Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Thing

In my wallet is an A4 piece of paper. I haven't looked at it for a long time, but I know what it is, where it is, and what is looks like.

I wrote on it shortly after I separated from my ex husband. I had spent a long time compromising so he could have what he claimed he needed to be happy (spoiler alert: it didn't work) and I had no idea what I wanted any more.

So I did what any rational person would do. I wrote a list. A list of things I need and want. At the time, it was astronomical. No man could ever attain such heights!

Then I got my life in order (well, it's a work in progress), started writing here and, nine months after I separated from my husband I revisited that list.

I was so angry at myself when I read it that I wrote a Josh Groban related post mocking myself for my exceptionally low standards. Standards so low that someone I've never met can perfectly fit them. Because they were, all of them, the bare minimum anyone would expect from a boyfriend.

I won't look at that list right now, but I'm keeping it. I'm  keeping it to remind myself how much you can lose when you start living for someone else. I'm keeping it to prove that I'm not unreasonable or asking for the world. I'm keeping it as a talisman against all those little voices inside that say I'm not the right stuff for happiness. I'm keeping it to prove that if a man can't meet that list then it's pretty clear the fault doesn't lie with me.

Right now I have other problems. One in particular is messing with my head, but I don't want to talk about it. I'm afraid someone might read it. I'm even afraid to write fiction around it through fear that someone might understand it.

And yet, I've been wracking my brains for one friend who is distant and impartial enough for me to confide in and receive advice that I can trust won't be coloured by circumstance. I think I'm going to call my therapist.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Nano 2014: Day 04

And thus began the most bewildering day in Helen's memory. She was first ushered downstairs by Emily who seemed to take personal pride in every startled glance cast at her mistress as she trod lightly down the halls. When they arrived in the breakfast room the two footmen who were guarding the boiled eggs gazed fixedly at her for almost ten seconds before leaping into action and, once she was seated and fed, they cast each other approving nods.

It was Aunt Agatha who vocalised the thoughts of all of them - “Well! I suppose you will do well enough. You certainly appear more to advantage this morning, although I fear you shall never be comparable to your sister!”

Helen smiled, In truth, she was comfortable with the mild attention she received for being what she was. The thought of being subjected as Rose was to a constant barrage of admirers made her feel faintly ill and more than a little relieved that the men she attracted accepted her wish to stay distant. Rose was frequently not so well treated, although she had the enviable ability to laugh it off with ease.

Rose came darting into the room bare minutes behind their aunt and casting her arms around Helen's neck (unfortunately timed as it caused a coffee spillage frowned upon heavily by their aunt) crying out about all the joyful things she had already experienced, chief among which were apparently ham and beef for breakfast, alongside eggs and all the other good things that came along with breakfast. Helen smiled at her sister's boisterousness and although Rose became more physically subdued under her aunt's harsher gaze, it did not noticeably cow her spirits.

All three ladies were plied with hot beverages, and for the next half hour sat in animated chatter. Helen was now in a better position to engage and once again Aunt Agatha was pleasantly surprised by the quick mind and good person hidden behind Helen's retiring personality. She mused that many an older gentleman would be looking for such qualities in a wife, although her above average looks may even cause a few of the younger crowd to consider her with favour.

Rose on the other hand was, by her aunt's calculation, the absolutely perfect debutante. Vivacious, vibrant, beautiful, pleasant and clearly well bred and educated; even without her portion she would be considered a toast. With it, Lady Agatha Richmond firmly expected to land her an Earl at the very least. Once the excitement of the season had worn off, calculated Aunt Agatha, Rose would be impeccable.

The sentence structure here is appalling. I hate it and I'm going to destroy it with a big red editing pen when November is through. Sorry for the diversion, it had to be said.

Drinks finished, the savaged remains of breakfast tidied away, and Aunt Agatha determining that for either girl to lunch before three would be sheer gluttony, she sent them scurrying upstairs before whisking them into a barouche to tour the more important parts of the city. En route to the park she instructed them on shopping habits and restricted parts of the city. Both girls solemnly paid attention and duly assured their aunt they would behave in no way that could possibly discredit her. They were past shopping venues, Gunther's, music halls, museums, and even, very briefly, vaguely in the direction of the Tower – all things she saw turned into a complete blur for Helen. She retained strictures and determined to remember as much as possible of the sights and sounds of London and as little as possible of the smells.

