A/N: Welcome some, and welcome back to some others. I am now diligently working on my newest piece of fiction, and I do hope you all like it. Unlike my previous works there will be no magic or supernatural anything in this story. This story is a historical piece, set in Victorian England (I'm such a girl, I know) about the trials of our heroine, Miss. Darla Karr.
Ladies, and most likely no gents: In The Making
"Tighter." Was the mandate given every single morning at nine sharp. "Honestly, Cissy, you can do much better than that. Darla, for heaven's sake, stand still. Really, darling, you're only making this harder on yourself with your incessant fidgeting." Abigail Karr stood to the left side of her two youngest daughters, her mouth set in a hard, agitated line. "Mathilda, put your back in to it." She snapped.
"Yes, mum." The lady's maid nodded, pulling on the stays so tightly her target nearly fell backwards; luckily she was holding on to one of the bedposts and scarcely managed to hold herself upright.
"Jane, stand up straight! Darla, stop flinching like that. Heaven's above, it's as if you two have never done this before."
"I can' pull it any tigh'er." Cissy grunted, her slim fingers turning an angry shade of purple from the sheer force she was exerting on the stays.
"Thank the lord." Darla wheezed under her breath, hoping to go undetected. He elder sister Jane sniffed a little laugh quietly, but it gusted out of her mouth as Mathilda gave a furious jerk on the strings binding her waist.
"You're not trying hard enough, then." Abigail snapped, turning to the dressing table and straightening the hairpins with apt attention on the mirror, still watching the proceedings behind her. "So help me, if I have to get two maids on each one of you girls, so be it."
Darla opened her mouth to retort, but was cut off as Cissy gave a mighty yank, drawing her corset with bruising force, and tying it in a tight bow. And, like every day, she reached to her apron pocket and extracted a measuring ribbon and wrapped it around the narrowest part of the waist. "Nineteen an' a half inches, mi'lady."
Abigail huffed a heavy sigh and threw her eyes heavenwards. "Very well, it will have to do." Her bright blue eyes narrowed in on her other daughter, Jane. "Well, Mathilda?"
Following the exact same procedure, Mathilda drew the ribbon around Jane's waist and spoke in a small, slow voice, as if fearing condemnation. "Twenty and three quarter inches, my lady."
Abigail's scowl momentarily marred her pretty face. "We haven't the time to try and make them look the same. It's never going to happen in this lifetime, safe to say." She huffed. "Girls, get your petticoats on."
"How many, my lady?" Mathilda asked, as she and Cissy made their way to collect the desired items.
"At least four each." Abigail said with no hesitation. She watched on as the two girls were layered in starched fabric, their shapes beginning to look more and more like a massive bell. "Jane will wear the lilac day gown with the pink piping, and Darla will wear the green with the black velvet ribbon." She said decisively, turning to leave the room.
"Mother, Jane would look much better in the green dress with her eyes, and dark hair, don't you think?" Darla called out, ignoring the maids as they attempted to get her to kneel down so that they could get the weighted skirt over her head without ruining her hair.
"If I believed so, I would have said so." Was the last thing said before the door closed heavily behind her retreating form.
"We should put you in it anyways, dear." Darla huffed to her older sister, muffled by the heavy fabric being thrown over her head.
"I wouldn't bother." Jane smiled, waiting to the side in her underclothes as Darla was arranged and fretted over. "You and I both know she will just get into a horrendous temper, and I don't feel the need to witness it, do you?"
"No…" Darla sighed as Cissy puffed her skirts, and Mathilda clasped the many buttons down her back.
"You look like an angel." Jane smiled softly as they left her sister and began the same procedure with her. This time Mathilda fluffed the skirts and Cissy did the buttons, allowing one another's hands a much needed rest. It was a topic that was never debated: dressing the four women in the house was the most laborious task a lady's maid attended to. The women needed constant changing for the day's happenings, but the first dressing was always the worst, having to set the stays for the day, lace the boots, starch the petticoats, curl their hair, close their dresses, and place their jewellery. And they did this every day, only to strip the girls of their day gowns within a few short hours.
"I would much prefer you in the green, but you do look lovely." Darla said, turning to the dressing table and looking at them both in the mirror. The two maids vanished out of the room with the girl's nightrails and nightcaps. Jane looked in the mirror as well, and smiled wryly at the sight. It never changed, and it never would.
