Wednesday, 13 November 2013

NaNoWriMo Day 13 Word Count 1834

Having weathered the morning visits (which, for the first time ever were actually made before noon!) Melissa had welcomed Michael's arrival. That the gentleman was a rake had been made clear by the other ladies. They, however, had fudged over the potential confusion as to her role in their world. They had already acknowledged her and were unwilling to concede they could be wrong until they had discovered all they could of any truly scandalous gossip.

However, Michael's explanation of the gentleman's avoidance of other young, marriageable, ladies she was able to discount. The blushing girl, who was doubtless enduring a scolding as Melissa recalled her, had made a comment that two or three of her bosom friends had been similarly engaged by the gentleman. Melissa may have been the first (although no aspiring mamma would suggest anyone had beaten their daughter's to this matrimonial prize) but she was most certainly not the only.

Melissa herself was bemused. It had been such a strong response, she was quite sure what it meant. The complications of her relationship with Phillip intrigued her and lured her further into his life in order to establish if there was any substance behind his suggestions. This man's blunt directness and the shocking energy she felt in his arms was new to her and, while her mind was following Phillip, her body was undeniably chasing him. Francis. She rolled the name around her mind and it somehow didn't fit. Having engaged briefly in fantasy she mentally shrugged and returned to her two main tasks: firstly establishing a final plan for their next outing to France and secondly finding an establishment to convert into a hospital for her young women.

It had been her idea – the first suggestion she had contributed to the project that Mary had not raised first and she could tell by her response that Mary was delighted both by the suggestion and by the evidence that she really was engaged with the notion of helping where she could. Ad they were having such difficulties finding a doctor, Melissa recommended they gather from Mary's circle of former colleagues a collection of reliable and trustworthy nurses and keep them in permanent employ in the hospital.

As she was having difficulty with her French project, Melissa took a ride around town with Mary, into the areas most suited to locating the kind of hospital and facility they had in mind. It was not long before Melissa was shocked into utter despair. She had grown up in a world where everyone was slim but nutritionally provided for – they were sustained through the aeroscaff and so never ate. Since coming to this era she had been shocked by how incredibly fat the human race could become – Mary herself was quite substantial (not fat, merely heavy set and one who clearly began to retain weight once she hit a certain age) – and it had taken her a while to become accustomed to being such a thin person relative to the world around her.

Now, however, as she gazed out of the carriage windows onto the streets of London she saw filth and despair she had never encountered before. Her whole life, curves and swoops and graceful arches had been in every shape. Entering Regency London had introduced her to a blobbiness. But now she saw the sharpness of chins, the hollowness of cheeks and bleak despair staring at her from faces; many of them belonging to those who ought to have been far too young for anything other than play.

After a conversation or two with the women Mary called upon, her shock turned to fury. Previously, her prime response to the doctors had been of confusion: why wouldn't they want to help? Now it was disgust that, even when offered money these men could not consider it worth their while to reach out a hand to help a fellow human who was clearly in desperate need. Her mind cast over the excesses of the men and women she socialised with. Their food for a single party would probably encompass the available food for several blocks of housing, stuffed to overflowing with the rankest, most desperate members of the human race.

And yet, the people here really did help. It wasn't easy to see, but once Mary pointed out an act or two which wasn't necessary for an individual to survive, she began to see them more clearly. A door being held open might be nothing in a world where you pay someone to do it, but here, when it meant a few seconds more discomfort for one person to allow another into the warmth first, that gesture was truly kind and generous. Readjusting her expectations of what constituted a kind gesture was not easy, but when she did, she murmured to Mary how amazing it was that they should make such efforts when it didn't help them to survive.

“Aye ma'am, but it helps them remember they're human. It's a choice they make to prove it to themselves day after day, that whatever anyone else thinks or does, they are human and they deserve better. Every now and then someone forgets, but there's not much can be done for them at that point. Helping them stay drunk is really the kindest favour you can offer.”

