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 na├»ve 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.  

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