They were all too soon in the park and both girls peered excitedly around them. Aunt Agatha's judgement had been sound however, and at this time the Park was deserted of all but a few nursemaids and children. The girls were able to display their full naïve wonder and excitement without creating a public profile that they may later regret. They spent half an hour bowling around the park before they were pulled off in yet another direction. More buildings shot past; more information about places they could or could not go – sleepy looking streets being presented as dens of iniquity, others being pointed out as something worse: where the wealthy merchants lived. With her ambitions and pride, Aunt Agatha wanted neither girl to let any pretender to their hand to come from an undesirable address. Those dens of iniquity were, however, visited by the finest gentlemen among the ton and while the girls absolutely could not go there, they also could not afford to dismiss a gentleman just because he did.

Soon they returned home, where Emily was once again ready to help Helen into new garments and repair the damage done to her hair by the “fresh” air. It was astonishing to Helen that she could spend such a large proportion of her life having her hair brushed, but under Emily's magic hands the boring flat hair was beginning to grow in body and lustre. Certainly her tricks for raising the hair into piles of artificial curls were bewildering and involved a multitude of pins but were astonishingly effective to a young lady who had spent longer than she wanted to wearing pigtails.

Soon she was summoned to her aunt's dressing room – Emily in tow – to meet the modiste and have a whole new set of pins stabbed into her for an hour or two as the most grandiose designs for her wardrobe spilled over her. A few pages in the Ladies Gazette caused her to gasp involuntarily with delight and both the modiste and her aunt were pleased to agree that the styles she admired would suit her nature very well. The delicate nature of the fabrics and the adornment of a simple gown with a few exquisite decorations cried out taste, elegance and style, without being overly ostentatious about the sheer cost of forming such “simple” garments.

Rose was enchanted by embroidery and wanted everything to have patterns endlessly weaving around her. The modiste was delighted – the profit she could make would be vast – but Aunt Agatha talked Rose down into having decorated accessories – scarves, fans, gloves and slippers could all be used to create the same effect without everyone instantly knowing they have seen you in that dress before. Instead, she counselled, select several dresses that could be worn with or without adornment and find accessories that she adored for which her aunt promised to take her on a separate shopping trip, or several.

The modiste was by no means finished when the hairdresser arrived. He cast his experienced eye over the multitude of designs for each girl in order to choose the best arrangement of their hair. He began with Rose, and ruthlessly cropped her hair into a cloud of riotous curls and spent ten minutes instructing her maid in the correct arrangement of it. Emily had begun removing Helen's pins part way through this instruction and was barely finished and ready to brush out her hair when the hairdresser minced over to inspect her locks.

He spent only a moment there before returning to scrutinise the designs made for Helen. In his absence Emily returned to the process of slowly and carefully brushing out Helen's hair. When he returned the hairdresser tutted, sighed and shook his head. Newly proud of her hair, Helen was a little disappointed, but he simply murmured “Too much! Too much!” and began trimming off some of the length. Unlike with Rose where he had started by cutting off almost a foot of hair, he began slowly, trimming off an inch at a time. After six inches were removed at last he seemed satisfied and turned his attention from the length to fringing and dressing the hair as he liked.

Initially Emily had seemed politely distant, but as Helen's new design took shape under his hands, she nodded approvingly. Finally, the work was complete and Helen looked in the mirror. Her first reaction was deep disappointment – she had been so proud of the piled up curls Emily had created and now her hair lay flat on her head once again. However, she recognised Emily's approval of it and she had already come to trust the girl's opinion of how Helen should look. Casting her own doubts aside and reassuring herself that at least she could now leave her bedroom without enough steel to armour a fourteenth century knight she thanked the hairdresser and stood, ready to parade under Aunt Agatha's eagle eye.

Aunt Agatha approved most heartily. Aside from the aesthetic concerns which tended to be foremost with her she made the point to Helen that when one returns home at three am, the last thing one wants is to wait another hour or more for the maid to finish disrobing one before one can sleep. Nodding reluctant assent Helen was on the verge of returning to the modiste when her aunt brusquely informed her that they must now provide Rose with the promised trinkets to complete her wardrobe. They might also at this time purchase new shoes and necessities to turn both girls into ladies.

