Twenty Years Ago
Matthew Allerton hated disorder as much as he hated silly maids who could not obey his orders to the letter.
“Susan! Come here this instant!”
He looked at the fork in his hand, seeing the distinct mark of a fingerprint on it. Laziness! Why must His Grace insist on hiring foolish girls without a single thought in their cotton brains? His mood had already been altered by the dreary weather outside, but this avoidable mistake only added to his ire. He looked up as the slothful girl scampered into the room, her eyes on the floor.
He held up the fork. “What do you call this?”
She looked up, frowning. “A fork, sir.”
“Foolish girl!” he spat. “Look closer.”
The maid took a hesitant step closer, peering closely at the fork. She was confused, he could see that. This is why I have steadily refused to take on these girls, but will the Master listen? He is under the control of his wife, a soft-hearted, silly woman who cannot say no to the less fortunate. That is all well and good, but her heart should not get in the way of my work.
“Mr Allerton, I cannot see anything but a fork.”
“Indeed, nothing but a fork. What did I ask you to do with the fork, Susan?”
“Shine it, sir.”
“And have you done it?”
She nodded eagerly. “Yes, sir. I did everything precisely as you ordered.”
“Truly?” He tapped her head with it. “Foolish girl! Did I not tell you to use gloves when you shine the silverware? Was I not clear about it? Did you think that I was merely jesting when I gave you that clear order? Are you slow-minded?”
His voice rose to a shrill, satisfied with every flinch his words produced. Yes, keep them fearful, and order shall come.
“I am sorry, sir, but I could not find any gloves. I thought that if I were careful enough, I would be able to do just as good a job as I would have with gloves.”
“Excuses, Susan, these are all excuses. I always keep spare gloves in the laundry room, every servant in this house is aware of that. The problem is that you are a stubborn girl who refuses to learn, and all who insist on remaining lazy, disobedient, and lacking in common sense will find themselves without employment.”
Her eyes widened. “Mr Allerton, will you tell the Mistress of this? It is but a fork, one that I missed. Surely I can be given another opportunity to prove my worth as a servant?”
Allerton raised his forefinger, pointing it straight at the maid. Each word he spoke next was emphasized as he jabbed the air, spittle flying from his mouth.
“Your worth as a servant? Foo–”
A loud knock on the door interrupted his words, lowering his hand. Only a low-class fool would knock in such a manner. Flicking his hand at the woman, she moved away, undoubtedly relieved that she was spared his scolding. Allerton strode to the door, muttering below his breath.
“I shall find her later and resume my scolding; I cannot let this matter pass. If I should do that, it will prove to be disastrous. She will inform the other servants, and my authority will be questioned. No, I cannot have that!”
Allerton straightened his attire as he reached the door, his body upright as he opened it. He looked around, finding no one about.
“What is this? I am certain that I heard a knock!”
Perplexed, he took a step outside. The storm continued to rage, the wind blowing a sheet of rain in his direction.
“Argh! Wet, I am soaked through!”
He took out his handkerchief, mopping his face with it. Miserable weather!
“Hello, is anyone there?”
Where was the person who had dared to knock and run away? Did one of the servants think to play a prank on him?
“If that is the case, I shall find the culprit and teach them a lesson they will never forget!”
Turning back to the house, he leapt back in fright when he noticed a black shape against the wall.
“What is this?”
Allerton took a tentative step forward, and then another when the figure seemed harmless. He reached his hand forward, but when it moved, he yelled in surprise, slipping on the wet floor and landing on his rear. Scrambling away on his hands and knees, he grabbed the stick he kept by the door. He usually used it to chase away little street urchins who would slip past the guards at the gate to beg at the front door. The rascals knew that the Mistress of the house was a generous woman, but if he caught them beforehand, woe on them.
Allerton used the stick to prod the moving shape, his jaw dropping when the blanket covering the figure fell away to reveal a shivering child.
“My goodness! Of all the things to find on this here doorstep! Has the world gone mad?”
