Costumes, Chaos and Carolyn
Author's Note: This is given in the hope that Miss Austen and Miss Esau will forgive my presumption in inserting my offering into their stories. Today (Feb 14) is Carolyn's birthday and, for all the joy she has given us, she deserves at the very least to attend her own ball (See Costumes and Chaos).
ady Sarah Jersey absently smoothed the heavy material of her dress and gave her hand to the footman who opened the carriage door. She had arrived in Derbyshire from Berkeley Square just the day before, not liking to leave the social whirl of London for too long. But she could hardly refuse the invitation to meet the woman who had finally won Fitzwilliam Darcy's heart and hand.
Darcy had not been a frequent visitor at Almacks, but he was always a welcome one. As The Lady Patroness, Sarah had met Darcy when his uncle brought him, as a guest, to the Rooms. She had danced a reel with him and had, thereafter, made it known that any application he made would be approved. Darcy had never subscribed, but had attended again with his uncle when he was in town. In her heart of hearts, Lady Jersey approved his distance. She had watched with some amusement as the ladies of the ton attempted to win Darcy's notice. And she had, herself, flirted outrageously with him, enjoying by turns his discomfiture and his intelligence.
Now he was wed, snatched from the talons of anxious mamas and marriageable daughters by a poor country girl who, according to reports was either a shrewd and conniving fortune hunter or completely guileless and charming. Sarah would withhold judgment until she met the young lady in question. She was never swayed by the opinions of others.
Lady Sarah Jersey was not a beautiful woman, but she was charming, possessing a good figure, a quick wit and a sense of humour that delighted all of London society. She was at ease with herself and took great enjoyment in life. In fact, Darcy had liked her immediately and had sought her company when he was in London. Their obvious enjoyment of each other's company had, at one time, caused much comment among the ladies of London and a few raised eyebrows among the gentlemen. Lady Jersey never acknowledged the gossip, enjoying the game and the speculation.
Sarah had not come to Pemberley, however, to renew past flirtations or to remind Fitzwilliam Darcy of the world he had left to marry. She had come to satisfy her own curiosity and to wish him well. She did not wish to be provocative tonight, but she did wish to be admired. She had chosen her costume carefully, with this in mind. And so it was, that it was Queen Elizabeth who descended regally handed from the carriage carrying Lady Jersey. She wore a sumptuous gown of red and gold brocade, her hair pulled severely back from her high forehead and her neck encased in what she was ready to admit was a most uncomfortable ruff. And it was Queen Elizabeth who was startled when the footman spoke her name.
"Welcome to Pemberley, Lady Jersey."
She looked up from the gloved hand into the dark eyes of Fitzwilliam Darcy and laughed. "Mr. Darcy. I am shocked to find you acting as footman. Has marriage reduced you to this?"
Darcy returned her smile with a slight inclination of his head, offered her his arm and escorted her into the ballroom.
The gentle rumble of conversation ebbed as Darcy entered with Lady Jersey on his arm. Elizabeth Darcy came forward to greet her. Caroline Bingley looked around the room for her sister and found her lingering near the French doors leading to the balcony. Caroline hurried to Louisa's side to hiss her opinion into her ear. "The effrontery of that woman to appear here after making a spectacle of herself chasing Mr. Darcy all over London. Well, I dare say Eliza Bennet is in for a time of it this evening." That thought seemed to comfort her and she drifted away, leaving Louisa gazing out the windows.
Elizabeth extended her hand to Lady Jersey and smiled a smile that seemed to light her entire face. "I am very glad you could come. I have heard much about you." It was obvious to Sarah, that Elizabeth's welcome was genuine and that what she had heard had inclined her in her favor. She believed that Mrs. Darcy had chosen to listen only to her husband.
Sarah was enchanted. This was no country bumpkin and, seemingly, no conniving shrew. Darcy had done very well indeed. She took Elizabeth's hand and smiled warmly at her. "I think we shall be friends, my dear. I am quite sure of it, in fact." She took Elizabeth's arm and Darcy excused himself to attend some other guests.
Elizabeth escorted her guest toward the punch, listening happily as Sarah described the swath Darcy had cut through London society simply by coming to town. She giggled at the thought of her husband pursued by scores of Miss Bingleys. She experienced a slight pang as Lady Jersey began a recitation of the gossip her friendship with Darcy had provoked. But it was not in her character to remain jealous. She liked this woman very much and, after all, it was she who was the mistress of Pemberley this night.
The orchestra began the music for a French Quadrille and Darcy reappeared before Lady Jersey and his wife. He smiled at Elizabeth and then bowed formally to their guest. "I believe this is your dance, My Lady."
Sarah acknowledged the tribute as befits the queen of society and accepted Darcy's hand. She turned briefly to smile at Elizabeth before her handsome partner swept her into the dance.
Lady Jersey loved to dance and always found Fitzwilliam Darcy a delightful partner. Tonight she took added delight in the stir her presence here was causing among the curious and the gossips. She smiled up at Darcy as they entered the dance and he nodded his understanding of her enjoyment.
The Quadrille was an intricate dance and required a deal of concentration. Upon entering the figure, their attention was immediately elsewhere. Although Sarah made the Quadrille look effortless, she was expending a great deal of thought on her movements and those of her partner. Lost in the music and the steps, she looked up one moment and found herself before one of the other gentlemen in the set. She caught her breath. This man, tall and dark, dressed in the garb of an Elizabethan courtier, was one of the handsomest men she had ever seen. Indeed, he put the divine Fitzwilliam Darcy into the shadows. He bowed to her and his brilliant blue eyes flashed over her costume. "Madame, I am at your service." Then they passed as the dance moved into another set.
