Written by: Elaine J. (aka Jackaroe)
"Do you not intend to prepare, Charlotte?" The senescent, iron-haired woman stood at the wide entrance of the generously lit parlor, waiting forbearingly for her young daughter to lift her head and remove her eyes from the yellowed, obese book currently lying recumbent on her lap.
"Prepare for what?" replied Charlotte vacuously, never allowing her attention to digress from the perpetually piquant work of literature.
"Your brother's arrival," her mother clarified, somewhat more begrudgingly than before. "Do you not recollect the letter he wrote to us but a fortnight ago?"
Charlotte expelled a condescending sigh, pivoting her head away from her book and away from her mother's face, quietly snorting as her hands snapped the book shut in a startling clap.
"Indeed, I do," she returned sharply, meeting her mother's stare with a wrested expression of acquiescence adhered to her frowning countenance.
"Then I bid you acknowledge the fact that your brother arrives today, this evening to be exact, and that you, Daughter, attest your brio of his return in both your behavior and dress."
Charlotte released another sigh. However, unlike before, she lightly laughed afterwards and shook her head at the assumed ridiculousness of her mother's remark. "You make it appear as if Gabriel is a prince, Mother," she flouted mildly, rising with book in hand, "and that to stand before him poorly attired and decisively in pitiful spirits is a sin."
Mrs. Benson swiftly and artlessly nabbed her daughter's book out of her hands and promptly sent a carping glower with it, gently slapping Charlotte's shoulder with her white, bony fingers and rebuking such an unnecessary jeremiad with less of the motherly tenderness Charlotte had so often seen and more of the maternal inclemency needed to discipline naughty children.
"You will make yourself presentable, Charlotte," Mrs. Benson ordered stiffly, scurrying to the sofa and placing an embroidered pillow back in its proper place with a slight scowl. "I will hear no more of your remonstrances. How will you find a husband with such an upbraiding tongue?"
Mrs. Benson's sole reply was Charlotte's incoherent mumbles of exasperation, and her superfluous grumbles eventually eased into calmer and clearer, but certainly not less derisive, words. In fact, the young woman had become so composed that she displayed her haughty nature all the more openly, bravely remarking, "If you ask me, Mother, I find that it is now you who is uttering the expostulations."
"Charlotte, I will hear no more of your incessant ripostes," snapped Mrs. Benson, still fussing over the display of pillows on the couch. "Get upstairs to your room this instant."
The young woman spun around on her heal, huffing out yet another sigh and flinging her arms in the air at her mother's impregnable persistence. However, she had persevered just as stubbornly with her discreditable rejoinders, and after recognizing their similarities, Charlotte regained her normal, satisfied and pompous guise and once again dared to open her mouth.
"May I ask you something before I leave?" she asked innocently, standing erect and still with her hands neatly folded behind her back.
"Proceed," conceded her mother halfheartedly, repositioning yet another cushion.
"Might I have my book back?"
Mrs. Benson came to a strict halt in her doings and looked up at her impertinent daughter, her visage fixed into masked irritation.
"I swear you will doom us, Lottie," she answered, relenting the book to Charlotte with a 'tsk.'
"The good thing about it, Mother," began Charlotte as she welcomed the book back with a tight embrace, "is that you use 'us,' which therefore means that I shall be damned as well."
"If I understand you correctly, then your consciousness is rather unaffected by the inevitable truth that you will bring your whole family down with you as you collapse in a deplorable accident." The older woman was not in the least bit serious about her statements; she honestly could have cared less if Charlotte was indeed the bane to the Benson household. Nonetheless, she loved her daughter for her wit, and even if Charlotte would send every man calling on her away weeping, Mrs. Benson would still love her. Such were the ills of pampering the eldest daughter in a family. Even misfortune became acceptable under such circumstances, and she wasn't quite aware if Charlotte understood that.
"Accident? Oh no, Mamma," replied the bas bleu, gaining confidence as her chin progressively jutted out more, "Charlotte Benson shall undergo a fall that will be more memorable than the Battle of Carthage."