Darla was ethereally beautiful, standing rather tall for her age of seventeen, and with the figure of a younger, and more beautiful Venus. Darla had been drawing the attention of many a suitor since she was a girl of thirteen, having always looked older than she actually was with her ample bust and her slight waist. She possessed the complexion of the milkmaids painted on tins of sweets, and her hair was so blonde it appeared to have streaks of white, honey, and gold throughout. These were the features that held her far above the attractions of the other girls her age in the eyes of London's men; bachelors, or otherwise. Darla possessed the perfectly balanced blend of their mother and father, with their father's primary coloring, and their mother's perfectly balanced features, and cyan blue eyes. Darla fighting for her sister's right to wear a dress that was more flattering to her appearance was useless when she stood next to her in comparison, and everyone knew it.
Jane and Darla both looked in the mirror, taking in Jane's much subtler attractiveness. Jane was not as tall as her sister, nor quite as blessed in the bust, or as small in the waist. She was stylishly pale, but possessed hazel eyes from their father, and dark brown hair from their mother, which hung stick straight, repelling any notion of the hot-iron curling that was in fashion, and was instead put into a bun. Jane had accepted that her younger sister was always going to be more beautiful than she was, and took it into consideration whenever their mother compared them to one another.
"Shall we go downstairs, then?" Darla asked, looking at her older sister. "Mother says that our guest today is very important."
"Do you know who it is?" Jane asked her, following her out of the dressing room.
"Well, if she's this excited about it, I can only assume it's someone she wants one of us to marry." Darla huffed.
"Well, I believe I should be given a half chance, seeing as I'm older. Go back to the room and feign illness." Jane grinned.
"What kind of illness? Something horrid, I suppose?" Darla smirked, playing along with jest. "Something that will render me unable to leave the privy, I should think."
"Oh, no, nothing quite so vile as that." Jane laughed, flushing primly at her sister's quip. "Perhaps just a sprained ankle?"
"Oh, that's no fun at all." Darla pouted. "I would much prefer something that could fester, or give me gangrene."
"Darla, that's disgusting!" Jane laughed, covering her mouth.
"Not half so disgusting as our supposed suitor is sure to be, I can bet." The blonde huffed, tugging at the detailed sleeves of her day gown. At the blossoming age of seventeen, Darla was still getting used to dressing as a woman and not a girl. Her mother had fitted her with stays since she was thirteen--just as she had with her two elder sisters--but her gowns had only changed in the last couple of years. No longer did the hemline of her skirts come anywhere near being above the ankle, and the cut was different; the waistline dropping into a sharp triangle, intended to make her corseted waist appear even smaller. She missed her sweet hair ribbons, and her shorter skirts; but it was time for her to start her first season in London, and she couldn't very well do so whilst looking like a child.
The season was a pivotal event for the young ladies of England where rules were cast into the wind and the prime objective was to find one's husband, and hope he came with a title and some superb real estate. Darla sighed in agitation, flipping a curl behind her ear. She felt like a broodmare being led into the middle of a field with nothing but stallions for company. Luckily, she had Jane, and occasionally Astor.
"And why, might I ask, is our eldest sibling not joining us?" Darla demanded as her name skirted into her attention.
"Astor already has a man with his sights fixed on her, and I'm pretty sure she left for a carriage ride with him this morning."
"Unchaperoned?" Darla grinned.
"Of course not." Jane admonished. "She'll be back by noon, I should think; chaperone very much in tow."
"Too bad. I was hoping for something scandalous."
"Heaven's, why?" The brunette asked curiously.
"Don't you remember Yvette Fredrickson? She caused a scandal and look at how that turned out."
"She was married to a terribly lazy and bloated fish of a man." Jane frowned, looking puzzled.
"A bloated, fishy aristocrat, I dare say." Darla sniffed. "Besides, Jane, that was her own error, I fear. One must keep a fair head over whom one as a scandal with."
"What? You don't wish to end up with a fish-husband?" Jane grinned.
"I'm starting to think that will be our lot in life with what mother and father continue to drag in here to parade us before." She sighed.
"Once the season really starts that will change, you'll see."
Grasping the door handle, the two girls stepped into the parlour, smiles fixed firmly on their faces.
Their father was sitting at the settee, sharing words with a man to his right in an armchair, both drinking tea. The men both rose when they entered the room, and only sat after they had, and after introductions.
"Girls, certainly you heard me speaking of His Grace, Lord Stanton's, visit?" Abigail asked with a warmness they knew meant they were expected to be on their best behaviour and beyond.
"Your Grace," They both curtsied, and sat opposite the elders of the room.
