Authors: Lynn Messina - Miss Fellingham's Rebellion
Tags: #Regency Romance
2014 BY LYNN MESSINA
COVER DESIGN BY JENNIFER LEWIS
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
All Rights Reserved
Published 2014 by Potatoworks Press
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Nobody who was
there at the inception of Miss Fellingham’s rebellion had any idea that such an event was likely to happen. Not her mother, certainly, who relied on her eldest daughter’s good sense in the absence of her own. Not her father, who had said not a fortnight before, after a particularly tearful outburst from his second daughter, Evelyn, that nothing did him credit like Catherine’s calm nature. Not her brother, whose repeated pratfalls into disgrace and folly required his clever sister’s machinations. Not even Evelyn, whose exalted status in the household relied heavily on her older sister’s lack of interest in the social whirl, had the smallest clue. No, the only person who might have had an inkling was Melissa, the baby of the family at the age of thirteen. She, however, was not present in the breakfast parlor at that time but rather obliviously ensconced in the schoolroom conjugating French verbs.
The day started ordinarily enough, with the usual grumblings about the poor quality of the meal.
“I just don’t see why Cook can’t make chocolate the way Aunt Louisa’s cook does,” Evelyn said, her pretty heart-shaped mouth turning down at the corners as she thought of the lovely morning confections her Aunt Louisa provided, of which she was being deprived. “How difficult can it be?”
“Dear Evelyn,” her mama comforted, taking a seat at the table and nodding to Hawkins to serve her eggs. “We must be patient. Cook has the rheumatic complaint.”
“I don’t see what that signifies,” said Evelyn, who had no patience for any excuses but her own. “We are discussing the chocolate, not her health. Certainly, I deserve a decent portion of chocolate in the morning. Do I really ask for so much?”
“Yes, brat, you do,” said her brother, Frederick, who, at nineteen, was one year her senior. “In fact, you are always asking for something. Weren’t we just talking yesterday at intolerable length about the ostrich-plumed hat you
to have?” He took the seat across from Evelyn and made a flourish with his serviette. Seeing that he was dressed simply in skintight yellow pantaloons and a white lawn shirt, his mama suspected he was going for a round at Gentleman Jackson’s rooms, an activity she found extremely distasteful and unbred.
“Pooh,” Evelyn dismissed airily. “That’s different. Madame Claude’s ostrich-plumed bonnets are all the crack, and I will look like the veriest quiz if I go around in last season’s fashions. I simply must have one. What I need and what I want are two vastly different things.”
“Damn me!” a voice ejaculated from the head of the table. Sir Vincent, the patriarch of the Fellingham clan, stuck his head up from behind the morning paper, which he had been reading quietly for more than half an hour. “I say, m’dear, these eggs are atrocious. Why have I been given a plate of runny eggs?”
“Because Cook has the rheumatic complaint,” Evelyn answered pertly, earning a look from her mama, who wasn’t the least bit entertained by her wit.
“What’s that you say?” Sir Vincent asked. He was a solid man of medium height, with square shoulders, slanted nose and thunderous black eyes that glared frequently in the general direction of his wife, a petite woman with a sensibility as delicate as her beauty. Together, they made an odd pair, completely unsuited in looks and temperament, and most people, including their children, wondered how they’d ever made a match of it. “Speak up, girl. What’s this about rumors?”
“Not rumors, Sir Vincent, but rheumatism. I am sure I have mentioned the problem to you before. I daresay you’re not the least interested now, for you never are. Pray return to your reading and don’t worry about us. We shall muddle through as always.” Lady Fellingham raised a serviette to her lips and dabbed gently.
“How can you say that, Mama?” Evelyn asked, appalled. “I assure you, it is of the utmost importance. This chocola—”
“Brat, stop teasing your mother,” Frederick interrupted.
“Me?” Evelyn all but screeched, her pretty heart-shaped lips not quite so pretty as they curled into a snarl. “How can you say that? Mama—”
“For God’s sake, Liza,” said Fellingham, folding his paper and laying it down on the table. This was most certainly not what he had in mind when he decided to have breakfast at his house instead of his club. “Can’t you keep your brood of heathens quiet for one meal?”
At that, the room erupted in argument, as Lady Liza defended her brood of heathens and said pagans decried their papa’s unjust characterization.
“The eggs are runny because Frederick came in last night at four in the morning and had Caruthers wake up Cook to provide him with an early-morning snack. This is her act of reprisal, which seems to me fairly warranted, as Freddy fell asleep at the table before the collation was served. As for the chocolate, it is always weak. Had Cook slept seven hours straight, something that is clearly a most cherished goal, the chocolate would still be weak. I suggest, Evelyn, that unless you’re prepared to visit Aunt Louisa’s kitchens and receive instruction as to how to make the drink yourself, you learn to like your chocolate weak.”
The four other occupants of the room ceased their chattering and turned to stare at the utterer of these most extraordinary sentences.
Miss Catherine Fellingham sat at the far end of the table, wearing the same white cotton morning dress that she always wore and reading the morning paper as she always did. Perusing the news to avoid idle conversation with her family was her father’s trick and one she had adopted six years before when every morning was filled with hopeless chatter about this ball or that rout she had attended the night before. During her first season, Mama bombarded her with ceaseless questions: Did she talk to Lord Bessborough? Did she dance with Viscount Eddington? Did Mr. Yardley take her into dinner? Their expectations were so high and her success so low, that she retreated from the social whirl as soon as she could—and from her family, as well.
She still attended parties, of course, acting as escort to Evelyn, who was just out this season. And sometimes she enjoyed herself. Only last night, for example, they had seen Kean in a wonderful performance of
Of course, Evelyn, not surprisingly, hadn’t been able to sit still, so busy was she examining the residents of the other boxes. But Catherine was able to ignore her sister. Catherine had the questionable ability to ignore every member of her family, except Melissa. She enjoyed being with her youngest sister, who had a quick, agile brain. She didn’t miss much and thought of more than only eligible
and ostrich plumes.
Not that Catherine herself was one hundred percent immune to the allure of eligible
and ostrich plumes. She sometimes longed to wear beautiful gowns and elaborate coifs and chatter sparklingly with handsome beaux who found her enchanting. But her first season had taught her well: Awkward, tall women who can barely rub two words together do not win accolades such as
Indeed, they do not win any accolades at all because nobody knows they are there. Never mind the engaging gold eyes that could sparkle with keen intelligence when something caught her fancy or the rosebud cheeks that blushed charmingly just before she uttered some teasing reply. These things were not observed during her first season because they were not in evidence. The
had made Catherine too nervous to be clever or even pretty. She was, instead, an indecently tall lump (five foot ten!) that stood on the edge of the dance floor, at once terrified that nobody would talk to her and terrified that someone would. More often than not, the former happened, but every so often a kind gentleman would try to strike up a conversation and she would stammer helplessly, gutted by a shyness she couldn’t have imagined as an eager young girl in Dorset.
Six years later, she was still overwhelmed by the beau monde, particularly handsome noblemen who she assumed were looking down on her, though, of course, they frequently had to look
to do it. She had acquired, at least, a modicum of poise in the interval as well as a subtle sense of humor, but despite these improvements, she remained too self-effacing to make an impression.
Of course, the four family members who contemplated her now, wide-eyed and amazed, were inclined to agree with this assessment. They were used to Catherine’s strange flights of fancy—why else would they let her do something so masculine as read the morning paper at the breakfast table?—but they had never before heard her speak in that tone. Her mother stared at her, wondering if her eldest daughter had just raised her voice.