She grinned out of her own cleverness; to compare her fall to the legendary Roman battle was daring, if not stupid, and instead of agreeing, Mrs. Benson clucked more disappointed words, shaking her head and repeatedly urging Charlotte to go to her room. After several, caustic pleas, Charlotte at last consented to her mother's wishes and trotted up the stairs to her bedroom, hugging her book close and conjuring the droll greetings she planned to say when her brother, the newly-ranked Commander Gabriel Benson, made his grand entrance through the thick, front doors.
"Good evening, Brother," she said to herself as she rehearsed her thoughts aloud. She gently placed her grotesque book onto her mahogany dresser and stuck a finger in her hair as she timidly scratched at her dry scalp. "No, no, 'tis much too... affable. The welcome must be embittered yet jocular." Her thin brows furrowed as her mind concentrated, unconsciously forcing her hazel eyes to stare fiercely at the silver hairbrush sitting futile in her grasp.
"Oh, it shall come to me," she muttered tersely, flicking out the pins in her hair and digging the spines of her hairbrush into the dark curly mess.
Her feet began to move her around her room, letting her wander as she continued to think, becoming so engrossed in her musings that she lost the sensation of her hand combing her hair and assumed the previous look of bottomless focus that forced her pretty face to wrinkle. "That won't work either," she reasoned, making a turn towards her door and screaming as she saw someone burst in unexpectedly, her hand dropping the hairbrush to cover her gaping mouth.
Her astonishment fled as soon as she recognized who had so rudely interrupted her meditations, and her fingers dropped from her lips and instantly tightened into fists. "Have you ever heard of the decency of knocking, Sister?" she shrilled, bending down to seize her brush, only to raise it with the threat of throwing it at her intruder.
"I need a ribbon for my dress," replied Gillian Benson, bearing a sufficient amount of tranquility to cast her older sister's anger coolly aside.
"I have none to offer. I do not dress so garishly as you do."
"You do not even dress plainly," Gillian pointed out, her small, pink finger directed towards the grey, brown and navy blue dresses hung in her sister's wardrobe. "You go beyond that, into dully."
"Well," replied Charlotte crossly, tossing her selected garb for that evening onto her bed. "If my attire is as trite as you depict it to be, then any ribbon I allow you the privilege of using will be inadequate for your flamboyant gown." Her eyes darted toward Gillian, dark as the eerie eyes of a hawk and sending an overwhelming amount of sheer distaste. Regardless of her ire, Gillian continued to stand in the doorway of her superior's room, arms crossed and light brown eyes cheerily waiting for Charlotte to surrender her free ribbons.
"A red ribbon would do me fine, Sister," added Gillian, outstretching her arm and beckoning for said ribbon.
With a lour, Charlotte tugged at the handle of her dresser with excessive aggression and flung a silk, crimson ribbon at Gillian's feet. "You have been given what you have asked; I now ask that you leave at once." Ungrateful of the beholden smile Gillian displayed as she picked up the article of clothing, Charlotte ushered her younger sister out with several soft pushes, slamming and locking her door as soon as her red-haired sister had left the flooring of her room. She leaned against the door paneling and paused for a moment as she reexamined her belongings, noting any disturbances that could have arisen in the causeless encroachment her sister so thoughtfully assembled. She found none.
For the first time that day, she sighed out of relief and gladly donned her navy blue evening gown, taking pride in her simple and subfusc garments and even smiling genuinely at herself in the mirror as she pinned her hair back up in a tight bun. She neared her water bowl and pitcher and splashed the cool liquid onto her skin a couple of times before dabbing her face dry with a towel. Having no interest in perfume or cosmetics, she gathered her monstrously stout book with no delay and exited her room, hearing the heavy knock on the front doors as soon as her feet reached the staircase.
A/N: I hope you like this chapter. Any comments, criticism, advice, etc. are more than welcome.