Perhaps a hundred years ago the man before them would have been considered attractive, with his stocky build, and well-fitted suit; but he was now aged and withering, his hair a blinding shock of thinning white, his eyes hazy and blue. His skin was loose enough that is was reasonable to define him as droopy, and he seemed to struggle to sit back down when the girls did, his joints seeming to creak like a much neglected door. Jane stiffened to Darla's right, but they maintained their perfect smiles. Abigail sent them a subtle, and approving nod.
"Your Grace, would you like more tea?" She implored.
"Not necessary, Mrs. Karr." He waved, not bothering to look in her direction. Darla bit back a snigger when her mother's back stiffened minutely. She despised being called Mrs. Karr, and she loathed being ignored even more. "You have such beautiful daughters." He noted, staring them both down, not once tearing his gaze from them. Jane's arm went as rigid as iron when he gave them both a slow, full bodied once over. They continued to smile, but the action felt as if it were tearing their faces into pieces. "But I was led to believe there were three…?"
"Our eldest is spoken for, I'm afraid." Their father, Nathaniel Karr, said simply. "But I assure you that Darla and Jane are every bit as beautiful, graceful, and mindful."
"Which of you is which?" The old man demanded.
"I am Miss. Darla Karr, Your Grace."
"And I am Miss. Jane Karr, Your Grace." They smiled. Jane's smile slipped for a moment as the duke settled his cloudy eyes on Darla's bodice, seeming engrossed in her generous bosom, edged with black velvet ribbon. No matter their teasing as they came down the stairs, she didn't like the way this man was staring at her younger sister as if she were a watch in a shop window. She wanted him to leave. Immediately.
He asked them only a few questions, seeming to keep his eyes fixed on Darla's face which never once wavered despite her apparent discomfort as she stiffened like a spring against Jane's left side. He wanted to know Darla's take on the weather. He wanted to know if she had ever visited Northamptonshire. He wanted to know if she played an instrument.
"I am told I am quite gifted with the flute, Your Grace." Darla admitted. "Though I'm dreadful on the piano, I fear." She smiled. "Jane, on the other hand, is quite mesmerizing at it." She was attempting to draw the attention away from herself slightly, and let Jane in on the sitting.
He nodded curtly, but ignored her attempt to deter him. "How old are you, Lady Darla?"
"She just turned seventeen this month, Your Grace." Abigail offered, not allowing her daughter to reply.
"I shall take my leave, then." He said simply, with a nod, his bones screeching in protest as he lifted himself up and out of the chair. Tipping his tall hat at the girls and bidding Abigail and Nathaniel a pleasant day, the duke took his leave.
"He wasn't here but ten minutes." Darla noted, turning to the ticking clock on the mantel.
"Thank the lord." Jane grumbled beneath her breath.
"He was quite taken with you." Nathaniel commented, fastening his gaze on his youngest daughter intently.
"Every man in London will be quite taken with Darla this season." Jane announced, a little too loudly. "She has divine prospects."
"What of your prospects, dear?" Abigail frowned. "His Grace wasn't nearly so pleased with you as he was with your sister."
"His Grace was pleased with my dress measurements, mother, not with me." Darla interjected.
"Don't be vulgar." Abigail snapped. "The Duke of Stanton would make an exemplary husband."
"Mother, what kind of a husband is it that can't even stand on his own two feet without seeming to grimace and grunt in agony?" Jane wondered. "Darla could do much better this season with the other bachelors aplenty."
"Jane, I'm surprised at your courage." Abigail sneered, her brow furrowing furiously. "One would think it would be in your best interest to have your sister married and unavailable; perhaps then you would have half a chance of finding yourself a suitor."
Jane just looked at the floor, her pale skin flushing with heat.
"Jane has exceptional charms." Darla interceded, her eyes narrowing. "It is no fault of hers that the bachelors of London choose only to waste their time and efforts on light-skirts."
"Stop being so crude." Abigail thundered. "The duke is interested in you, and you will mind his attentions, Darla."
"Why must I?" The blonde demanded, irritated. "Jane is right; surely there are men far more worthy of my affections than that weathered old halfwit." The last syllable sparsely crossed over her lip before her face whipped to the side with brutal impact.
"Mind your tongue." Her mother snarled, hand still raised from the strike delivered. "And mind your place." With that, she turned and swept out of the room, snapping at a housemaid as she retired to the sitting room.
Nathaniel just sighed as he lifted himself from the settee and vanished down the hall into the study.
"What has he got to do that requires such haste?" Darla pouted, rubbing her fiery cheek.