Was the child diseased? Was that why they had left it here? Allerton looked closely, taking care not to bring his body any nearer. What if he should catch the disease? Plump, smooth cheeks, curly hair so fair, that it could be white, and a small mouth that had latched onto a thumb. There did not appear to be anything wrong with the child, but he needed to be certain. Allerton used the stick to remove the blanket, finding the child clothed in a dress.
“Aha, a girl. She appears well apart from her wet clothes and shivering body.”
Her eyes appeared hollow and black, stirring some pity in him.
“If I leave her here and she dies, people will speak badly about the Duke. I had better take her inside.”
He lifted the child, surprised by how light she felt in his arms. This is a poor woman’s child, and she has left her burden for others to look after.
As Allerton carried the girl in, she made not a sound, neither did she stir.
“The Mistress had better not take this one in. A meal, some clothes, and off to the workhouse with it.”
Victoria gazed upon the little girl, her heart full of compassion.
“Oh, Wilfred, the poor dear must be quite alone, or she would not have been left on our doorstep.”
She frowned when her husband did not answer, looking at him questioningly. He was usually such a verbal man, why did he remain silent?
He blinked. “Yes, dear? What were you saying?”
“Are you unwell? You seem rather … rattled.”
“Rattled? No dear. I am but surprised, that is all.”
Victoria returned her gaze to the child, her brow still puckered. Whatever was the matter with Wilfred? He was acting strangely, his eyes rarely leaving the child. The girl had woken up soon after Allerton had brought her into their midst, calling out for her mother. Being a mother to a little girl herself, Victoria’s heart had gone out to the child. Her little Teresa was just a few weeks old, her little miracle baby after her first child had died. This girl had to be two or three years old, still a baby by any standard. Her mother must not have been able to take care of her; it is no coincidence that she was brought here. Victoria did not believe in coincidences, but fate. This little child had been brought to them for a reason, and they could not turn her away. Victoria brushed the child’s fair hair away from her brow, marvelling at how innocent and fragile it looked. She needs protecting, a home where she will be well taken care of.
“Wilfred, I wish to keep her.”
Her husband went still. “Keep her? But why?”
“She needs a home, and I cannot bear to send her away. Think on it in this way: we shall bring her up, and when she comes of age, she will work for the family. Teresa will need a companion as she gets older, this child will make for a lovely one. Do you not think so?”
“Do you mean to raise her as our own?” he asked.
“Not quite, but she will lack for nothing. Surely it is better for her to remain with us than to be on the streets?”
“Yes, yes, of course,” he agreed. “Has the child any identification?”
“Allerton found a note attached to her blanket. I think it is here somewhere.”
Victoria looked around the room, finding it in a drawer. At least the mother had given her daughter a name.
“I have found it, dear. It says here that the child’s name is Joanna Keats.”
She cried out in alarm when her husband suddenly lost his balance, gripping a chair to steady himself.
“Wilfred! What has happened? Do you feel ill? Come, let me help you.”
Victoria held her husband around the waist, guiding him to a nearby chair. He sat down heavily, his face white. She vigorously rubbed his hands, feeling his brow.
“Wilfred, whatever is the matter? Why have you become so weak? Shall I call the doctor?”
“No, no,” he insisted. “I am fine. Perhaps it is because I missed my midday meal, dear. Do not worry; a hearty meal will bring the colour back into my cheeks.”
Victoria watched her husband stand up with some difficulty, going to stand over the child.
“Yes, we will raise her and take care of her, Victoria, Joanna will lack for nothing.”
Her husband said it with such conviction that she wondered at it. What has gotten into him? She came to stand beside him, putting a hand on his arm.
“Yes, Joanna will want for nothing.”
It was a promise that she determined to stand by no matter the circumstance.
“A woman can never have too many dresses, Mrs Brown, especially when her goal is to win the heart of a suitor.”
Joanna peeked around the curtain, smiling at the woman who was like a mother to her.