Melissa shuddered. Andy's death and alcohol's relationship to the cause had utterly turned her off the implication that being drunk was entertaining in any way. Women in this society were not permitted to drink to excess, so she would never have been able to publicly experience it herself, but ow she found that not only had her private curiosity disappeared, but her willingness to accept the inebriations of others had utterly petered out. Mary knew more of this world though and, trying not to judge the drinkers, she informed herself that in a world where spirits caused so many bad things, the necessity of over-imbibing in preference to a better life without spirits could only meant hat the real life here was horrendous indeed.

Shortly after this, when they were alone, Melissa begged Mary to return her home. She was feeling broken inside and didn't feel she could cope any more. When she reached home she retired and slept quickly – Mary had kindly slipped a drop or two of laudanum in the glass of milk she insisted Melissa drink, so she slept without being disturbed by her recent experience.

When she awoke it was with a new determination to follow her earlier purpose. Her world in the future was dead and gone by now. The world here was something she could improve. And although it would start with the freeing of Andy, it would continue over the course of her life by the introduction of an ideal of temperance among those living in despair, and a series of hospitals and support networks. She had sufficient wealth of her own to enable her to do whatever she wanted, and with the demise of Andy she had inherited his fortune as well. She determined to spend a large chunk of it immediately.

First though, she had formulated a plan. She hurried to her bureaux, dashed off three letters and ordered them to be delivered immediately.

The first tow were responded to immediately. Michael and James listened to her plan – James more carefully than Michael it had to be acknowledged, but he would learn – and dutifully nodded. They left for the south within half an hour.

The third was a representative from the bank. He listened to her instructions with a look of mild shock and was even moved to protest at one point. At that, she immediately instructed him to bear a letter to the bank manager and dismissed him. Within twenty minutes, the bank manager himself was on her doorstep with a quiet, bespectacled gentleman who bore himself with a dignity which she had not previously seen in any of the people who could be termed employees. After profuse apologies form the manager he took a personal interest in her intended investments. He asked one of the same questions the clerk had, but with significantly more diplomacy. After her clarification that her intention was not to profit from this endeavour he stepped back and allowed the discussion to flow freely between herself and Starke, her new agent.

Within a relatively short space of time he had produced details of the style of property she was interested in, in a rough location. He mentioned the rebuilding efforts which had left one or two large properties abandoned near that general area and took it upon himself to identify if any were fit for purpose. Less than an hour after his arrival, Melissa had confidence that as soon as was humanly possible she would have begun her revolution of the care of young abandoned women in and around the London area.

As the boys were en route to France and there was nothing more she could do, she prepared herself for a ball. Throughout her gowning session, for the first time, she really cared about what people might think of her outfit. Until that point it had all seemed exotic and outlandish, but now that pink looked too drab and the green too garish. Lavender was lovely but was typically associated with mourning and meant she couldn't dance. Mary, observing the signs, sighed and pulled a blue and silver creation from the selection available. It meant she could wear practically no jewellery and her hair had to be worn in a very different style to the one she preferred, but it was all she wanted for that night.

Looking into the mirror, she was satisfied with the impact she made and sashayed out to find herself some male excitement.

Within five minutes of arriving at the ball she was besieged by supplicants to dance, but it was almost an hour before she finally saw either of the two men she was looking for – It was Sir Francis and her attention was caught when someone exclaimed “Frank!” whilst looking straight through her. She made to glance backwards in an idle curiosity, but instead two very large hands wrapped gently yet firmly around her waist and moved her to one side, while a voice just behind her ear begging her pardon caused her belly to quiver and her knees to buckle.

His touch lasted fractionally longer than was strictly necessary and he glanced at her before he let go. She liked to think he was flirting, but the truth, she was mortified to admit, was that he had felt her reaction and was ensuring she was capable of standing alone before releasing her. Horrified that he might ascribe her reaction to drink and deeply embarrassed that he might correctly identify it (for some inexplicable reason she was absurdly self conscious where ever he was concerned) she snapped open her fan and retreated behind it.