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20 February 2008 @ 08:28 pm
Haven - Chapter Nine  
Summary:
Isabella gets her official introduction into English society

Preview:

“Lady Wentworth.” Her voice was calm, but her tone told those few within earshot that she was very put off by what she’d heard, “Lady Caldwell was asking to speak with you.” she pointed over to another corner of the ballroom where two other women were speaking privately. Isabella could clearly tell that Lady Caldwell was well enthralled in her conversation and probably didn’t want to speak to Lady Wentworth at all. But Elizabeth had a cool, lying tongue, so she sure wasn’t going to point out that minor tidbit.

Chapter Nine:

Isabella's Memoirs:

I officially became The Marchioness of Haven.

But I preferred Isabella Renault.

Yes, I know I became that when I married Erik, but as the wedding was private, it was expected that I be announced as such at a formal gathering. Still, I found it turned into more of a cotillion, than a simple dinner party.

I walked downstairs with Erik and saw Elizabeth and Thomas waiting at the bottom of the stairs for us. I’d seen Elizabeth’s gown previously when she purchased it the day before, but on her, in such a proper setting, it was even more stunning. It was a very soft blue, so soft, that only in light could you see it was blue and not white. It had a high collar made of lace and long sleeves as mine did, which was proper (as I was told while shopping) for an evening dinner party, even on such a warm August night. The bow in the back was a darker blue that matched the ribbons in her hair. I told her how envious I was of how beautiful she looked and of course she scoffed at me, telling me I had no right to be as I was more beautiful. I knew that was definitely not true, but I thanked her just the same.

We had only been in the elaborately decorated (thanks to Lillian and some additional house staff, hired just for this occasion) ballroom a few minutes, just long enough to admire the flowers and hear the musicians before Mary Ellen came and informed us that carriages were pulling up outside. I had barely time to breathe and gather myself before Erik brought me to the entrance of the large ballroom for formal introductions. Then I heard Jarrod begin to announce each couple’s arrival.

I started to realize as I was introduced to them, just how utterly official it all was, just as Elizabeth had warned me. In fact, I found immediately how difficult it was to refer to her as “Madam”, as protocol requires, even though we had become good friends. Both Elizabeth and Thomas had always insisted I call them by their first names, as Erik did, instead of the usual, more formal greetings. They said it was almost unheard of and could only be done in the most private setting, but they simply find it more familiar and comfortable.

There were eight other couples in attendance, but as I hardly saw most of the other couples except at specific social functions and some were less than memorable, I won’t bother boring my future readers, nor wear out the kind person transcribing this from my vocal recitations. I shall only speak of the two most notable couples.

The first and most noteworthy would have to be Lord and Lady Wentworth. John Langley, the Earl of Wentworth was of lower social status (as Elizabeth had to practically quiz me on the hierarchy), yet I found them to be the stuffiest, rudest two people I had ever met. Unfortunately, Lady Cecelia Wentworth (who insisted on being called Lady Wentworth at all times) was just as Elizabeth had described her. I was hoping she was just exaggerating. She was the oldest woman there, but no one knew her exact age (and I found it was terribly inappropriate to ask anyone anyway, but Lillian told me later in private she was probably around sixty). She was also, by far, the strictest in terms of etiquette. I could see immediately she was very leery of me as I was introduced to her. She said that she found the mingling of English and American blood to make the most ignorant of children and I wondered how she would know that since she had stated to me that she didn’t know any other Americans and would never visit there. But since I was representing myself and Erik, I kept silent. Needless to say, I did my best to avoid her the rest of the evening. I didn’t succeed, but I gave it the effort.

The other couple, who I found quite lovely and most gracious, was Edward and Jane Burrows. Edward is the Earl of Cather and I recalled hearing Erik refer to him as Cather to Thomas on a couple of occasions. I found I was able to sit and speak with Lady Jane much more comfortably than I could Lady Wentworth. She spoke with ease about her two daughters. The eldest, named Emelie, was twenty-four years old. She mentioned that at one point, they had sought a courtship between Emelie and Erik, but that it didn’t work out and she was now engaged to a young man from London. I certainly didn’t know anything about an attempted courtship between Emelie Burrows and Erik and wondered if Elizabeth did. Then again, what business is it of mine who Erik was supposed to have courted before I came along? I certainly don’t think Lady Jane was being snide when referring to it, so I was gracious and said Erik had told me of his past and wished the young lady well.