“Your Grace, Lady Teresa is ready with her first dress.”
“Oh, wonderful, Joanna. Do bring her out; we need to see how well they fit. Nothing but the best for her first Season.”
Joanna nodded, sticking her head back into the changing room. She looked at the young woman dressed in an elaborate dress of white and gold, but her expression was not too happy.
“Teresa, is there something the matter? Are you unhappy with the dress? It is beautiful.”
The woman tilted her head to the side, giving herself a careful look in the mirror.
“Do you not perhaps think it too much? I prefer something simpler and more elegant. This makes it seem as though I am trying to compete with the other women.”
“Is that not what you will do? To compete for suitors?”
Teresa hung her head. “I do not know if I wish to go to the ball. Why could we not have remained at home, Joanna?”
“I do not understand. You were excited to go to your very first ball; in fact, you spoke of nothing more but the ball, but now you wish not to go? Did something happen? You must tell me.”
“Do not mind me, Joanna. I am simply behaving foolishly. Perhaps I am only anxious about it all.”
Joanna let out a breath she did not know she had been holding. It had taken months of preparation to ensure that all went well for this Season. For Teresa to decide quite out of the blue that she no longer wished to be a part of it would have caused problems with her mother. The Duchess was determined to marry her daughter to a wealthy suitor, one with a good family name and who was greatly respected amongst his peers. It was nothing but the very best for the Duchess’s only daughter, hence the multitude of dresses before them that had yet to be fitted.
“That is normal, I believe. There will also be some nerves when faced with such an important occasion. Your mother is waiting to see you; let us tarry no longer.”
Joanna could see that something was bothering Teresa, but the woman still nodded, trying to smile.
“I have an inkling that she will love this dress; it is exactly the type of creation that she thrives upon.”
The Duchess of Norwich considered herself a fashionable woman, often creating her own dress designs and having a seamstress bring it to life. Every one of the twenty-one dresses that Teresa was to wear to the ball were her creations, and while some were acceptable, many would attract attention, and not necessarily the right type either. Joanna pulled the curtain back, helping Teresa swish out of the changing room to the audience that awaited her. The Duchess, her good friend Lady Swettenham, and the seamstress sat perched upon stools with a cup of tea in hand. They all turned to Teresa as she made her entrance, their gasps audible.
“Oh! Oh! I knew that you would look lovely, Teresa! Did I not say that the gold would suit your lovely dark hair? Oh, how clever I am! Maureen, do you see how perfectly my idea worked? And yet you doubted me.”
Lady Swettenham nodded vigorously. “Oh, goodness, yes, Victoria, you were quite right. I daresay that no other girl at the ball will have such a dress. Will this be the one she wears first?”
“It may very well be, but there are yet twenty others to try.” The Duchess turned to the seamstress. “Your hand is perfect, Mrs Brown. I knew that you would be the best seamstress in London; that is why I felt that I must hire your services several months in advance. Reassure me that no one else has such a design?”
“Yes, Your Grace, I assure you that your daughter will be unique and beautiful. I have taken it upon myself to investigate what the other young women will be wearing to this Season – it was no small thing! Seamstresses are most tight-lipped about their clients’ attire, never allowing anyone else to view anything until the client reveals it themselves.” The woman took a deep breath and let it out with a satisfied grin. “But I have my ways, and it is safe to say that Lady Teresa will be the talk of the Season.”
Joanna hoped that the talk would be positive and not mocking. Teresa was a handsome young woman, and her heart was sweet and kind, but many other women surpassed her in beauty. The Duchess has taken the designing of these dresses to extremes, and I know it is to make her daughter stand out, but I fear that it may make her stand out for all the wrong reasons.
“Teresa, dear, you have not spoken a word,” said her mother. “Pray, tell us your thoughts on these dresses?”
Joanna looked at her dear friend, seeing the myriad of emotions pass her face. Without warning, she burst out crying, running behind the curtain as fast as the heavy dress would allow.