Three hours later, the ladies were home once again, this time laden with parcels and with a whole delivery to follow them at a later date. Hungry and exhausted, Helen was delighted when her aunt announced they must bustle as dinner would be served in half an hour. She retreated to her room and submitted to her hair being redressed again – this time much more quickly but no less thoroughly. With two minutes to spare both sisters darted out of their respective rooms and headed for the stairs. They spared each other a smile, but otherwise remained focussed on being where and when their aunt had instructed them to be.

They made it in time and were waiting when their aunt arrived at the door with the butler behind them, ready to guide them into dinner. After the hustle and bustle of the day, a quiet dinner was delightful. After several dishes were presented, consumed and dismissed, Helen found herself rapidly becoming sleepy, but followed her sister and aunt into the drawing room where a piano forte and harp were available. The two girls spent two hours playing quietly and intermittently, while their aunt read. After she had finished her book she requested they play a game amongst the three of them and called for some cards.

For another hour the three played cards – relaxedly for the first game, intensely competitive for the second and for the third, displaying clear signs of weariness. Finally, their aunt dismissed them and both girls went to bed. Once Helen was tucked up into the bed she mentally referred to as a place of bliss, there was a gentle tapping on the door seconds before Rose peeked in. The two girls, alone for the first time today, spent half an hour chattering about their responses to their day, the new circumstances and how they felt about it all before both fell asleep. It was 4:30 am when Rose awoke Helen from her dream. It had barely started and Helen had not yet cried out, but she was already showing the physical signs and she was grateful when Rose shook her awake.


Minutes later Rose returned to her own room, where her bed had chilled in the night and so she wrapped herself in an extra blanket before returning to sleep. In the meantime, Helen subconsciously moved to wrap herself in the robe and slippers, before standing at the window gazing outwards. At 5:00 am a maid came to light the fire. Ten minutes after she left, Emily arrived in Helen's bedroom, flustered by her mistresses early awakening.  

Monday, 3 November 2014

Nano 2014: Day 03

The sisters arrived at their aunt's house late in the evening. Darkness had already descended and the choking smoke and stench of the city had driven Helen from distress to despair. The improved quality of air as they reached the wealthier part of the city wasn't enough to cure her, and even being inside their aunt's home – scented beautifully of lavender, beeswax and warmed wine – couldn't soothe her, although it delighted Rose.

The servants were expecting the sisters and were all miraculously available and required to help bring in luggage and whisk the girls into the required room. Even the cook found it justified to come upstairs carrying a platter of delicate cakes and biscuits for the girls to snack on. Within half an hour the entire household were gossiping delightedly about Miss Rose, while even the nicest, most forgiving individual was unable to attribute to Miss Helen a quality more appealing than having a “very pleasant voice” when she declined the special treats laid before her.

Their aunt shared the opinions of all her staff, although the knowledge would never be admitted by the separate parties. She had previously held to the opinion that the elder should be presented and wed before the younger could be admitted into society. Witnessing the girls before her now, she was convinced that Rose would never have had a chance if that rule were adhered to. That being so, she refrained from making the speech she originally intended which had been expressly designed to inform Rose that while she may be in public, she must at all times be no more than a shadow as it was truly Helen's presentation and Rose was here merely on sufferance and instead calmly observed that as both girls were being presented together she would ensure that they were subjected to the same preparation lessons.

Helen, wan and wilting after the journey, allowed the words to wash over her. Rose alternated between excitement over the plans being made on her behalf and concern for Helen, but as she had herself firmly under control and was eventually able to sip delicately at a cup of tea, Rose soon became consumed by her enthusiasm for the plans over the next few months including, but not limited to seemingly endless amounts of shopping, dance lessons, dress fittings, parties, picnics, morning visits, afternoons driving through parks, potentially horse rising lessons, musical soirées, a multitude of balls and even one masked ball.

As she became increasingly animated, her aunt marvelled at how the sparkle in her eye and the light flush in her cheeks enhanced the beauty of her facial features. Casting a baleful glance at Helen, she wondered, with some slight resentment, how she was ever going to get the elder sister off her hands once the younger was married. Helen was oblivious to her aunt's burgeoning hostility and for some reason the lack of response to an attitude her aunt felt slightly ashamed of only caused her to feel irritated that Helen was such an insipid, dull, grey wisp of a thing.

