The Die Is Cast
Author's Note: The premise comes from a short story "Hazard" by the famous queen of regency Georgette Heyer. I'd always wished she'd turned it into a novel because you could go so far with that idea of a lady being won in a game of hazard. The characters, however, are mine, as is the plot – wherever it goes.
I know this chapter is short, but it's a tentative idea that I hope to expand upon – so please read and review! Let me know what you think!
Chapter 1: Cassandra
She sat in a small, wicker chair in a room immersed in darkness except for the sliver of light given by the opening in the door. Motionless except for the nimble movement of hands working the knitting of a shawl, she poised her ears, alert to the raucous turn of the chatter and card playing in the parlor down below. Her brother, Frederick Colney, recent ascendant to the title of Viscount, gave his trademark devil-may-care laugh and murmured something no doubt bawdy to his three companions.
He was drunk, she thought with little disgust, almost placidly accepting the information. The Viscount was known for his neck-or-nothing showmanship. At seven and twenty years of age, a time when most distinguished gentlemen of the haut ton began to settle down, Colney was handsome, reckless, and gave little thought to the future or for others.
The chatter grew to a crescendo, and she listened more intently, absently moving artist-like tapered fingers over the yarn. A gruff voice guffawed and distinctly said, "Badly dipped, eh, Colney?"
She wasn't surprised that her brother was losing heavily. He was a heavy gambler, staking large sums of money on the slim – very slim - chance that he would win and bring in twofold. His whole life was a course of impetuosity. Members of the family had once remarked that Frederick was the epitome of instinct, while she, on the other hand, epitomized insight.
Cautious. Yes, she supposed she was that. But she rather fancied being described by the word "reflective." Seven years younger than her impetuous brother, she acted with a maturity which he lacked. Quiet and thoughtful, she was an ideal girl and led an ideal life. Her parents had been dead these four years, and she had become the ward of her brother. He had been ill-prepared to take care of a sixteen year old chit of a girl, and the novelty of being responsible for someone other than himself had overwhelmed him. Instead of making an effort to bring her out into society, he continued racing his horses, gambling, watching cock fights, indulging in the latest barque of frailty, and left his much younger sister to her own devices.
He hadn't even had the mind to engage a duenna for her, she reflected. She had had to write to an unmarried aunt on her father's side. However, Aunt Anthea had contracted an inflammation of the lungs, and was currently, put out of spirits and confined to her bed.
Downstairs, she could hear laughter as men clapped each other on the back for a well-played hand, she guessed. Amidst the thumps and guffaws, she could detect her brother's signature bark of displeasure. She idly wondered what he had staked.
"Cassandra!" She jolted, surprised, and blinked twice. The knitting needles slipped from her stunned fingers and clattered to the floor with a discordant clang. Amazement forgotten, she stooped to pick up her needles.
"Cassandra!" came the impatient yell again. She half turned toward the sliver of light peeping through the door. A curious discomfort clenched at her stomach.
"Cassandra!" Instinct gripped her by the heels, and she stepped backward from the light. Foreboding lit her mind. It warned her to back away, not to go to her brother and obey his summons. Was it a premonition, this tensing in her abdomen? she wondered. Was she like her namesake, the Greek prophetess Cassandra who foresaw doom even before Paris brought Helen to Troy and Troy fell at her feet like the bowing waves on sand?
She heard her brother curse loudly under his breath and push his chair backward with a rude squeak. "Devil take that girl!" he muttered. "When I call her, she is to come!" She heard him give a peremptory snap of his fingers: "Hanover," he commanded, "ring for my sister." The butler gave a murmur of protest, but evidently Lord Colney cut him off, for the murmur died away as Colney's impatient accents rang. "I don't care if she's still in her dressing gown. I want her here now!"
Upstairs, Miss Colney bit her lip and glanced down at the silk dressing gown, trimmed with lace. It was hardly proper to be received in the drawing room wearing something so risqué in the standards of London society. However, Hanover must be descending the stairs already, so she judged from the slow creaking of the steps, and there was no time for her to change into an evening dress. Already, her abigail had been dismissed and was, for all she knew, in bed.
She would just have to go downstairs in her current attire. And, she had a strong desire, not to be forced to go with Hanover. She may be cautious, she thought, but she still had some dignity.
"There you are, Miss Colney," said the butler in gruff accents as he was assailed by the sight of Cassandra on route to the grand staircase. "His lordship be wanting you."
"Thank you, Hanover," she said, and continued her lone descent.