Aghast, the Duchess stared at the empty space her daughter had just occupied.
“What has happened to my daughter? Why does she cry so? Joanna, what has happened?”
“I beg you to lend me one moment, Your Grace, that I may speak to her. Rest assured that she is only anxious about the Season. I shall speak to her.”
“Yes, yes, you know her better than anyone here. Do speak with her and find out what has made her so emotional.”
Joanna nodded, heading behind the curtain. There, she found Teresa on the floor, her fists to her eyes. She went to the young woman, kneeling beside her.
“Teresa, I know that there is something wrong. Will you not tell me what is weighing so heavily on your heart?”
“Oh, Joanna, how I wish I were you!”
That was the last thing she had expected Teresa to say. I am but a common woman, how can she envy me?
“I fear that I do not quite understand what you mean. Why would you wish to be me?”
Joanna was Teresa’s companion, and while they were close friends, the invisible divide of servitude was still between them, silently denoting their social status. She had no qualms with her status; rather, she was grateful for Teresa’s friendship and the love and care given to her by the Duchess. Joanna was well aware of how she came to be in the Colborne family. Allerton, the butler, had made it his mission to remind her that she in no way shared any similarities to Teresa; she was but a child left on the front doorsteps and taken in because the Duchess had felt sorry for her. The Colbornes had never treated her terribly, and that she was forever grateful for. However, the situation with the servants was an entirely different.
“Had I been you, Joanna, I would have never needed to attend a silly ball all for the reason of marrying me off to some man.”
“But what if you should find a wonderful man who will treat you with respect and shower you with love?”
Teresa lifted an eyebrow. “Have you ever heard of such a match?”
“I do not spend much time conversing with the people of your class, Teresa. I am but a companion. However, I cannot believe that all marriages are miserable. Your parents adored and respected each other, your mother staying by his bedside right to the end. I do not think that a woman who did not love her husband could have shown such devotion.”
“Love and duty are two separate things, Joanna.”
“Teresa, what are you saying? I know that your mother loved your father as he loved her! Why would you imply that what they had was anything but love?”
Teresa took her by surprise when she stood up, her face pulled into a sneer.
“What do you know, Joanna? How can you possibly know what I am going through? You are nothing more but a servant!”
Joanna’s body stilled, her face expressionless. She could not show the turmoil that was going through her, the hurt she was experiencing from Teresa’s true but callous words. She has never spoken to me in this manner before; can I have indeed angered her to this extent? The woman stood heaving in front of her, her body language closed off. I should rather step away before this argument escalates.
“Would you like something to drink? I shall get you some tea.”
Joanna did not ask for her approval, but hurried away, regaining her composure before she stepped out from the changing room.
“Joanna, is Teresa well?”
“Yes, Your Grace. I shall get her some tea and give her a little time to herself before we change into her next dress. Would this be acceptable to you?”
The Duchess nodded. “Yes, yes, do what you must.” She turned to the seamstress. “Mrs Brown, you do not mind if we extend our time, do you?”
“Well, uh, that is to say, I have a few more appointments, Your Grace.”
“Come now, Mrs Brown. I am sure that a few extra minutes will not affect your other appointments. Besides, we have provided you with much business; surely you will not begrudge us this little favour?”
Anyone with ears to hear could detect the subtle warning in the Duchess’ words. Mrs Brown cannot say anything but yes or she might find herself without clients. The Duchess of Norwich was a force to be reckoned with, an influential woman who could make or break one’s business with a single powerful comment.
“Of course, not, Your Grace, you may take as much time as you need.”
“Wonderful!” Her attention returned to Joanna. “Please, make the tea and see to my daughter. Do ensure that she is well. I cannot stand my daughter to be unhappy.”
