Monday, 25 November 2013

NaNoWriMo Day 25 Word Count 2456

At that point, a new visitor was announced and Sir Francis strolled in. She was surprised but pleased to see him – she enjoyed his company but he rarely visited her house during the daytime. A single man was not able to visit a single woman frequently without being suspected of the kind of relationship they had, in fact, established. Frank was always a gentleman towards her and she felt sure he would not betray her to her neighbours, but she was equally sure that he was taking care to ensure she could never misinterpret the nature of the relationship he was willing to offer her.

As she welcomed him, she became aware that Phillip had withdrawn slightly. After a brief exchange between the two gentlemen, Phillip hauled himself to his feet, made his bow towards Melissa, assuring her as he did so that he would hold himself in readiness for her, if she could pledge herself to sending a note when she was ready for her first outing and exited leaning heavily on his cane with his new, slightly halting gait.

Frank raised his eyebrows at their conversation but made no comment until Phillip had departed. “It seems to me, my dear, that you might find yourself a stronger or more reliable escort for any outing you propose.”

Melissa felt her hackles rising slightly on Phillip's behalf and turned Frank's attention by saying lightly: “It is to be expected that his recovery will be slow, but the outing I have in mind will not take place for some time. It requires a little preparation, so I have full confidence that Phillip will be a suitable companion.”

As she spoke he seemed casually disinterested, but at one word his head tilted towards her and his eyebrows rose. “Phillip?”

“Would you have me be a hypocrite? You of all people know I do not adhere entirely to the social conventions of this stifling society. Phillip was in my home as he recovered; I have heard you refer to him by his given name as I have come to use it and I see no disrespect in doing so without the gentleman himself present.”

Sir Francis did not seem overly pleased. His eyes hardened and the blue gaze felt incredibly cold for the first time: “I trust, madam,” he spoke in a soft, yet distant tone, “that you are not so loose with social convention that you have a stream of men warming your bed. If you cannot keep your legs closed out of my presence, I will have nothing more to do with you.”

Melissa looked him full in the eye and felt absolute fury build up inside her. Sir Francis, seeing the expression on her face, expected a screaming match to begin and felt that she was perhaps more effort than she was worth. However, what she said astonished him. Her words were as quietly spoken as his own, and she expressed no shame or defensiveness, merely contempt for him. Her tongue lashing was incredibly well targeted, accurate and clearly deeply felt, but she lost no shred of control in the process.

The gist of her commentary was that the nature of their relationship was never defined and if he expected any kind of fidelity from her, he had to offer more than the basic rutting service he provided. He should take into account, she suggested, that she had never requested fidelity from him and had she made a statement similar to his, he would have been as outraged and offended as she was and that he could not claim that behaviour unreasonable in another individual is perfectly natural or appropriate when he used it. She also pointed out that if he did withdraw his services, she was more than capable of arranging similar service elsewhere – and unlike him, she would never be required to offer financial recompense to any individual serving her desires.

“Now if,” she concluded, “you came here with express intention of sneering at a man I respect without having the decency to do so to his face, and insulting me to the greatest of your abilities, might I suggest that having done so, you may now leave. And, should you intend to return or have any form of communication with me in future, be aware that you should preface your contact with a sincere apology for presuming that you have any right to judge my behaviour, values and friendships let alone take it upon yourself to comment upon them.”

In the face of her attitude and with his own emotions riding far too high to be able to approach the situation with rationality, he stormed out.

Melissa had time to reflect that a large number of single men left her house in some dudgeon before Mary swept in and caught her chuckling quietly to herself. By now Mary had become accustomed to her new role and merely waited for her mistress to become aware of her presence before suggesting that it might be time to consider preparing for her evening events. Melissa briefly considered spending a quiet night in, but then realised she would have nothing to do and no-one to talk to. She sighed and requested the list of invitations for that evening.

It had become her habit at breakfast to sort through the invitations she had received. To date it was the only mail she had ever been sent – commonly ladies her age had connections all over the country with whom they regularly communicated, but she had not formed a relationship with anyone who was not available to speak to on a daily basis and so there was no-one to write to or receive mail from. It would be different soon – many people were taking time away from the city for country life or seaside holidays and at that time, regardless of where Melissa went, she would begin to receive regular mail from her new found friends. For now, her invitations were the most exciting communications she received and she flicked through them then read and sorted them very carefully before placing them in a set of drawers that reflected her calendar.

As a net result, each evening Mary was able to bring her a handful of cards, pre sorted, from which she could choose the one or two events she wanted to attend that night. Tonight was one of the rare occasions where she had been invited to an event she'd had to confirm her attendance in advance. There was a swathe of engagement balls beginning and for this one she had been invited to a meal beforehand. She calculated she should stay after the meal for the ball for approximately three hours and then either move on or return home.

Planning for a long night out she selected two other additional invitations and sought through her wardrobe for something appropriate for dinner and a full ball. After flicking back and forth for some time she eventually settled on the peach gown – without the suggestive scarves overlaid – and a richly embroidered scarf to drape over it. Alongside the gown and scarf, she wore an over abundance of jewellery including her first ever tiara and jewelled slippers which had felt extremely extravagant and indulgent when she had bought them, but now seemed the ideal compliment to all the other sparkle she wore.

