregnant, one month before she was due to marry Edward. I got extended leave to stay for the wedding ceremony and it broke my heart to see her wed to Edward in our family chapel. I dutifully kissed the bride but refused to shake my brothers hand after the ceremony and couldn’t get back to my regiment quick enough and throw myself into my duties there.
It was three months later that I received a letter from her to tell me that she was four months pregnant and that I would be the father, though she had told Edward that she was only three months gone. He was over the moon at having placed his seed into her so quickly and that he hoped that she would bear him a son. She prayed that it would be so and that he would take after me. I was overjoyed at this news that it would be my child and not that of my brother. I worked out the expected date and asked for leave at that time so that I could be at the hall in time for her confinement. I wanted to be able to gloat that it was my child that she bore into the world and not Edward’s.
The time came and I quickly rode home and was in time for she expected the child to be born any day. We couldn’t go out riding, but we met wherever we could get out from under any prying eyes to kiss and cuddle and re-avow our love for each other. One of the places was her bedchamber and she slept alone because of her condition and it was here one night that I met my fate.
We lay in bed together, not making love, but just kissing and holding as we caressed each other. Running my hand over her extended stomach, feeling the little child kick and putting my ear down to hear the tiny heart beating inside her. With only three candles burning, her skin positively glowed in the soft light and it was with reluctance that I gave her a final kiss and got up from her bed and got dressed. I’d pulled on my breeches and boots and had just tucked my shirt into the waistband and turned to cross over to her for one final kiss goodnight.
I felt rather than heard, movement behind me and I saw Caroline’s eyes go wide with fright as I heard the pistol shot at the same time as the ball slammed into my back.