Joanna nodded, heading to the tea tray. If only you knew that you are the one that is bringing distress to your daughter. Teresa was clearly stressed about attending the Season, but Joanna did not know why. The woman had always spoken about the joy of finding a husband and settling down, and yet now, when she had the chance to do just that, she did not want to. What has brought about this change of mind? Joanna’s mind was soon consumed with possible reasons for Teresa’s change of heart, but nothing plausible came to mind. She stirred several lumps of sugar into the milky tea, knowing exactly how sweet the young woman loved her tea. Teresa had a sweet tooth, but she was fortunate enough that it did not reflect on her figure just yet, but time was not kind to an indulgent nature. Joanna, on the other hand, did all things with moderation. She did not possess a passionate nature like her young Mistress; rather, she was level-headed, rational, and wise beyond her twenty-two years. Joanna was the calming influence in Teresa’s life, the one to bring her peace and reassurance when her thoughts got the better of her. It was a peculiar thing when a woman as loved and cherished as Teresa was would feel so uncertain about herself at times. Joanna had learnt early on in her life that her self-worth did not come from the opinions of others. Had that been the case, she would have been a timid woman who would take every harsh comment meted out to her as truth. While she was modest, she was not a self-conscious woman, a quality that Teresa lacked.
“Joanna, I am certain that the tea has been well-stirred. Hurry along now, see to my daughter.”
Her cheeks stained with colour, Joanna took the tea to her Mistress. Goodness! I should not allow my thoughts to consume me to the point of neglecting my duties, even if they are about Teresa. The curtain was opened before she touched it, surprising her.
Teresa stood before her looking apologetic, but rather than speak to her, she spoke to her mother.
“Mama, I am feeling much better; Joanna has calmed me down.”
“I am glad, Teresa. Please, drink your tea and continue with the fitting. We simply must be prepared for any social event; there is no telling where we shall be invited to, or whom we may meet. Mrs Brown, do you suppose that twenty-one dresses will suffice?”
Joanna was confident that the seamstress would say no solely for the reason of getting more money out of the Duchess, but Teresa was the one to speak first, visibly disappointing the eager woman.
“Mama, I am certain that we have enough as there are still dresses that I have not worn. Not every social event will need an elaborate dress; some may be as simple as an invitation to a lunch, or even a small gathering for dinner. Please, do not have any more dresses made.”
The Duchess appeared to think about that for a moment, giving nothing away of her thoughts. Finally, she nodded, smiling even.
“Well, what you say is true. Perhaps it is better to wait for your betrothment before making any more dresses.”
A pained look passed over Teresa’s face, but she braved a smile, nodding eagerly.
“Yes, yes, think of the betrothment. I shall be out in a moment with the next dress.”
Joanna looked at Teresa questioningly when her hand was taken and pulled into the room. She was furious with me, but a moment ago, and now she is gladly taking my hand. She mentally shook her head. Such is the nature of a passionate person. Her hand was let go of as Teresa got to the middle of the room, shocking Joanna when she got to her knees, holding her hands in a prayer pose.
“Teresa? What are you doing?”
“Forgive me, Joanna, please. You are my only true friend, and I should have never said what I said. You are not just a servant; you are like a sister to me. Please forgive me. I spoke out of anger. I had no right to say what I said.”
If the Duchess walks in and sees this, she will not be happy. A Mistress in a position of servitude to her companion was not something to be done, and it would not be Teresa who would earn a scolding, but Joanna. She does not think of the consequences of her actions; she merely does whatever her emotions dictate. Sighing, she took Teresa’s hands and brought her to her feet.
“It is fine, Teresa, do not fret. Please, drink your tea so that we may fit the next dress.”
“Say that you forgive me, Joanna, or I shall get back to my knees until you do so.”
Must she be melodramatic? Nevertheless, she loved Teresa like a sister despite their social divide.
“Hear me well, Teresa, I could never be so angry with you that I would not forgive you. What you said was true; I am but a servant, but one who is greatly loved by you. Do not worry any longer over this matter, and drink your tea before it gets cold. I have made it as sweet as you like it.”
The woman wrapped her arms around her, squeezing her tight. Goodness, she embraces as a bear does. Still, Joanna smiled at her.