But by far, the highlight of the evening was Erik. Not just Erik himself and how he handled everything with incredible presence, but how he treated me. I felt as if I was the Queen of England herself. He kept hold of my hand on his arm for most of the night, while calling me such endearments as “my love”, and “my darling”, and even referring to me as “my dearest lady” to Lord Wentworth. He often came to me and gave me a peck on the cheek, as he’d told me earlier that evening that he would. There was always a glance my way that I could only interpret as, I daresay, loving and unless I was in the company of other women, he made sure I was never left alone. It was so magical that for a few hours, I let myself believe something could work out between us, let myself believe I could truly be The Marchioness of Haven, in every sense of the word…

“I do say that I have always thought Lord Haven’s home to be most lovely,” Lady Cecelia Wentworth said as she sat down, uninvited, next to Isabella inside the ballroom after dinner. “although I truly wonder why he chooses to keep such a small house staff.”

“I suppose he has never required more than he needed. He wouldn’t wish to employ staff that sit around and do nothing.” She turned and replied, fanning herself against the humid evening.

For the first time since the dinner party began, she was without Erik nearby. He, Thomas and the other men had retired to the sitting room to smoke cigars, drink brandy and talk of whatever it was men talked about that they felt ladies couldn’t be present to hear. That left all the women in the ballroom, listening to the musicians play and chatting amongst themselves.

Except Isabella.

She’d so exhausted her brain with keeping up the pretense of proper English society that she needed a moment to sit alone and take everything in. She had no interest in hearing about the usual gossip that kept everyone’s chins wagging, therefore, she found herself sitting in a chair next to the window, watching the last of the rain softly fall and inhaling the fresh fragrance of wet grass. She smiled at the first few peeks of moonlight that dared to shine from the dense clouds and made the rain drops glisten. Humid or not, it was pure solace and she’d wished to be standing right in the middle of the garden to experience it, just as she used to do at her home in Delaware.

Unfortunately, her peace was short lived.

“Amazing story he told of your meeting.” Lady Wentworth began. Her tone appeared pleasant, yet Elizabeth had warned Isabella that most everything she said was laden in sarcasm. “Most people would not meet in such a manner. I would not have accompanied my father to the home of a man I had never met unless I was sure it was for the purpose of courtship.” Lady Wentworth said.

“Who says my Father did not have that purpose in his mind the whole time?” Isabella cut her off.

The lady raised her eyebrows, “Lord Haven did not mention that.”

“Perhaps he didn’t know.”

That drew a short breath and Isabella was already finding small satisfaction in saying things that would cause her to be the least bit shocked.

“If what you say is true, I am rather taken aback that your father would do this without Lord Haven’s knowledge.”

“Nothing about my father shocks me anymore.”

Again, she got another long stare.

“But, as I said before, Erik and I met quite by accident and we fell in love. There was nothing more to that.” Isabella spoke up before the subject of arranging anything could go further.

“Unheard of.” Lady Wentworth scoffed.

“Not in America.”

Neither spoke for another moment as Lady Jane Burrows passed by while speaking to Elizabeth.

“My, that Lady Cather…” Lady Wentworth said, clicking her tongue in a condescending tsk tsk tsk tone. It became obvious to Isabella that she’d gotten the last word in about Erik and Lady Wentworth purposely changed the subject.

“What about her?”

“Such a tragic life she has had.”

“Oh?”

“She only has daughters, you see.” Lady Wentworth began once she realized she now had Isabella’s attention. “With no sons to inherit the Cather title, that leaves Miss Emelie and Miss Katrine and of course Miss Emelie is now going to marry a commoner. Most unbecoming, to allow her to do that when the title has to be inherited.”

“I see.” Isabella rolled her eyes. More gossip. Who cares who Emelie Burrows marries as long as she’s happy?

“And of course, she did have that unfortunate illness in which she lost her child.”

That perked her interest. “She had a miscarriage?”

“That she did. Caught a terrible case of influenza and the fever was so bad the poor child simply could not survive it.”

