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The Devil and Debutant

Chapter 4: The fall of Marigolds

By E. J. StrangePublished 2 years ago 10 min read

Jane's dress weighed her down in both body and spirit. A woman always knows when she is beautiful, and that knowledge could make even the most heavily laden woman move like she floated on a cloud. Jane was not floating. She was drowning in the ugly yellow froths aware of how washed out the color made her look. However, the material had been of the bargain variety, which made it look oh so wonderful to her mother. Jane knew her place and did not have the funds to provide her own dress, so she had resignedly worn the damn thing.

It was a garish faux gold with embroidered marigolds raining unevenly down the bodice and cluttering the skirt in a multitude at the bottom. She had felt like a part of the draperies when she put it on. To add to her embarrassment the pillows in lady Ashwood’s sitting room seemed to be cased in the same material as her dress.

Her mother noticed the matching prints before Jane had. Silently she had tugged her daughter away to an alcove far from prying ears. “Don’t go near that room again, or any room upholstered in yellow,” she hissed at me, clearly embarrassed herself at the situation.

Jane's heart plummeted. She had been forced hours before to wear it at her mother's request. Her mother had said no one had seen her in this dress and no other girl of the Ton had this pattern, so she would stand out to the duke of Portland, the man her mother was trying to saddle her with. Now she was going to blend into the scenery like the wallflower she was at heart. She worried over how her mother would make this her fault and punish her for it. Meekly she scurried back into the throng of people hoping an encounter with the duke would raise her mother’s spirits and save her hide.

Despite Jane’s discomforts there were other tribulations to worry about, so she raised her chin high and smiled like the radiant beam of sunshine she resembled. The thought of sun rays dancing on her skin stirred her heart and kept the light from dying in her eyes as she listened to potential suitors drown on. She thought on to her family's country estate where they would be adjourning for the summer, but if her mother had her way Jane would be married off and that brought her to wonder where she would be in the coming summer.

Jane’s fantasies deviated from her duties. She hoped her husband would be tired of her company and she would be left for the first time in her life alone to do as she wished. She wished to read books into the wee hours of the night. She wished she could eat to her heart's content. She wished to roam the countryside like an explorer. She thought it would be fantastic if her husband could have business in far off places, somewhere she would have to follow him, but gentlemen in that sort of position were few and far between. Not to mention, most of those men were second and third sons which would not do for her title hungry mother.

Jane swallowed all these fantasies knowing that they would only torment her more when she was faced with the reality. She continued to go down the line of suitors introduced to her. She smiled politely at their chatter and added kind comments or probing questions to make her sound interested in their prattling. She could care less and only listened enough to gauge whether they were kind or cruel and how involved she would have to be in their lives. For the most part they sounded very condescending towards her. She subconsciously looked away from her latest bore to the door, her spirits becoming weighed down by more than the marigold dress and her mother’s oppression.

The duke needed to show up so that her mother could be satisfied with their meeting and Jane could finally leave. She had a book she planned on finishing. Robinson Crusoe, it was second edition she had pilfered from Lady Kesteven library that morning at the bruncheon. She had started it while her mother had napped before preparations for the ball. She needed to finish it, though, and return it before it was noticed missing. The thought of that calamity scared her, but not as much as not knowing what happened to Crusoe, so it was imperative to her to finish it before such a catastrophe struck.

“Miss Auckland, are you waiting on someone?” The jealous bow pried.

Jane realized the man was offended by her lack of attention to him that she snapped back to the gentleman. She quickly scoured her mind for some polite excuse, “I am so sorry Sir Charles, I have been quite parched. I thought my mother said she was bringing me a glass of punch, but that was eons ago.” She tried to sound dramatic and meek like the other ladies managed to do but felt foolish having the words come out of her mouth.

The man, pleased not to know I was looking for another gentleman, smiled. “If you would allow me, I would love to get you a libation. I have been parched from the heat here myself. Would you like to take some fresh air in the gardens? I can meet you there with a drink if it pleases you,” he looked gleeful and eager.

Jane was tired of the suitors and needed a break. Sir Charles was just as dolorous as the rest, but the gardens were lovely in fall. There was also no harm to her reputation either, for many people dabbled in the garden. She would stay on the terrace and remain visible to all, “That would be wonderful Sir Charles. How thoughtful of you to come up with such a treat!”

The man leered back at her with yellowed teeth, “My pleasure, dearie.”