“You are good to me, Joanna, always so patient with me. What would I do without you?”
“More than you know. Drink, drink, we have work yet to do here.”
Teresa did as she said, gulping her tea down, and getting into the next dress. The dress fitting went faster thereafter, the two of them even enjoying themselves. Dress after dress was put on, giggling at some of the more crazy creations.
“Feathers are not flattering at all; I wish Mama would understand that. I look more like a chicken than a woman.”
“I do not think that you look like a chicken, Teresa, perhaps a swan.”
Joanna jumped out of her way when Teresa tried to pinch her, laughing.
“A swan is a graceful creature; why do you wish to pinch me?”
“I would prefer to look like a human as opposed to a bird. No, I shall not wear this dress at all – you may have it.”
Joanna’s eyes widened. “Heavens! Your mother will not be impressed that you have rejected one of her favourite dresses. Do you not recall what she said? She said that the blue dress with the feathers was by far her favourite and that she had the perfect jewellery to go with it. I think that she speaks of the sapphire necklace and earrings.”
An annoyingly nasal voice sounded outside, drawing their attention. Teresa looked at her, rolling her eyes.
“Oh, no, she is the last person I wish to see.”
Joanna shared her opinion, considerably so. Lydia Freemont was not the type of person that anyone with brains in their head would wish to be around, and yet she had a loyal following of friends that hung on her every word.
“Perhaps your mother will not request you to show her this last dress.”
Joanna spoke too soon as she heard the Duchess call to her daughter.
“Teresa, dear, do come out and show me the blue feathered dress. I just know that it will look perfect on you.”
Teresa groaned. “Lydia and her minions will laugh at me the moment she sees me. What do I do?”
“You must not care what she thinks, Teresa. I always tell you this. Lydia is merely jealous of you; that is a fact that you know well. You are the daughter of a Duke, while her father is a Baron. While I think it ridiculous to dislike a person simply due to the difference in status, she has done so. Perhaps she is not happy with herself; people who are bitter tend to dislike themselves.”
“Dislike herself? Do we speak of the same Lydia? The woman is obsessed with herself, Joanna!”
“Teresa? What is keeping you?”
The Duchess’ voice sounded louder, carrying into the little room.
“Teresa, you must have the courage to go out there and show your mother, pay no mind to Lydia.”
The woman sighed. “Very well, I shall do as you say, but you must come out with me, you are the one who gives me strength.”
“Yes, come, before your mother calls for you again.”
Joanna gently pushed her forward, feeling the resistance in the woman’s body. She heard Teresa’s deep breath as the curtain was moved aside, her silent groan when she saw the dark-haired woman sitting beside her mother.
“Dear, finally!” said the Duchess. “Look who is also here – Lydia!”
How is it that Lydia is able to fool an intelligent woman like the Duchess when she is so painfully obvious? It seemed that many were not aware of Lydia’s nature, the way she had a knack for making others feel small and insignificant. I only hold my tongue because I do not have the right to reprimand my betters, but I wish that Teresa had the courage to speak. The woman sat with her mother and two friends who stood by the tea tray, already preparing tea for their little party. Lydia treats her friends more like servants; I cannot understand why they do not see it.
“Hello, Teresa. My, but that is a beautiful dress.”
The sugary sweet compliment was nothing but an insult; Joanna knew that she and Teresa would be the only ones to know this. How mocking her eyes are, and yet no one will see it.
“You see, Teresa? Even Lydia thinks so! I believe that this should be the first dress you wear for this Season.”
Joanna could see the horror in Teresa’s eyes as she looked at her mother. I would be horrified as well if I had to wear that dress.
“Mama, I do not think that this should be my first dress. I far prefer the white one with the lace on the sleeves and along the bottom.”
“Oh, no, no, Teresa,” said Lydia. “I agree with your mother! This dress is simply superb, something that will draw the attention of everyone at the ball. You will be the talk of London; you mark my words. What do you think, Mother?”