Several times during the dance, Sarah found herself once again in front of the man she had finally determined was dressed as Sir Walter Raleigh. She was pleased with the coincidence and determined to make the most of it.
When the set ended, Lady Jersey took her host's proffered arm but, rather than allowing him to escort her back to his wife, steered him toward a small knot of gentlemen in the corner. She thought that she recognized a wizard and Guy Fawkes. She definitely recognized Darcy's Cousin, Edward Fitzwilliam and his father, the Earl of Matlock. And, tucked in among that group, she was certain she saw the flash of a cape and the tilt of a head avoiding an Elizabethan ruff. As Sarah and Darcy crossed the floor, she whispered. "You must introduce me to Sir Walter Raleigh. He is divine. Please do tell me he has not accompanied one of these dull ladies parading about the room."
Darcy grinned, ever appreciative of Lady Jersey's appetites, and patted her hand. "No, my dear. He is all yours. Allow me to do the honours."
As they approached the group, the gentlemen straightened and then bowed. All but the new arrival had met Lady Jersey. But the unknown courtier was most attentive.
"Lady Sarah Jersey, may I present Mr. Robert Devereux."
"Your majesty." Mr. Devereux made a deep bow.
When Sarah looked up from her own bow of acknowledgment, she found piercing blue eyes full upon her and, for the first time in recent memory, blushed. Mr. Devereux extended his hand. As if mesmerized, Sarah placed hers in it. He bent, placed a kiss upon it and retained it, drawing her slowly to his side.
"If I am not mistaken, your majesty, we have much to discuss." Devereux glanced at Darcy who shook his head, smiled and then turned to Sarah. She raised an eyebrow and gave Darcy a look that left no doubt of how she desired him to act.
"By all means Devereux, I leave this lovely lady in your hands." Darcy bowed and left to search for his Gypsy.
Sarah looked up at her new companion with an arch smile. "Perhaps we could find a puddle that needs crossing, Sir Walter."
With a flourish, Mr. Devereux led Lady Jersey toward the door.
Caroline Bingley watched them leave with a malicious gleam in her eye. Where was Louisa? She would appreciate the sight of that floozy luring a handsome, unmarried man out to Lord knows what destination. And I am quite sure that Mr. and Mrs. Darcy will certainly find this interesting news. Caroline floated in the general direction of her hosts to share her information.
Meanwhile, in the orangerie, Lady Jersey and Mr. Robert Devereux had found a seat on the edge of the fountain at its center. Despite, their heavy clothing, they had managed to arrange themselves most comfortably except, as Robert noted as soon as they sat, "for this infernal ruff."
He reached up to loosen it and Sarah stayed his hand. "Please sir, allow me to assist you." Her smile was pure deviltry as she reached both hands around his neck and removed the offending piece of clothing.
"I thank you, my Lady." Robert inclined his head, relieved to be able to do so, and ran his hand over the back of his neck. "May I return the favor?" It was a bold piece of business and Sarah accepted. He reached around and removed her large ruff, revealing a dÈcolletage that had not been obvious under the odious collar. His eyes lingered a moment too long, but Sarah had not objected. She reached up to touch his cheek....
As she was about to wrest his attention with her lips, a rustling among the growth toward the back of the orangerie caught her ear. A man dressed in black burst from the greenery and made a headlong rush for the door. His flight brought him perilously close to the pair seated at the fountain's edge. As he brushed by them, Lady Jersey lost her balance and, clutching at Mr. Devereux's doublet, toppled into the pool.
The two thrashed about for several seconds trying to right themselves. Robert finally managed to clamber over the edge and help Sarah, whose heavy brocade dress had absorbed what felt like gallons of water. She slid over the edge but, in trying to stand, staggered under the weight of the soaking garment. Robert steadied her, but she could not keep her feet.
She sat down to ponder her situation.
Although the orangerie had retained some of the warmth trapped from the day's sun, it had been dark for sometime, and Lady Jersey soon took to shivering quite violently. "I must do something about this." She suddenly looked quite determined. She stood and turned her back to her escort. "Undo these laces."
Robert Devereux was momentarily startled. "Lady Jersey?" He hesitated for a moment before divining her intention and then fell to the task with some enjoyment. He unlaced the bodice, as Sarah unhooked both the overskirt and kirtle. Then he helped push these two sodden garments to the ground. Sarah looked toward her feet and concluded that the farthingale had to go. Without the elaborate dress, this cumbersome hoopskirt was merely ridiculous. That and the stiff, Elizabethan corset soon joined the pile of wet clothes.
Divested of these weighty garments, Sarah gave a sigh of relief, followed by a short exclamation of chagrin. "Oh my! What was I thinking? I cannot return to the house like this." She surveyed her refection in the hothouse glass.
Mr. Devereux, who was doing the same, thought that she looked most charming, but recognized the validity of her predicament.
In one motion, he swept his cape from the branch on which he had deposited it when they entered the orangerie and wrapped it snugly around Lady Jersey. "Not quite a puddle, my Lady, but certainly wet." He grinned at her and offered her his arm.
Lady Sarah Jersey, no longer Queen of England, but still queen of society, accepted the arm with an answering smile and allowed Robert Devereux, still a damp Sir Walter Raleigh, to escort her from the building.
As they left, the bushes at the far end parted and Louisa Hurst emerged, staring after them with mouth agape. As soon as they were out of sight, she hurried toward the main house in search of her sister. There was much to tell.
© 1998 Copyright held by author