Authors: Lynn Messina - Miss Fellingham's Rebellion
Tags: #Regency Romance
Yet today her mind kept wandering beyond its walls to the social world that had rejected her years before.
It was all Lady Courtland’s fault, with her lavish compliments and promises to have her engaged by the end of the season. Catherine knew better than to fall for Spanish coin. Her looks were passable enough, for she didn’t have a horrendously hooked nose or spots, but she was hardly of the first stare. No amount of curling and dabbing could give her the wonderfully pert features of her sister Evelyn. As for her conversation, it was a mercurial thing, tending to dry up in social situations consisting of more than two people.
No, she would not be engaged by the end of this season or the next.
But knowing the truth did little to improve her attentiveness, and twenty minutes later, she conceded it was futile and closed the book. For a long while, she stared out the window at passing carriages, wondering how to alleviate this inexplicable and unprecedented restlessness. She needed to do something, to be active and engaged, rather than quiet and calm. Then she hit on a perfectly scandalous idea and went to find Melissa.
Melissa, sitting on the edge of her seat, pressed her nose against the window.
“Sit back, Melissa. It’s only London. You’ve seen it all before,” Catherine said dampingly.
Melissa obeyed as she protested her sister’s unfair request. “But I haven’t, Cathy, not like this,” she insisted. “Never from a hired hack before.”
“The type of conveyance does not alter the scenery,” she was assured.
“Oh, but it does. London looks much more exciting this way.” She heard her sister laugh. “The buildings are not quite so imposing from the seat of our boring old carriage drawn by boring old Higgins.”
“Higgins is no more than thirty,” Catherine said, in defense of their coachman.
“I don’t mean that kind of old. I mean the other kind of old.”
Catherine had no idea what her sister was talking about. “There is only one kind of old, puss.” She glanced out the window and saw the British Museum. “We are here.”
Melissa squealed in delight and pressed her nose to the window again. “Is that it? That giant white building with the beautiful columns? Oh, it is gorgeous.” She turned to her sister and took her hand. “I will never forget this, Cathy, as long as I live.”
Catherine laughed at her sister’s histrionics. Clearly Evelyn wasn’t the only one in the family with a theatrical bent. “Don’t be so dramatic. It is just a visit to a museum.”
“But it’s a museum that I have wanted to visit for the whole of my entire life.” She was lost in thought for a moment. Then she turned to her sister, concern etched into her face. “What are we going to tell Mama? She’s going to be furious when she finds out you’ve taken me here. You know she thinks the Elgin Marbles are indecent.”
“Let me worry about our mother,” she told her, although Catherine actually wasn’t concerned at all. She didn’t know what she would say, but for the moment she didn’t care. She was almost as excited as Melissa. She, too, had been wanting to see the Elgin Marbles for a while, ever since she’d first read about them in the papers more than two years before. “Just enjoy yourself while we’re here.”
The hack stopped, and the two Misses Fellingham climbed down. Once inside the doors of the great building, they were met by a young man, who encouraged them to wander around freely. “If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask.”
Catherine barely had time to thank him before Melissa dragged her off to the hall with the marbles, which she found almost by instinct. They were contained in a large room with a high ceiling.
“These marbles are called metopes,” explained Melissa, unprompted. “This series is from the south side of the Parthenon and depicts the Lapiths fighting the centaurs, the half-human, half-horse creatures of ancient mythology. As you can see from this one”—she gestured to a sculpture in which a centaur was dealing a blow to the head of the Lapith while receiving one to his stomach—“the two are engaged in hand-to-hand combat. Here a centaur is carrying off a Lapith woman. You may have noticed that the central nine carvings are out of step with the others as they are not part of the battle scenes. There is some controversy about what these have to do specifically with the centaurs. Someone—I can’t recall who—has suggested that these marbles derive from the well-known story of the Centauromachy in which the centaurs disrupt a wedding. Perhaps these women are preparing for the wedding. Another theory argues that an Attic myth is being represented. Yet another claims to see episodes in Daedalus’ life. Personally, I think…”
Melissa rattled on, uninterrupted and unaware that her sister no longer listened. Indeed, Catherine had crossed the room to examine the sculpture of a reclining Dionysus from one of the pediments.