Lady Moore pursed her lips, her disdain for Teresa barely concealed. Joanna caught the Duchess’ eyes as she frowned at Lydia’s mother. Ah, so she has finally seen something.
“I trust my daughter’s opinion in this, Teresa looks … lovely in this dress.”
She is about as convincing as a snake trying to pose as a worm. Joanna saw Teresa’s arm cross her belly, a self-conscious move she knew well.
“My daughter looks beautiful in everything, but perhaps this is not the dress,” the Duchess said. “Teresa, we will agree with the dress that you have chosen. After all, you have the very same wonderful dress sense as I have.”
Everyone turned sharply as Lydia snickered, who quickly covered up her laugh with a cough.
“Oh, my! My throat is parched. Susan, where is my tea?”
One of her friends came hurrying to her, placing a cup in the woman’s hands. Lydia took a sip, narrowing her eyes soon after.
“Did I not ask for two lumps of sugar? I taste three.”
Goodness, poor Susan looks as frightened as a mouse cornered by a cat. Joanna hated to see anyone mistreated, so she did the only thing that she could have.
“I shall make your tea, Lydia; it will not take a minute.”
Joanna went ahead before anyone had time to say a word, knowing that it may earn her a scolding. However, the Duchess spoke not a word of objection, only frowning at Lydia. The tea made, she handed it to Lydia, looking to Susan who gave her a grateful smile. Lydia took the drink without a thank you, sipping it silently. The Duchess chose that moment to stand up, flicking an imaginary piece of lint off her dress.
“Well, it is time for us to leave; we still have many things to tick off our list today. Girls, do hurry and change, and Mrs Brown, I shall have a servant bring you the remaining balance as soon as you have made the few alterations necessary.”
Joanna followed Teresa into the changing room, relieved not to be around the likes of Lydia. An entire room could become quite suffocating when in the presence of such a vile woman. I do hope that she will not give Teresa trouble at the ball. I will not be there to help her. Joanna had a knack for putting people in their places without the slightest evidence of doing so, but only when it came to coming to someone else’s defence. When any rude behaviour or talk was aimed at her, she remained quiet, unable to say a word. What could she say? The truth of the matter was that those people were correct; it was only their attitude behind the words that would hurt her. I am but a servant, an orphan, abandoned on the doorsteps and mercifully taken in by the Duke and Duchess. I cannot be angry when people point these truths out, but when they do it with the intention of hurting me, that is a different matter altogether.
They eventually left Mrs Brown’s little shop, heading straight to Mr Carlow, the authority on gloves in London. No one worth their grain of salt in affluence would neglect to see him, not just because of the high-quality gloves he stocked, but his wealth of knowledge on every family who could boast of having wealth, a title, or both.
“If Lady Moore and her uncouth daughter think that they can pull the wool over my eyes, then they are sorely mistaken. Imagine! To mock my daughter and my designs?”
Joanna glanced at Teresa, seeing the surprised look in her eyes. Since when? she seemed to ask. Joanna shrugged. She had not the foggiest clue when the Duchess had begun to notice Lydia and Lady Moore’s attitude; she certainly had not expected it. Lydia and Teresa were no strangers, having known each other since childhood. There had not been any animosity between the two women at first, but when their adolescent years came about, Lydia had become snarky with her comments, always looking to put Teresa down. Joanna could recall the many times Teresa had come home crying because of Lydia’s treatment. She would never tell her parents, always choosing to keep the truth from them to keep the peace between their families. Now, however, it seemed as though the cat was out of the bag. Teresa stopped, halting their progress.
“Mama! We have never heard you speak in such a way!”
“Why? Do you think that I am blind? I have been onto those women for years, but enough is enough! I will not have them ruin your first Season for you! We need to make sure that you are the belle of the ball, and for all the right reasons. That woman has always been jealous of me – did you know that she wished to marry your father?”