Sighing internally, she asked the girls if they knew sufficient card games to join in a little light entertainment at quiet house parties. Not, she averred, that they should gamble to excess, but they must be able to participate in the lighter entertainments that were offered to young maids. Rose happily regaled her aunt with tales of the specific games they knew and evenings with the son of the local pastor as young girls as well as parlour games at their seminary. The picture she painted of her sister as gaily leading a pitched battle of wits against the headmistress on a weekly basis, with teams supporting either side and the celebrations afterwards caused her to regard Helen with a quizzical eye and a sudden realisation that perhaps few women look their best after a few days of travel.

That being the case, she decided they should all retire early as they had a terribly long day ahead of them. Both girls assented, although Rose seemed a little disappointed at the abrupt end to her evening and briefly wondered if her story had offended her aunt. The insistence that they call her “Aunt Agatha” rather than the “ladyships” and “ma'ams” that had so far littered their conversation went some way to assuaging that fear. Aunt Agatha rang the bell vigorously and directed the girls to their rooms. When they arrived and Helen realised she would be sleeping alone, she was as fearful as Rose had guessed she might be. However, the shame she felt of her dreams caused her to internalise any feeling related to them as much as possible and even in her exhausted state she was able to disguise a response that the vast majority of people would consider odd enough to remark on.

Rose said she would check her own room, change into nightwear and revisit before they slept. Helen assented, relieved, and one of the aids that had escorted them up helped her disrobe and guided her to bathe in the warm water at the basin. The maid then sat her before the mirror and spent twenty minutes brushing her hair out until it shone. The unaccustomed luxury lulled Helen beyond anything she had ever imagined and when the maid coaxed her into bed and she discovered, instead of the chill sheets of the seminary, the damp sheets of a public inn or the hard mattress of her childhood she had been provided with a luxurious feather quilt, several blankets and a deep, soft mattress which had been perfectly and evenly warmed. It was like climbing into a full body hug and although she propped herself up on the copious pillows provided intending to wait for Rose, the maid hadn't even closed the door before she was soundly asleep. Peeking through the door ten minutes later, Rose smiled and blew out the majority of the candles before returning to her own room and sleeping herself.

The next morning Aunt Agatha, herself an early riser, had instructed the household staff most strictly that they were on no account to disturb either girl. Consequently, it was almost 11 am when Helen, blinking, pushed herself upright in a brightly lit room, decorated in emerald and teal colours, picked out in gold. The vibrant colours after years of practical greys and browns made it seem like a fantasy. In addition, she had been so physically and mentally exhausted by the rigours of her journey that she had spent the night in a deep dreamless sleep and the feeling of blissful, rested contentment that resulted was vaguely alien to her. She slid out of bed and spied the night coat cast across a sofa. It was so luxurious and soft that she slid into it, even though the room was beautifully warm and smiled as she looked around the room.

She spied a pair of matching slippers and eagerly climbed into them. Before she had the second on, she was interrupted by the maid peering cautiously around the door. Seeing the bedcovers cast to one side she made her way into the room and bobbed a curtsey to Helen. When she rose, she was unable to hide the surprise she felt.

“Oh!” Helen saw her expression and immediately feared she had done something wrong. “Am I not supposed to wear the robe? I thought it had been put there...” trailing off, she gazed, wide eyed at the maid who was vigorously shaking her head and bobbing a series of apologetic curtseys.

“No, miss, no indeed miss, I'm so sorry miss. I didn't mean to stare.”

Walking forwards, Helen touched the maid gently on the arm. “No, I should apologise, I obviously startled you. Would you please tell me how?”

Helen's voice, which had been discussed as pleasant the night before, now she was rested, happy and relaxed was soft, gentle, warm and musical. It carried with it the essence of Helen's gentle personality and made kinds of promises about what she could do as a singer and the maid, as so many before her had, immediately fell under its spell. Deeply flushing and wishing she had something nice to say, the maid confessed that she looked like a different person this morning.

Helen burst out laughing.