After enjoying the exhibit in silent contemplation for a while, she returned to her sister’s side.
“Aren’t they marvelous?” asked Melissa, her nose inches away from the hoof of a centaur. “Isn’t the skill of the sculptor superb? Just look at the musculature on these. And on the pediment. Did you see those garments on Athena? They don’t seem carved out of marble at all. Oh,” she cried, surprising Catherine with the anguish she could pack into the lone syllable, “think of the great sculptures that have been lost. These here are the best preserved. Just imagine how wonderful the others must have been. Oh, to have seen them before they were ruined by war and decay.”
Catherine nodded. She had thought the same thing, though she hadn’t expressed it with quite so much vigor.
“Just think,” Melissa continued, “these are from five centuries before Christ. They are more than twenty-three hundred years old. They are twenty-three hundred years old and I am 13. That’s”—here she broke off to do the mathematical equation in her head—“a hundred and seventy six times as old as I am.”
Catherine was about to compliment her sister on her calculation, the accuracy of which she was thoroughly unprepared to confirm, when an unexpected male voice intruded.
“Actually, it’s one hundred seventy-six point nine two if you want to be precise.”
Catherine saw that the voice belonged to a tall man who was just then striding carelessly into the room. Dressed rather casually in fawn-colored breeches and a blue morning coat, he was, nevertheless, adorned in the height of fashion. Hessians shinier than a new penny, coat labored over by Wesson—these were the things that Freddy always aspired to but never quite achieved. His hair was cut a little longer than fashionable, but that only added to his appeal. As he drew closer, Catherine noticed that he had a straight nose, a firm jaw and eyes of a startlingly clear green. In all, he was a very handsome man of approximately thirty years of age, exactly the sort of gentleman who had intimidated her into speechlessness during her first season. They were not in a ballroom now, but she felt the familiar anxiety overtake her and clearly articulated thought began to fly from her head, leaving a blank slate in their wake. Her palms started to sweat as she dumbly watched his approach, infuriated that after all these years she could still be overwhelmed by a handsome face.
But it wasn’t her first season and she was no longer a green girl. Indeed, just this morning she had stared down a dour-faced, disapproving Mayfair butler.
Remember that, she ordered herself.
Melissa, unaffected by the man or his attractive countenance, exclaimed excitedly, “Oh, sir, are you good with sums, too? Nobody else in my family can do them.”
“I am tolerably clever with numbers,” he said, coming to stop in front of them. He bowed slightly to Catherine, who could do nothing in return except lower her head. Inside her chest, her heart was racing. She tried desperately to calm her nerves.
“Then what is sixteen thousand four hundred divided by six-and-twenty?” Melissa asked.
After a moment’s hesitation he said, “Six hundred and thirty point eight.”
“And twenty-nine hundred times thirteen hundred?”
It was only the realization that Melissa was capable of throwing numbers at their fellow visitor all day long that shook Catherine from her stupor. “I…uh, think”—she coughed to clear her throat and evaded the startled gaze of Melissa, who had never heard her erudite sister stammer before—“that the…um, gentleman has better things to do than mathematical equations.”
At this statement, Melissa blushed and mumbled an apology.
The gentleman assured her it was quite all right. “I like showing off my humble ability. Nobody among my acquaintance is impressed by it.”
“Nobody among my acquaintance is impressed by it either,” confessed Melissa with delight, the redness fading fast from her cheeks.
The man laughed and turned to Catherine. “Please accept my apologies for interrupting your visit.”