Goodness! Has the rivalry gone back as far as that? My word, this is most astonishing news. Joanna looked at a wide-eyed Teresa who appeared to be trying to absorb the information. The woman spoke with wonder as she stared at her mother, not caring that they had stopped in the middle of a busy pathway.
“Papa? No, you have never told me this before.”
“Well, you know now. It seems that she has passed that grudge onto her daughter, but I shall not have her affect you in any way, my dear. Lady Moore has angered the wrong mother!”
The Duchess started walking again, her strides full of purpose. Joanna and Teresa fell a little behind, their voices low as they discussed the latest development in the situation.
“What do you think of this, Joanna? Mama has shocked us both.”
“I believe that we shall now have greater support; you need never worry about Lydia again. Your mother holds a lot of power amongst the mothers of your class; if she were to say anything against Lady Moore, I am certain that the other women would agree with her. Now, you must focus on the ball, on making a great first impression. I am certain that Lydia will attempt to do something, but as your mother will be in attendance, you need only go to her.”
Teresa gripped her arm. “Oh, Joanna, do you truly think that Lydia will try anything?”
“A jealous woman can do anything, Teresa; you know that. I only ask that you be aware of her schemes when I am not around you. You know that I cannot come with you to the ball. I am only your companion, but you know that I would if I were able to if but to help you.”
The woman sighed. “My life would be simple if I did not attend this Season and rather married a man of my choosing.”
Something in Teresa’s expression and words caught her attention.
“A man of your choosing? Do you have someone in mind?”
“N-no, no one at all. Come, let us hurry before Mama scolds us for tarrying.”
Teresa hurried ahead of her, falling in step with her mother. Joanna continued to trail behind them, a tiny line appearing between her eyebrows. There is something that Teresa refuses to tell me, and she is not one to withhold anything from me. Could she be in love? Could that explain her sudden aversion to attending her first Season? But who could she have fallen in love with and I do not know about it? I am with her for most of the day, and she has not paid any particular attention to any man. Well, there was Mr Wittering, but he could not be counted as he was a physician, hardly the type of man that her mother would agree to. Joanna remained deep in thought for the rest of the short walk to Mr Carlow, her mind working to discover just what had brought about the changes she had noticed in Teresa. Perhaps she is still affected by her father’s death, as she was close to him. The Duke had passed on late last year, and the whole household had been in mourning for many months to follow. It had only been in April that they had begun to pull themselves together and continue with their lives. Joanna missed him terribly as he had always been good to her, treating her with affection and kindness. We all miss him, and she is aware of the fact that he wished her to make a good match. Why the sudden change of heart?
She looked up, shifting on the uncomfortable stool. Mr Carlow was a stickler for decorum and status, providing comfortable chairs for his clients but tiny, hard stools for their servants.
“Yes, Your Grace?”
“Do stop daydreaming and assist Teresa.”
Her cheeks colouring, Joanna left her seat. I have been so absorbed in these thoughts that I am forgetting myself. She put her thoughts away for later, determined to come to a conclusion. I will find out one way or the other.
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Joanna has a secret need to become more in life than just the companion to a Duke’s daughter. However, with her parents being a dark mystery and nothing to look forward to, she feels condemned to a dull life for the rest of her years. Her life will soon take a strange turn though, when the nephew of the Duchess will take an interest in her, leaving her strangely unsettled and making her heart beating faster. But how could a romance between a girl of no origin and a nobleman ever flourish?
Leonard, Viscount of Hethersett, is a man who knows his duty to his family. His return to London has secured him a marriage, but he would rather spend time with the lovely companion of his cousin than obey his parent’s wishes. However, he will soon face a dilemma that will question his very values. Will he decide that his own feelings are more important than what society demands? Will he choose love over duty?
Sometimes, even the best of intentions tend to go all awry. And just when Leonard has started winning Joanna’s trust, everything will be on the verge of collapsing. How will he make it up to her and her broken heart? Will the mystery of Joanna’s origin ever be solved?
“A Lady’s Mysterious Origin” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.