Startled, the maid gazed wide eyed at her for another moment before recalling herself and dropping her gaze to the fingers she knotted wildly before her. Helen soon stopped laughing and next time she spoke her voice was once again a new kind of joy to listen to. The smile on her face was audible as she reassured the maid that no-one would disagree as she was renowned for being a poor traveller; and when the maid cast her eyes up into that face she was shocked once again by the difference a genuine smile made in the face of this young lady.

Her eyes, so big and grey had acquired shades of sparkling blue and green, her skin was tinted with the faintest coral tone and her lips curving upwards pushed out her cheeks and turned her long thin face into a heart shaped, well balanced arrangement of features that were delightful to contemplate. In comparison to her sister – the epitome of a Snow White princess – she would always be considered washed out and faded, but by herself she possessed a grace, charm and quiet beauty that appealed to many without them quite understanding why.

The maid felt her own lips quivering upwards into a timid smile and when asked for her name confessed she was called Emily.

“Well, Emily, it's lovely to meet you. Would you please direct me to my clothing? I haven't eaten properly for a few days and I'm in need of some sustenance.”

Emily bobbed into yet another curtsey and asked a series of polite questions about whether Miss wanted to wash, what she wanted to wear, whether she wanted a bonnet put aside for afternoon activities. Helen dealt with each enquiry in the calm manner which made her seem accustomed to such a thing, while inside she still marvelled at her surroundings and the bewildering upgrade in her circumstances now she had left school. Although she had grown up in similar circumstances of wealth, as a child she had never experienced them for herself – schoolrooms and governesses were not, in her limited experience, palaces of delight and young girls were certainly not permitted to have someone run around after them.

Eventually she was seated, mostly dressed, before her mirror again as Emily dressed her hair. Curious about the household, Helen had encouraged Emily to talk and it had already been revealed to her that Rose had risen two hours before and breakfasted well. She was currently in the morning room flitting between playing idly on the pianoforte and playing with the various decorative trinkets that festooned the surfaces of the room. Aunt Agatha had been awake since before 6, and had breakfasted alone, spending an hour with her Bible in the quiet of her own dressing room as was her custom. Each lady had a dedicated maid who was currently either cleaning, unpacking, preparing or, in Emily's case, preparing her mistress for the day. In the afternoon they were expecting a hairdresser and modiste to visit the house so the maids had been set the task of identifying clothes that must be discarded: those that could be modified and those that were suitable for town wear. Aunt Agatha's maid was searching through her wardrobes to see if there were any dresses of her own that could be adjusted for the girls – her expectation (which would shortly be justified) being that neither girl would own anything that couldn't be worn by a fifteen year old.



Nano 2014: Day 01b (Overdue, sorry!)

When the sun eventually broke through the cloud cover, it did so fairly abruptly. Storm clouds had gathered overnight and it was only a heavy wind clearing it that allowed the sunlight through. Helen and Rose breakfasted in a private parlour, one of three that the inn was furnished with. Rose had slept excellently apart from the brief disturbance Helen had caused and, as was her wont, Rose refrained from even alluding to it or her otherwise peaceful night. Helen's nightmares had started when their mother died and the nights she spent uninterrupted were few and far between. Today she looked particularly haggared b the experience – a combination of poor sleep and travel- induced nausea had wreaked havoc on her delicate constitution.

Rose had cared for her sister wherever she could since, and had rapidly learned that not only did He;en fear her dreams, she feared what would happen if anyone else knew the content. She point blank refused to discuss them with her sister, and Rose let it lie. Rose also knew that however muh Helen needed sleep, at the first signs of a dream starting, she wanted to be woken. When she slept through a dream in its entirety, she inevitably wet the bed and the mortification at home had been so unbearable that when they went to school together, Helen had begged Rose for her help. They had kept that understanding for the last two years and it was now foremost in Rose's mind – although she would not mention it to her – that in their aunt's home it was unlikely they would share a room.

Helen was roused from her abstracted, exhausted demeanour by the arrival of a waiter who was clearly accustomed to ladies wilting in the inn. He gently prepared breakfast on the table before them, instead of filling the sideboards as was customary and ensured both ladies had tea and chocolate to hand before he left.