“How sad. I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Yes, terribly tragic, as I heard it was a boy.”

She shot her head around to the woman again. She wanted to ask her what difference it made either way, but she knew the answer and didn’t bother to open her mouth other than to say, “I see.” If she’d said more, she would’ve called the woman something quite unbecoming and spoil the evening.

“And, of course, The Duchess…”

Now, this she had to hear. She wondered if Lady Wentworth knew anything about Elizabeth she didn’t. Not only would she take it with a grain of salt, but she’d enjoy telling Elizabeth what she heard.

“Yes?” she leaned in closer, pretending to be most anxious to hear.

Lady Wentworth whispered most elaborately, emphasizing every word, “She is not really a Duchess.”

Aha! This was indeed going to be good.

“She’s not?” She faked a gasp and covered her mouth with her gloved hand.

“Oh no!” Lady Wentworth leaned in closer, “The Duke only inherited his title because his uncle, the real Duke of Waverly, died in a tragic accident and with him, his only son, who was only nineteen and unmarried at the time. His own father, the Viscount of Shellingham, had passed away years before. The Duke was his only son, his daughter already married away. Therefore, he inherited his uncle’s title and the entire Waverly estate.”

Isabella was a tad let down, considering Elizabeth had already told her the story of how he became a Duke, yet she truly enjoyed hearing it told in the way Lady Wentworth did, as if it was the most horrible thing that could have ever happened.

“I see.” She replied, still continuing to let her believe she was hanging on her every word.

“And do you realize, the Duke still insists on working?”

She rolled her eyes out of sight of Lady Wentworth and feigned an “Oh my” for her benefit. Actually, it was one of the things that made Thomas and Elizabeth so great. They were down to earth, good with their staff and never tried to be anybody they weren’t.

“Of course I do know that Lord Haven and he both have their business together, but then again, I am sure you also know that Lord Haven himself is not actually a true Marquess.”

This was definitely not something anyone had told her! She surprised herself with the curiosity that rose. Finally, someone who might actually know some details about Erik’s life.

“I know what Erik told me, what did you hear?” she lied.

“As I am sure he told you, dear, he is French by birth. Spoiled and indulged, I heard. Yet, for some reason, he left France about ten years ago, gave up his inheritance and settled here in England. Most of his money he made himself in the business he began with The Duke. So of course, one would wonder…”

Now Isabella was truly fascinated. She was sure even Elizabeth didn’t know this or she would have told her. “If he is French, how does he have an English title?” she found herself asking before she could stop it, “I mean, what were you told?”

“Well, it is rumor, mind you dear, but I heard he…purchased it.”

“Purchased the title of Marquess of Haven?” Did people actually do that sort of thing?

“Yes, for a handsome price offered…well, donated to the government.”

“Fascinating. Wouldn’t that be rather…well, corrupt?”

Lady Wentworth’s voice grew even quieter, “I certainly would not know about that. But of course, as I said, it is all rumors. I certainly would not wish to say anything bad against the monarchy.”

“Oh, of course not.”

She wanted to ask more, but she could already see Lady Wentworth sitting up and dusting off her gown. She could kick a rock, she was so close! Stuffy old woman! She’d tear down anyone but she sure wouldn’t speak against royalty.

Slowly, Lady Wentworth stood, fanning herself elaborately, “I see I have sat by the window too long, my gown shall surely mildew from the dampness. It would have been more appropriate for Lord Haven to have had the shutters placed on the windows tonight.”

Well, conversation was definitely over. My goodness, the woman could turn from Cinderella to an ugly step sister without blinking an eye.

“He did not do so, at my request.” Isabella smirked at her, “I find the night air, especially after a rain, most refreshing.”

“Umph…” she turned up nose, “I suppose you would, as most Americans live in the wilderness in those most unbecoming homes made of round tree logs that resemble servant quarters more than homes. I am sure you get more than your share of night air. Yet here, Lady Haven, we do prefer a bit more civility.”

Isabella stood quickly and her mouth flew open, prepared to make an immediate (and ugly) response at the stereotypical insult, but not before Elizabeth approached with Lady Jane close behind.

