Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Strategizing.


"Oh, Beth… I hope you don’t mind if I call you Beth? I feel we are sufficiently friends to dispense with formalities and to call one another by our given names… could we not?” Miss Hart whispered, floating about her like a dainty sprig of dandelion fluff. She finally alighted beside Beth without even disturbing the upholstery of her mother’s favourite chair. It was of an older style, covered in delft blue toile on a white background, the legs still partly gilded and carved. Miss Hart’s day gown was so beautiful, not even Beth could keep herself from thinking so. The muslin so fine, she could make out the toile through the folds of dragonfly-wing-thin muslin of her skirts when she sat. Her gown was made of the finest, sheerest, lightest white muslin with meticulous white-work and embroidery on the hem, all around the train, and on the front of her bodice. It starkly lacked the fine lace that Beth was used to having on her nicer gowns. But the English did not have a knack for lace-making like the Flemish did. Still, despite the shocking lack of lace, the gown was beautiful, and Beth was feeling very plain next to this swan-like creature who now sat beside her, gazing at her expectantly with eyes as green as emeralds.

Beth’s day gown had always been the one she loved best, and now she felt conscious of the worn, oversized print on the fabric; which she’d taken from one of her mother’s old gowns. Her mother’s gowns had always been a source of material for Beth’s quick-stitching hands; both for the practicality of reuse, but also for the sake of sentimentality. It felt comforting to wear fabrics her mother wore, no matter how heavy, gaudy and bold some of these fabrics seemed next to today’s simpler, smaller printed fashions. It seemed the right thing to do and it made her somehow feel closer and connected to her long-deceased mother. She’d liked her old day gown it until now. She patted the material onto her knees, and folder her hands against her tummy.

“Beth is fine,” she muttered, looking at Miss Hart balefully.

“You hair is true black. It’s beautiful.” Beth thought hers beautiful too; golden, shining skeins of wheat fresh from harvest; layered over two bandeaux of coral-coloured silk. Two very tidy pieces of hair hung free in front of her ears, carefully curled into perfect spirals. The back of her hair sported many more such spirals on top of the pastry-like twists on the back of her head. Beth merely glanced down at her lacework, which was a tragedy; her aunt would be horrified to see her messy work.

The girl reminded Beth of the fine-limbed Arab mare that her father had bought her. The elegant animal was named Aleydis, and she had a pretty dipped face and widely set, large soulful eyes. Her body that moved like a willow in the breeze, she floated when she trotted and cantered. She was a pleasure to ride, and it was one of the few moments Beth ever felt elegant, when she was perched on her worn sidesaddle in full habit on Aleydis. Every gesture the horse made was graceful. Miss Hart was like Aleydis. Even when she reached up to discreetly scratch her nose, her arm moved like a dancer’s.

“That’s very kind, Miss Hart,” she replied at length, “however your hair is far prettier than mine.”

“Nonsense… and please, if I can call you Beth then you should call me Emily.” That name was also very pretty. Beth felt deflated. She pushed her lace-stand away and stood, moving to the wall to summon Katreen. When the girl bustled in, Beth asked her to bring some cocoa to drink; one of her favourites of her father’s imports.

"So, you are promised… you have an agreement with Mr. Lilling?” Emily asked. Beth nodded with a shy smile. “He seems very nice.”

“He is of the best sort of people…” Beth blushed, picturing him as she loved to see him, sitting with his ankle crossed over his knee by the fire in the family’s private parlour, his boots scuffed from riding. He spent much time in Brussels, and his hair in the evening, was often standing up askew from the rapid removal of his wide-brimmed riding hat when coming in the door from the rain. He was often quite inappropriate in this display when feeling at home here; his frock coat slung over the back of the tall wingback, comfortable in his shirtsleeves and waistcoat, reading a periodical while father rambled on about ships and cargos and the French occupation.

Jean-Marc’s arrival in their life had given her father something invaluable. A father-son like relationship that Beth knew he longed for. They were as thick as thieves, and traveled and performed business very often together. Jean-Marc’s own father had passed away as her mother had, when he was young, and he lived with his widowed mother about two miles from their home—however both he and his mother spent most of their time at Ter Bronnen with Beth and her father. Mrs. Lilling was a large, merry woman who loved Beth, and visited her simply to enjoy her company and to have someone who wasn’t Jean-Marc to talk to. They all behaved very much like a single family in many ways, and nobody thought anything of all the time they spent together; or if they did, they didn’t say anything. Society was more relaxed here than it appeared to be in London, where news of scandals and gossip leaked out all the way to these regions on occasion. All the time she spent with Jean-Marc was innocent and sweet, and she valued every second of it. He was indeed of the best sort of people, and she loved him.

She tried not to look at Emily when she spoke of Jean-Marc. She didn’t want to see the girl’s face, or read a competitive interest in her eyes. But since most of the single gentlemen were off in town for business, or spending their days sporting across the countryside, Emily was simply desperate for some attentions that did not include her chaperone, Lady DuChamps-Harding, clucking ladies and gossiping aunts. She wanted to dance, and to flirt. Beth enjoyed the company of one of the only present, well-to-do and seemingly available gentlemen—so he was a natural target. Beth didn’t want to think of Miss Hart shamelessly hunting after him with all her good looks and perfection. Despite Jean-Marc’s professed amusement at Miss Hart’s English ways; Beth could not dismiss any possibility of her somehow catching his attention over hers. With a furrow of her brow, and a flash of a frown, she became resolved… she would not be upstaged by this English rose… not if it meant she would lose the attentions of the man who had for the past nine years been a pivotal part of her life. No, no, no!

Miss Hart sipped her steaming, bitter cocoa with a sweet delight, and chattered on in her polished words about gardens and London, theatre and some books of questionable content that made her giggle and giggle. Beth sat down at her little work-table, and chose to stitch while she half-listened and nodded; while with the other half of her mind, she quietly strategized to insure Miss Emily Hart did not as passively as a blooming rose, ruin Beth’s contentment.

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((I did not work very hard on this Office Special... it was a very quick sketch and draw, and truth be told, I didn't do it at the office; I did most of it at home on print paper in front of the TV last night and finished it up tonight... sorry... This was just a lark because two of you asked for a bit more...))

2 comments:

Roban Studio said...

Hi there!,
I'm a fellow Hungarican as well as a Pisces and an artist. I enjoy your writings. Come on over and join Artwalk Fridays and submit your link in the comments so we can get a gathering of artists sites to visit!

Tara Ryan said...

what a darling story. I hope you will continue...I want to see this Jean-Marc!

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