Helen picked desultorily t the cold cuts and eggs laid before her. Rose tore through a substantial breakfast with the enthusiasm of a wholly healthy girl. IT was oddly at this time that the physical similarities between the girls became most obvious – typically, Helen was so quiet, pale and wan beside her flourishing sister that most people even denied they had the same colouring. Now however, one could see both had the same pale skin and black hair – although Rose's lustrous curls both literally and figuratively outshone Helen's dull straight locks. They had the same large, almond shaped eyes – Rose's violet and Helen's grey. Both had slim straight noses and full lips in which the only difference that could be detected was the colour: Helen seemed perpetually grey tinted while Rose favoured her namesake with a healthy blush.

Their cheekbones and jawlines were also matched, and it was this that made them seem so similar while eating and drinking. While eyes and lips were disguised by crockery and cutlery and emotional expression was obfuscated by chewing, they seemed almost identical.

They sat silently – apart from the sounds of Rose's overenthusiastic mastication – for ten or fifteen minutes before a flurry of activity was heard from the room adjacent to theirs. A door opened and a woman was heard to declare her joyful opinion of tea and hot rolls on such a miserable morning. Her following proclamation of thanks and affection suggested the presence of a male companion who had helped seat her. She summarily dispatched him to retrieve her specified breakfast items and launched into idle chatter about the inn, their journey, the people she expected on the other end of the road and a number of other matters which her companion expressed absolutely no interest in – although in fairness to him he wasn't given much chance to speak.

At some point there was a brief cessation in her chatter – presumably to enable her to eat something and in the quiet his voice finally appeared – speaking without force or rancour he calmly stated “Georgiana, dear, I love you beyond measure, but if you don't cease your idle chatter at the breakfast table I will dump you in the first ditch we find.”

Her ripple of laughter in response was silvery and musical and enraptured Helen who thought it was the most breathtaking sound she had ever heard. Rose had already been unashamedly eavesdropping but now Helen joined her. Together they exchanged grins at the witticisms and banter passed between the two who abused each other horrifically under an evident and sincere love for one another. A few moments after she accused him of having a dependency on his morning paper for protection “not protection, my dear, aggression. I know how it infuriates you.”

“Oh, yes of course! I just recalled - it's no wonder you're in such a foul mood. I was woken up by that racket as well. For a short while I thought it was something to do with you but Jenny told me this morning it was a schoolgirl having nightmares. Were you tormented by the sounds?”

“Georgiana dear, you know that would be ridiculous. Particularly as I'm wholly absorbed in escorting you.”

“Thank you, beloved, I'm very reassured.” Her tone was sardonic. “I must admit though, I have little faith in your interest in being focused on me and can only hope you won't deposit me in Bath and flee even before I'm unpacked.”

“As your purpose in going to Bath is to find amenable company, wouldn't I rather get in the way?”

“You never get in the way, my dear. You do rile and irritate, but you are always useful in some way. I only hope to find such a husband one day.”

“that, my dear, will never happen. I am unique and you and I shall never wed.”

Her chuckle rippled out again. “Once again, I'm very reassured!”

“To return to your original question however, I was woken up by something and went for a brief walk. I did see a young female – not your schoolgirl, I think as she seemed rather towards her late twenties than late teens and she was certainly immodest enough to press up against a window in her night shift. If we were to stay, you might have had cause for concern through my relation with her.”

In the next room, Helen went white then scarlet. Rose stared at her in horror as her eyes filled with shameful tears.

Helen felt nothing. For one blessed moment she was so entirely shocked that this could have happened that she felt nothing at all. Then her world came crashing down. Mortification that he had seen her, horror at his response, disgust at herself for allowing it to happen; all these things bubbled up and her eyes began to burn. Her breath seized in her lungs and she began to shiver violently. Leaping into action, Rose seized a nearby blanket, flung it over her sister and vigorously rang the bell for a waiter. With an urgency that leant her authority she instructed the waiter to provide hartshorn and burnt feathers before instructing their maid that they were leaving at the earliest opportunity.

There was no more audible conversation from the adjoining room, but neither Helen nor Rose noticed. They were both consumed: one by care and the practicalities, the other by horror as it seemed that all of the worst parts of her nightmares were returning to haunt her at once. She was hustled and bustled into the carriage, in which their driver had placed several hot bricks, and which the maid had stacked to ensure Helen would be warmed and supported by plenty of cushions. With the aid of the waiter, the party ensured Helen was safely ensconced in her corner of the carriage, then Rose clambered in and the maid organised all other aspects with ruthless efficiency before they departed.