“Lady Wentworth.” Her voice was calm, but her tone told those few within earshot that she was very put off by what she’d heard, “Lady Caldwell was asking to speak with you.” she pointed over to another corner of the ballroom where two other women were speaking privately. Isabella could clearly tell that Lady Caldwell was well enthralled in her conversation and probably didn’t want to speak to Lady Wentworth at all. But Elizabeth had a cool, lying tongue, so she sure wasn’t going to point out that minor tidbit.

“I do not see that she…” the older woman’s voice squeaked.

“I believe she meantnow.”

“Oh, yes of course. Thank you, Duchess.” Seeing she was not going to be allowed any further talk, she finally nodded and went on her way.

Only then did Isabella release the death grip she had on her poor, defenseless fan. “Oh, the nerve of that woman….did you hear….?” She gritted through her teeth.

Immediately, Lady Jane sat by her side. “Do not allow yourself to lose your patience over her words, Lady Isabella. She is a most unpleasant woman, but fortunately, she keeps to her home most times and she is not seen socially, but perhaps at the theatre. After tonight, you might never have to speak with her in such close quarters again.”

That was a relief. And a disappointment. She found it a shame that the only woman who might know information about Erik was such a sharp tongued adder.

“Thank you. Yes, I shouldn’t let her bother me. I just find such ignorance so upsetting.” Isabella told Lady Jane, then added under her breath, “The old cow.”

Lady Jane gasped, then covered her mouth with a giggle as Elizabeth cheerily sat down on the other side of her, “Do not worry yourself any longer. Lady Jane has invited us to her home tomorrow afternoon for tea. She has a lovely home, my friend, we shall bring our riding habits and take her beautiful horses around the estate.”

“And you shall have the chance to meet my daughters as well.” Lady Jane spoke in the same cheery tone.

“And I shall bring chocolates to enjoy with our tea.” Elizabeth added.

Chocolates? Riding?

How could Isabella not smile at such an invitation?

“I’d be delighted.”


“It appears my lovely hostess has disappeared.” A deep, but soft male voice came from behind Isabella as she stood on the small veranda outside the ballroom. “This is a most distressing turn of events.”

A half hour had passed since her run-in with Lady Cecelia Wentworth and she was still sick at the sight of her.

“How odd. I wonder where she might have wondered off to?” she asked the voice without turning around.

The sound of heavy footsteps coming closer to her made her inhale ever so softly.

“I would not know. But as I do not believe I could be host and hostess, perhaps you could take over her duties?” Erik’s hand graced across softly on Isabella’s shoulder, brushing away just a few strands of her hair before resting on her night warmed skin. Such a gentle touch. She had to force herself to concentrate on the moonlight creeping across the stone floor of the veranda in order to summon the courage to turn around and face him.

“I suppose that could be arranged.” She smirked.

He smiled down at her, “It would be most appreciated, as most everyone is preparing to leave.”

“Already?” she asked.

She could smell the faintest whiff of brandy, but couldn’t detect cigar smoke. So, he liked his brandy, but didn’t smoke cigars….interesting.

Erik took her hand and placed it on his arm, “Yes, after all, it is close to midnight.”

“That late? My, I hadn’t noticed.” She answered, her voice still a bit far away.

Erik started for the house with her, but stopped instead just short of the door. Something important had to be said before they could return to their guests. “Isabella. I heard Elizabeth tell Thomas of Lady Wentworth’s insult.”

Her eyes shot his way, “Oh, did you?”

“Yes, and I wish you to know that I am most displeased about it. I truly apologize that you were insulted in such a manner, especially since I was not around to speak on your behalf. I would speak to Lord Wentworth, instruct him to reprimand her, but I find, unfortunately, he would only agree with his wife’s assessment. He tried to say as much in the library earlier, but I told him if he spoke his mind about your nationality, I would have no choice but to remove him from my home and not allow him inside again.”

She could hardly believe her ears. He defended her! She was sure her mouth had flown open in her surprise. “Thank you.” She managed to say. “It was kind of you to stand up for me…especially after…”

“…I should have stood up for you with Rebecca.”

“Yes.” She answered, probably quicker than she should have.

He rubbed her hand that lay still on his arm. “That was a shameful thing I did, Isabella, a terrible mistake. But I assure you, I do not make the same mistakes twice.”