Jane swallowed her disgust and thanked her stars her mother did not want her pursuing him. However, she hadn’t met the duke yet and worried over his hygiene and attributes. She dwelt on what condition the duke would be in when she saw him as she slowly made her way to the garden’s terrace.

The terrace was nearly the size of the ball room and presided several feet above a garden which were filled with fountains, hedge mazes, and rose bushes. Trees grew directly below the houses outcropping but were cut regularly to insure they did not block any views. To either side there were stare cases that descended into these beautiful alcoves where benches were present. There was nothing obstructing the terrace's floor and therefore no place to sit, but Jane was content to stand and take in the view.

She watched the people dappling the garden and took in the bright yellows, reds and fading green freckling the scenery. Jane imagined what they were saying to each other to pass the time while she waited, but she started felting exposed alone in the open. She may have loved the open air and enjoyed its freshness, however, women were often scrutinized for the minimalist of things, so she worried over how this might jeopardize her or invoke her mother’s ire.

Jane looked up at the moon and took in one last breath of fresh air. Her gut told her trouble was looming and decided it was time to rejoin the party before that trouble found her. She didn’t want to talk to Sir Charles anymore anyways. She was turning back to the doors, lost in thought of what polite excuse she would use for Sir Charles, when a shadow caught her peripherals. She jumped at the appearance of a man dressed in all black nearing her. Too late, trouble had found her.

The man registered that he had scared Jane. He raised his hands in show he meant no harm, “Sorry, My Lady. I mean you know harm; I am just checking in on the party.”

Jane had no idea what to respond so she gave an awkward smile. Then realizing this was improper nodded at the door, “Of course, I should get back in myself, My Lord.”

The man's self consciousness evaporated as he stared Jane down in a manager that made her blush. She felt more exposed than she ever had. His intensity made her stomach flip. She swallowed realizing the man was not moving. She herself did not want to have the man at her back. She feared him in a way she did not understand.

Spellbound she stared back at the man, unblinking as his eyes roamed over her. His eyes met hers and she was paralyzed, like a bunny waiting for a wolf to pounce. She hadn’t realized she was holding her breath till Sir Charles returned to break the spell.

“Lord John, so nice of you to show up.” Sir Charles bellowed, “Have you met Miss Auckland?”

Jane blinked, “I don’t believe we have properly met.” She curtsied, “A pleasure Lord.”

Lord John did not respond so Sir Charles picked up, “Lovely isn’t she,” he paused and when Lord John only looked at him from the corner of his eye Sir Charles gave up the conversation, “Come, shall we stroll the gardens, while you sip your punch.” He handed her a glass.

Jane took the proffered libation. She was nervous and wanted to flee, so she took several unlady like gulps. Anxiously she said, “It is getting a little chilly Sir Charles and I fear my mother will be looking for me soon. I think I should adjourn.”

Sir Charles looked peeved, and Lord John stood dumbfounded as Jane handed the glass back to Sir Charles and left. She was embarrassed and very confused by what she was feeling. Why had she stared at the man? What had possessed her to be so rude? She worried over how this might come back to bite her. She chastised herself for not following her gut sooner and leaving.

Inside she went straight back to her mother, who was herself tipsy, “Mother, its well past 2 am. I don’t think the duke is coming, may we go home now.”

Her mother peeved at being interrupted barked, “Daughter, we shall stay here as long as it takes,” Then leaned into hiss, so others could not hear, “Don’t mention you are after the duke, such boldness in unbecoming and will give us away.”

Jane wanted to roll her eyes. She wanted to be away from the ball home and comfortable with her book. She did not feel well about the night and wanted protection from its caprice. She knew it was futile to argue with her mother, though. “Yes mother,” she said as her mother turned her back to the dance floor.

Her mother looked at her dance card, “Besides it looks like you still have promised suitors to dance with. Don’t leave them waiting.”

“Yes, mother,” Jane said. She found herself downing again in the yellow marigold dress that threatened to drag her to the floor.

Jane finished her dances, forcing her to make small talk while the candles waned and the guests began to trickle home. Her mother waited until it was almost socially unacceptable to stay. The duke still had not shown, and her mother finally accepted defeat.

Jane almost wept with joy when her mother came to tell her it was time to leave. On the carriage ride home Jane was glad her mother was too tired to remind her of her shortcomings. She listened to her mother snore and watched the dark swirls of the allies. The darkness reminded her of the man that had appeared from nowhere. Lord John she thought as she was filled with infatuations.


About the Creator

E. J. Strange

I am new to the writing community but hope to publish a novel one day. I am simple minded and sucker for romance.

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