"Surely to contemplate the ways of the world over a nice bottle of brandy." Jane sighed, turning to her younger sister. "Dear, you really should watch your mouth around mother. You know how she is." She placed her cool hand on Darla's aching cheek. "Poor darling." She sighed, frowning.
"No matter." Darla sighed, not making to move out of Jane's affectionate touch. "I will go into the season and shine brightly. Mother is only insisting upon this because it's our only option to date. On the other hand, we both have many prospects we have yet to meet out in the London season. After our first soiree or ball, mother will have a change of heart."
"Mother reminds me of the butcher's dog, actually." Jane said as they both stood, on their way up to the bedroom to grab their sheet music for lessons.
"That dreadful bulldog that bit everyone?"
"Yes, the very one. It's actually too bad that mother wasn't born a dog, they would have had an awful lot to talk about."
Darla grinned. Peeking out of the window she stopped on the stairway, snatching at Jane's wrist to stay her. "Astor is back." She noted.
"With her suitor?" Jane wondered, trying to peek around her, but unable. Darla huffed as she knelt down and let Jane lean over her. "Who is he, anyways?"
"I couldn't tell you." Darla mumbled, squinting out the lace curtains. "Is that Thomas Abbey?"
"No! Is it?" They both peeked and squinted, trying to get a definite look at their sister's company.
"All I see clearly is an old woman chaperon." Darla complained.
"They must be facing the opposite way. All I see it a hat, and Astor's bonnet."
"Well, I assume it's Astor's bonnet. One can't fault a man's choice of clothing in such pristine conditions." Darla grinned, and only laughed when her older sister lightly elbowed her. "Perhaps it keeps the sun out of his eyes!" She laughed.
"You are just dreadful." Jane giggled. "Though wouldn't it be just the most peculiar thing…" She thought of it for a moment and snickered to herself again.
"Forget music." Darla suddenly whispered, pulling out from underneath Jane's torso. "Let's go get a very good look at Mr. Handsome and Marvelous."
"Astor has never spoken a word of him…how do you know that's how she feels about him?"
"Because it's Astor." Darla said, as if that were reason enough. And truthfully it was. Astor was a woman who had claimed since her childhood that she desired a husband that matched her in intellect, elegance, and poise. To be fair, Astor had a hefty helping of all three. Their mother had claimed since they were children that it was simple to distinguish who was who simply by looking at the way they held themselves.
Astor had a regal appeal, her head high, and her back straight as an arrow. She seemed to be mindful of her place, but she was never one to pretend that she wasn't there. Astor had a strange desire for a combative attitude that matched her own.
Darla was easy to distinguish from her expressions, dancing with light and mischief; her eyes hinting and flirtatious. Darla was the stunner in the family, and it was blatantly apparent that they were all aware of it.
Jane seemed far more sedate, her expression sweet and warm. Her smile brought out a touch of gentleness in absolutely everyone she seemed to meet. Unfortunately, Jane was also shy and quiet, never one to draw attention to herself, and always demure. Possibly not the best of strategies in catching oneself a husband when others are fighting for his attentions as well.
Giggling as they flew back down the stairs, the two girls sauntered out into the gardens, making it appear as if they were just going for a walk when lo and behold Astor and her companion appeared. The carriage was just pulling up as they turned around the side of the manor.
"Oh, you've returned!" Darla said, feigning surprise.
Astor descended the steps to the carriage with assistance from the footman, not looking at all convinced. She gave her two younger sisters a passing glance, scowling at them momentarily. "Yes, just now." She nodded.
"How was the ride, Astor, dear?" Jane asked, her voice much smaller than Darla's.
"Splendid. The air is so perfectly perfumed this time of year." She sighed silently noticing the awkwardness clinging to the air like a sodden sheet. "I suppose it is up to me to make introductions, then." She turned to her male companion, standing next to her silently. "Lord Hastings, these are my sisters." She nodded.
"A pleasure, ladies." He said to them, his voice touched with an accent from beyond English borders.
"My lord." They both nodded with smiles.
"What is it you're doing out here, girls?" Astor wondered, clasping her hands before her attractive pink skirts.
"We were just going for a walk." Darla insisted, as Jane nodded along.
"Without your bonnets and gloves?" Astor questioned, her eyes narrowing.
"A very short walk." Darla assured her.
"I don't care if it's to the rosebush and back, girls, you must wear the proper attire for going about."