“Not at all,” she mumbled, and hearing the weak tone of her voice, she thought again of Perth’s disapproving scowl and resolved to do better. “You haven’t interrupted anything, and we are happy to share the marbles with other visitors.”
“This is our first time,” Melissa blurted out, giddily. “My mother finds them indecent and has forbidden our attendance.”
“I’m not surprised,” said the gentleman, looking pointedly at the sculptures of unclothed men. “I imagine many mamas do not want their innocent, young daughters to lay eyes on men so intimately exposed.”
Thinking of her mother, Catherine realized that her ladyship would be appalled by the idea of Melissa holding a conversation with a complete stranger, even a well-dressed one who was obviously gentry. No doubt she would expect Catherine to put an end to it. Ordinarily, she would, but right now she didn’t feel like it. There was something about the man and his demeanor that made her feel oddly comfortable in his presence. In particular, she liked the way he listened to what Melissa had to say and how he took her ideas seriously with none of the patient condescension elders frequently showed toward children.
“It’s not that,” Catherine said calmly.
The gentleman looked at her, and she was momentarily thrown by his frank gaze. “No?”
“It’s Lord Elgin’s nose, I’m afraid,” she said.
“Mother thinks it’s indecent of him to have lost his nose to a severe ague,” she explained. Her face revealed not a hint of amusement but her eyes gleamed with humor.
Catherine could tell that the gentleman was trying to hold back a smile—perhaps he wasn’t sure if she was teasing him—but he failed miserably. He broke out into a wide grin, exposing even, white teeth.
“And I think it is horribly unfair to hold it against him,” stated Melissa, who had been deprived the pleasure of the Elgin Marbles for precisely that reason. “I’m sure he didn’t mean to lose his nose like that.”
The gentleman laughed. “No,” he agreed. “I imagine losing his nose was a trifle inconvenient for him.”
Catherine chuckled and her gold eyes twinkled. “But it is impossible to convince Mama of that. She is determined to believe that he lost his nose as a personal affront to her.”
“Was she acquainted with him?” he asked.
“No, of course not,” she said, smiling brightly, for the question was both reasonable and logical. “But what does that have to do with it, Mister—”
“Julian, please.” He executed a leg. “I must insist upon informality among scholars.”
“Julian, then,” she said—and then did something entirely out of character: She held out her hand for a proper handshake. She couldn’t quite say why she did it, other than she was at the British Museum on the day she stared down Lady Courtland’s butler after finding out her mother could be brought up on charges of treason. It all seemed of a piece—one absurdity piled on top of another—and she could do nothing but take it to its logical conclusion. “And I am Catherine. This is my sister Melissa. We are pleased to meet you.”
Julian looked momentarily taken aback by her proffered hand, and Catherine’s smile faded as she realized the logical conclusion to any misadventure was her inevitable humiliation. But just as she was about to withdraw her hand with an awkwardly mumbled apology he took it and gave it a firm shake. At his touch, Catherine felt as giddy as Melissa.
“Is this your first visit?” Melissa asked, after he shook her hand as well.
“No, I’ve been here many times before,” he said. “In fact, I was instrumental in bringing the marbles here. I worked as a liaison between Elgin and the government.”
“Oh, no,” cried Catherine, genuinely crestfallen at this intelligence. “Here we were, having such a pleasant conversation, and now I discover we are on opposite sides of the issue.”
Julian smiled. “Ah, you believe they should have remained in Greece.”
“They are the cultural and religious heritage of the Greek people,” chimed Melissa.
?” he asked, laughing.
“My doing, I’m afraid,” Catherine confessed. “She is my sister, and I’ve had years to provide her with the right opinions.”
“But surely if they were in Greece you might have never had the pleasure of seeing them at all,” he argued reasonably.
Catherine assured him that she was well aware of that. “But I am not so selfish that I would have an entire nation deprived of its heritage so that I might enjoy it in a proper climate.”
Julian nodded. “And what of our goal to preserve them? Look at the wretched state they are already in.”