From his room in the inn, Lord George Carstairs watched as the carriage trundled away. He was a reckless man, but he was not insensitive and although he had initially been irritated by the chaos from the girls' parlour assuming it to be the hysteria of a spinster; once he discovered that it was, in truth the schoolgirls, he had been deeply distressed that his words – intended only to put Georgiana to blush – had reached innocent ears to such a shocking degree. He also made a point of honour to never trifle with any woman unaware of the game and under ordinary circumstances would not have spoken in such a way about any schoolgirl, regardless of what he thought of her behaviour.

Castigating himself, he acknowledged that he would never be able to apologise – he had no way of tracking the girl and to approach her at a later date and apologise for such addresses would only serve to mortify her further. He sighed, dismissed it (as far as he was able) from his mind and returned to the issue of escorting Georgiana – the most irritating female he'd ever had to spend his life with – to her new home in Bath. The thought fleeted into his mind that the schoolgirls were going the opposite way – most likely from a Bath seminary to London for the season, but he rapidly dismissed it as irrelevant and refocussed.


Saturday, 1 November 2014

Nano 2014: Day 01a (midnight writing)

The sun unfurled lazily through the morning mist. Shards of light crashed through the autumn leaves decorating the estate and in their schoolroom two girls looked excitedly at each other. One erupted with glee, before settling into a decorous, ladylike pose, while the other smiled quietly as they prepared to leave and head to the main part of the house.

The first girl bounded downstairs, leaping and dancing along hallways, landing surprisingly quietly until she reached the most opulent part of the house. Her she resumed her sedate state. The other had tagged along behind – laughing silently at her sisters antics, but not participating until specifically caught up in the maelstrom.

Now both of them faced their parents. The first girl – Rose – knocked quietly and entered her mother's drawing room formally when invited to. The second – Helen – walked quickly and with the air of one sure of her welcome into her father's study.

Their ambition was the same; to be granted permission to play outside on the first sunny day anyone had seen for weeks. The mother petulantly waved the child away from her. There were no visitors that morning, no need for the child to be seen. The father recognised the signs of suppressed excitement in his eldest daughter, smiled and waved Helen out of his sight.

The two girls met in the hallway and, grinning, sped upstairs to collect bonnets, gloves and coats before going outside. They played happily in the wilder gardens beside the kitchens – more butterflies were here during summer and so the girls developed a preference for it. Now the air was chilled, even the birdsong had stopped and they subconsciously began to drift away. A quiet mewling sound led them to investigate the presence of some unexpected kittens. Large enough to leave their mother, yet small enough to be incredibly playful, the kittens discovered the two girls and invited them to join a game of chasing falling leaves. The two girls laughed and played and ran along with the miniature felines.

As they rounded the corner of the house the girls, without realising, automatically restrained their behaviour. While their father believed the girls should be children, their mother was adamant that they should be young ladies at all times. Whenever they were likely to be in sight of her, they had learned long ago it was better to seem as restrained as possible.

The presence of the kittens slightly distracted Helen and she was laughing aloud as one particularly adventurous kitten tried to chase three leaves at once. She reached out to snag one of he leaves herself, misjudged and fell. Unhurt, she rapidly stood up again but her hands were now encrusted with dirt. In tacit agreement, Helen left Rose to play while she washed her hands.

It was almost an hour later when Rose realised Helen should have returned long since. Curious and concerned – suspecting her mother might have spied her dirtiness – Rose returned to the house. She headed straight to her own room and sure enough, Helen was locked in there. Rose knocked on the door and spoke to her in hushed, comforting tones. Inside, Helen was audibly sobbing. When the sobs didn't abate, Rose became increasingly worried and decided to plead with her father for Helen's release, or at least for the option of comforting her.

She hurried downstairs but mid way down the final flight she came to a halt. The door to her father's study was shut, but she could clearly hear both her parents speaking – shouting, if truth be told – although she couldn't quite make out the words. Suddenly the door burst open and her mother came out, white lipped and taut. She stalked away from him, screeching “And I will make certain you never again have the opportunity to commit such a sinful act!”