"Yes, but we were hoping to go undetected this way, as none of the neighbours can see into the yard from here. Which reminds me… Astor dear, what are you doing parking the carriage here when we usually park them over on the other side of the house?" Darla wondered, ignoring Jane as she jabbed her with an elbow.
"I wished to show Lord Hastings something out back." Astor said with a sniff of disdain. "I was certain he would like to see the gardens."
"I'm certain he would, too." Darla smiled primly. "You missed our guest today."
"What guest is that?"
"A duke. His Grace, Lord Stanton. Do you know of him?"
"Ah, the widow." Lord Hastings said, nodding. They noticed that his accent was distinctly Irish, now.
"Where in Ireland are you from, my lord?" Darla wondered.
"I haven't the faintest clue where that is, but I'm sure it's just lovely." Darla grinned, quirking her head to the side sweetly.
"Right on the waterfront, lady…" He trailed off, Astor having not given their names.
"That's Jane." Astor said, pointing to their sister standing quietly to the side. "And that's…Darla."
"Lady Darla." He nodded. He smiled. "Lady Jane."
He was an attractive gentleman, they supposed, with thick shoulders and a head of black hair, and bright blue eyes. They could tell, just by looking at him, that his blood ran quite blue. He wore his distinction like a well fitted coat, never seeming encumbered, or uncomfortable.
"Well, we should let you carry on with your garden tour." Darla smiled, her grin widening as Astor sent her a damning glance. "And we should be on our way."
"Go inside and get your bonnets and gloves." Astor insisted. "You look positively indecent."
"Showing up at the side of the house with a handsome gentleman, I should say that she has no right to speak of such things." Darla whispered just loud enough to be overheard as they quickly turned away and walked back to the house.
"Are we really going on a walk?" Jane wondered.
"Heaven's no. I just wanted to see him, and now we have."
"And what did you think?" Jane wondered.
Peeking over her should, Darla sighed. "Well, he's certainly no fish-husband."
"No, he's not…"
"Do you suppose my husband is going to be a fish?" Darla wondered, chewing on her bottom lip.
"Oh no, dear." Jane blinked, surprised. "He will likely be a frog. They're the ones that turn into prince's, after all."
"The way the day is going it's safe to say I will think him a frog, and he'll just turn out to be a toad." She huffed. "No princely rights in a toad."
"Dear, don't be absurd." Jane laughed, catching her arm and winding hers through, tucking her closely to her side. "He will be a stallion. He'll have to be to keep up with you." She grinned.
Darla suddenly felt like the broodmare again…
"When do you suppose our first event of the season will be?" She questioned.
"Oh, the Earl of Estwick always has a great number of soirees and balls to kick off the season." Jane assured her. "Mother was speaking of it not so long ago. It's likely to be within the fortnight."
"Oh yes, dear." Jane insisted, her voice picking up a little in excitement. "It will be a great deal of fun, while being mildly vicious, mind you."
"Only mildly? Mother told me horror stories of season's past."
"Well, it's only the beginning. Everyone is going in with the sense that they have all the time in the world to catch a husband. Once the last month comes about you may need to bring a rounders bat to defend yourself."
"It sounds horrendous." Darla sighed.
"Oh, just stay out of the way like I do and nothing so awful will come about."
"But then how can I be expected to marry if nobody notices me?" She wondered. As the silence lingered, and the weight of what she just said descended, she tried to apologize. "Jane…I didn't mean anything…I didn't mean to imply…that you…"
"Nonsense, dear." Jane said sweetly, her face pulled up in a loving smile. "I have yet to find my prince; but I'm sure he's still out there, just looking for me."
"Jumping between Lilly pads, judging by our previous conversation."
Jane laughed. "He's an adventurous sort, then."
"You would hate an adventurous man." Darla grinned. "I think it would frighten you half to death."
"…True. Maybe I should just keep to men more my pace."
"A scientist, historian, or a doctor might be your best option, then."
"Did you just call me boring?"
"Of course not, Jane, dear." Darla grinned, tugging her sister closer to her side. "I just called you a darling."
"Girls." Their mothers voice echoed down the hall. "Girls!"
Sighing, the two trudged along and reached the sitting room Abigail was stationed in. "Yes, mother?" They asked as they appeared.
"The first event of the season begins in six days." She announced, hands holding an invitation before her face. "Get to your lessons." She snapped, suddenly in a panic. "Now."
Turning to leave the room, the two ascended the stairs to get their sheet music.
"Another thing you should know about the season…" Jane grinned as the sound of a door bursting open and their father grumbling pervaded the air. "Mother takes it very seriously."
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