Monday, 3 November 2014

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.