He followed her to the door: also white faced and visibly angry. He was dishevelled – his wig askew and his waistcoat hastily fastened, but seemed somehow more contained than the impeccably presented, furious woman currently lashing out verbally and physically at the footman as she retrieved her riding crop and a bonnet.

Rose and her father watched her mother leave. He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. About to turn into his study he noticed his younger daughter perched on the stairs. “Are you alright pumpkin?”

She was briefly mute, aware that something momentous was happening, but then the urgency of her original errand caught up with her and she quickly shook her head. “If you please, papa, may I be allowed to be with Helen? She is truly distressed and I do not want her to be alone.”

Her father's eyes sharpened and focused on her; “Where is she?”

“Sir, she is locked in our bedroom.”

“Come with me,” he sprang into action, already unfolding the correct keys out of his pocket as he headed up the stairs at a dignified yet rapid pace. Opening the door he allowed Rose to precede him and he hesitated on the threshold as he considered his elder daughter. She was sobbing still, although she had made an effort to dim the sound as the door was opened. She lay huddled in bed, curled in a tight ball, seeking some kind of comfort from her pillows.

Rose clambered onto the bed behind her and she flinched slightly, but hearing her voice, Helen was able to relax and her breathing became more natural. When her father was satisfied she was no longer hysterical, he prompted her to sit up, and prepare for a servant to bring her a glass of lemonade and then wash her face and hands before dinner. They would, he informed them, be eating in the schoolroom due to the disruption of the day.

Relieved to avoid their mother, neither girl made any demur and their father left. Rose spent the afternoon and early evening trying to soothe Helen, who would periodically break into spasmodic sobs. It was several hours later when the news was brought to them by their governess – their mother had gone riding and in her rage had misjudged a wall. The horse had thrown her into a stone wall and she had been killed outright.

Rose, antagonised by Helen's suffering and blaming her mother entirely, felt a brief spurt of savage satisfaction. This was short lived however, as it was swamped by concern for Helen, who upon hearing the announcement had turned completely white as her eyes darkened to solid black and she fainted.


She stared out of the window, shivering in the cold despite the thick heavy shawl wrapped around her. Her feet were icy cold, and the fire wasn't lit but she didn't want to return to the bed.

Rose had collapsed into exhausted sleep once again and Helen could neither bear to wake her nor relinquish the fear of her dreams starting again. To return to bed, and thereby return to sleep, might cause both. In the darkness of the pre dawn hour, she stood alone. She had decided years before that while a sofa or chair would be more comfortable, and certainly wrapping her feet up would be easier on them! She got so bored of staring at the same four walls night after night. It had now become a habit with her that wherever she was, when the dreams woke her she would retreat to the window and stare outwards until her eyes became accustomed and she could pick out motion and activity.

Now, she couldn't see very much at all. There was a lit torch close to the window on the outside of the building: lighting the way for any late (or early) traveller. The post would be through shortly after dawn, but stage coaches ran through the night in this part of the country. As a result, the world outside was unremittingly black, but as was her habit she stood, gazing outwards and instead cast her mind over the last two days.

She had known for a long time that she would have to make her debut. Her father's death had given her an excuse to delay it and, although she sensed her aunt's reluctance to agree a postponement, the agreement had finally come – the sisters would be presented together. Helen did not look forward to it with any pleasure. Rose did and Helen had every confidence that she would make and excellent match. For herself, she preferred her books, her sewing, her artwork. All these things she could sink her heart and soul into more readily than the prospect of spending a year entrapping some unfortunate gentleman into matrimony.

In the trundle bed near the door the maid snored incessantly. Helen sighed and dropped her head against the window frame. Below her a flash of light indicated a door opening. Weary, she dropped her eyelids, but remained huddled under her shawl near the window. Beneath her, the gentleman strolled the courtyard casually; hidden from her sight in the shadows. As she adjusted her shawl, the flicker of white caught his eye and he gazed admiringly at the ethereal form, so fragile and alone, so unselfconscious.


After a brief look, he bored of it and returned to his previous activity, pacing around the courtyard, willing himself to relax, uncertain what had awoken him in the first place.