The night passed enjoyably but without remarkable incident. The next morning when she awoke, she went through her usual routine of assessing her mail, breakfasting lightly and calling for a horse to go for a ride around the park. Afterwards she sat, ostensibly to embroider, but in reality to conceive a plan whereby she could furnish herself with male garments without raising questions. Soon, she had formed a solid plan and put it into play immediately – she called Starke and described her whim for a page boy. Could he present her with a group of suitably aged young men as soon as possible?

Within an hour, four young males stood before her and she observed them all. Presenting them each with a guinea she dismissed them and undertook a variety of activities. First she had Mary take her measurements, then sent a note to her dressmaker requesting a recommended tailor to produce garments for a page boy and another to Starke apologising that she had not taken on one of his lads but she thought she had found someone appropriate. She also sent Mary to the Pantheon Bazaar for some specific items of clothing from the male section which she immediately donned.

Within an hour she was ready to be taken, by an exasperated Mary, to the recommended tailor to be fitted for her uniform as page boy. The tailor was not interested in taking the closest measurements and she was only requested to strip to shirt and breeches before trying on the garments required. Mary observed her mistress swapping clothing and tried to not let her disapproval become too visible. After some time she recognised the signal that indicated Melissa was happy with the outfit she was wearing and she instructed the tailor to make up a copy of that one, in five complete sets. The tailor expressed surprise at such an expenditure and wanted confirmation that Mary was acting in the interests of her employer. Melissa herself had never encountered such an attitude (shop keepers tended to observe her entrance as some form of manna from heaven and, thinking back to the shoes she wore last night, she had to concede it was justified) and was deeply offended. If it hadn't been for Mary's presence of mind in snapping at her to put her shoes on and stop gawking boy, she would have given her identity away immediately. Mary concluded the conversation in undertones and then instructed the tailor to make up the outfits from the finest fabrics and in very sober colours. The boy, Mary declared, must fit in with the highest quality of garments, but must remain visibly a servant. Only black and white, with a black waistcoat were allowed. Everything must be plain.

The tailor concurred and the two women left the shop. When they returned to her home, Melissa repaired to her room immediately and riffled through her wardrobe. Mary had followed her and watched in some confusion as she began snatching garments and casting the occasional one onto her bed. After the day Melissa had put her through she wasn't entirely unprepared for her explanation of her activities, but it was still a shocking statement.

Melissa was now searching through her clothes to identify those that could be converted into a split upper and lower part, so that she could remove the skirts and don her male garb over the upper half of her gowns within the space of a carriage ride. Mary, in an effort to restrain the worst of the depravities she sensed her mistress might commit, pointed out that most riding habits were split and that the upper half was very closely based on male attire anyway.

Immediately Melissa was leaping back up and calling for the carriage to be returned. She arrived at her dressmaker and ordered a selection of riding habits, explaining that she was looking for a new style and would need to ride in each of the habits so she would order them all in the knowledge that the majority of them may need to be immediately disposed of. Because of this, she wanted very plain and simple styles to begin with and she would add embellishments to future orders.

There was one that she immediately loved the look of – from a purely aesthetic point of view. It was incredibly severe around the upper body, with a tight fitted jacket over the same baggy blouse that she had worn as a page boy. The skirt was gathered by means of a strap which sat around the narrowest point of her waist. As she stood gazing at herself in a mirror, she asked them to make an additional outfit which, instead of just a blouse and jacket buttoned up to the neck, incorporated a waistcoat element with a jacket neckline that was wide enough to display the waistcoat.

The dressmaker merely nodded and added a few notes to her design details. Melissa gathered her skirts and returned home. As she travelled she realised how hungry she was, not having eaten since a brief breakfast, so when she arrived she called for a tea tray immediately. As she entered her sitting room she was surprised to see a bouquet and a note.

She sat down to read and was delighted to discover it was a brief but sincere apology from Francis for having presumed to judge her behaviour. She sat with the note in her hand gazing at the flowers and wondering where on earth to put them. When the tea tray arrived she directed the butler to have them carried to her dressing room and she tucked into the spread laid before her. That evening she dined at home and read a book before taking an early night. The following day, the first riding habit and page outfit were both delivered: their makers anticipating that the lady would want something as soon as possible.

With Mary's aid, Melissa dressed herself and then tested switching between the two outfits. It was successfully done and left her with only one concern – how to travel out of her own home wearing a riding outfit and not calling for a horse, or riding a horse away from her house and losing it before presenting herself as a young man at Phillip's property.

Her solution came quickly and was typified by its simplicity.

She made her way, in her riding garb, to a set of stables that she had heard of as a result of her charitable plans. There she left the horse, under the care of a stable man, explaining that she was visiting a nearby establishment and she took the satchel containing her spare clothes from the saddle attachment. Once alone, she entered a nearby hostelry where she booked a room and sent a message to Mary informing her of the time and her location. Then she slipped out of her skirts and jacket and into the page boy uniform. Carrying the satchel she made her way to Lord Penthvere's property.

She knocked on the door and presented a letter from herself. The butler took it up while she waited by the door. After a few moments she was welcomed into the property. Phillip was sat before the fire and he smiled up at her as she entered.  

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