His voice was firm and although she appreciated the sentiment, she wasn’t entirely sure he was referring to Lord and Lady Wentworth or Rebecca. Something in his eyes seemed to change with that last statement. What, she couldn’t identify exactly, but it was enough to make her silently resolve to find out.


“Do you think it went well?” Isabella asked Mary Ellen, fidgeting in wait. The guests had been gone only twenty minutes and already she was back in her room, so anxious to get out of the corset and into her shift, that she’d practically run up the stairs.

Mary Ellen patiently removed the last hair ribbon from her hair, then helped her shrug out of her gown. She laid it out gently on the bed, then started unlacing the corset and chuckled when Isabella mumbled, “Faster, I’m dying to breathe.”

“Just a few laces now, my Lady, it is much easier to unlace as it is to lace. And yes, I think it went quite well tonight. I heard nothing but praises for your hospitality. Everyone seemed much taken by you. You carried yourself as a true English lady.”

“I am glad. I didn’t wish to do or say something wrong. Although a couple of times, I know I messed up, especially with the etiquette. So much to remember. And Lady Wentworth didn’t make it any easier.”

“Ah yes, Lady Wentworth she can be a bit…”

“Snobbish? Rude?”

“I do not wish to speak ill of anyone, but…”

“Oh you can say anything around me, Mary Ellen. As I told Lady Jane tonight, she’s nothing but an old cow.”

Mary Ellen laughed and Isabella sighed elaborately in relief as the corset released her from its hold. It was so tight in fact, that when the last lace was undone, it almost shot across the room. She scratched her itchy skin as Mary Ellen reached for her shift that lay on the bed. “Do you wish to bathe? I have some lotion that will help with the itching.”

“No, the itching will subside; I’d prefer to wait til morning for a bath. I’m so wound up from the party that I think I’ll just read before retiring.”

“Very well, my Lady. I shall fetch you a book from my Lord’s library.”

“Oh no, don’t bother yourself, I can do it.” She replied as she put on her soft cotton shift. Her skin instantly felt relief. “You go to bed, you have to rise early enough as it is to start your own duties tomorrow.”

“Of course, as you wish.” She gathered up Isabella’s gown and started for the door.

“And Mary Ellen?”

She turned to look at her, “Yes, my Lady?”

“Inform Lillian not to wake me at the usual time, I wish to sleep in. Tell her to let Teresa know I only want fruit in the morning as well, as I will be having chocolates with tea tomorrow afternoon at Lady Jane Burrows’ home.”

“I shall let her know on my way to bed, my Lady.”

“Thank you.”

“You are welcome.” Mary Ellen answered as she opened the door to leave. “Goodnight, my…”

“Mary Ellen!”

Again, the maid turned and this time, studied her more closely, “Yes, my Lady?”

“Did I really do alright?”

Isabella’s soft eyes showed an innocent, childlike hopefulness the maid had never seen before. She knew immediately what was behind it.

“He was pleased, my Lady. Most pleased.”

Relief washed over her again. As strange as it was, she just needed to know for sure. “Thank you. Goodnight, Mary Ellen.”

“Goodnight, my Lady.”


Reviews welcome.

 

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kailorien on February 21st, 2008 03:42 am (UTC)
I don't know how I've missed this! :) Im glad I've found it and now I must go back to the beginning to get caught up. Chapter Nine has hooked me, now Im sure the beginning of the story will reel me in. Keep up the great work!
Crazy Cheeky Girly Geek: flower and pearlsgreeneyedmissy on February 21st, 2008 04:23 am (UTC)
Thanks! I hope you enjoy the rest of it and spread the word, I have some great readers, but can certainly use more! :)
kailorien on February 21st, 2008 05:22 am (UTC)
I've just spent the past hour and a half catching up! :) I must say that Im completelt hooked. Don't make me wait for more long will you?
Crazy Cheeky Girly Geek: cinderella - work in progressgreeneyedmissy on February 21st, 2008 12:56 pm (UTC)
I'm writing on it now and I try to update about once a week on fanfiction.net and here. At least that's what i'm trying to do. I'll try not to let it be a long wait. :)