Inspired by several different authors recently (including Louisa May Alcott and Katie, over at Whisperings of The Pen [Yes, Katie, how do you like being put in the same sentence as her?] ) I have been thinking I ought to write a very short story. I've never been much good at writing short stories...something about getting a plot and spinning out a plot in three or four pages never floated my boat...or at least, I've never found myself much good at it. But all things aside, I found that a short story would come despite my gripings. :)
I did not know what it would be before I began...I still do not know what The Scandal is...all I know is that it was the Duke's fault, and Marcella is innocent, though under suspicion. So you must read along and tell me what you think of the story, and what you think The Scandal is. :P I got rather interested in the beautiful, prideful Marcella Grey's fate. :) Oh yes. And sorry about the format...for some reason when I copy from Microsoft Word it double spaces everything on here.... Frustrating, huh? :)
By Rachel Heffington
“You simply cannot be serious!”
It was not a normal tone in which she said the words. Her voice thrilled with emotion—something indefinitely sorrowful and piercing that sent fingers of ice pulsing down the headmistress’ spine. Excess emotion from Marcella Grey was unheard of.
“I am quite decided, Miss Grey.”
Marcella clutched the polished arm of the cherry-wood settee until her knuckles shone white. This could not be real. Her position at Kensington School had seemed set in stone. Mrs. Breckenridge could not give her notice like this without good reason.
She drew as large a breath as she could over the uproar of her heart. “Mrs. Breckenridge, would you…would you mind telling me what the problem is? What I mean to say is, in what manner have I been unsatisfactory to you?”
The headmistress was by no means a clever woman, nor an interesting one. It is doubtful that an original idea had ever forced its way beneath her frilled mobcap and into her graying head. This question, put by the touch-me-not Marcella Grey, flouted the commonplace explanation she had prepared.
Mrs. Breckinridge folded and unfolded her lace-mitted hands and cleared her throat. “Miss Grey, it is not a question of your service being unsatisfactory. You are patient and talented, and the scholars had grown fond of you—”
“Than why, Mrs. Breckinridge—good Mrs. Breckinridge, please tell me! I have tried to please you.” The young woman’s dark eyes pleaded with the staid headmistress’ fishy blue ones.
“If the truth be told, Miss Grey, it has been brought to my attention…” She did not want to tell the truth to this girl who had the haunted wild look of a moorland hare about her usually complacent countenance. But Mrs. Breckinridge, in her fifty-year’s memory had never yet consciously broken one of the Commandments. Tell the truth she must and would.
“I have heard certain reports pertaining to a scandal…in which you…Miss Grey, were involved.” The woman drew back at the sudden fury burning in Marcella’s face. “Of course,” she hurried on, “I cannot ascertain whether the reports are true, but I feel it is in the interest of the pupils and the institution of Kensington School that you find a place elsewhere.”
The young school-mistress rose from her chair, pale and trembling, yet with none of the sign of her recent emotion. She had faded, like an autumn rose beneath the frost of the accusation. “I understand, Mrs. Breckinridge. If you will be so good as to send Lucien round with the carriage, I will have my things packed within the hour.”
A swish of Marcella’s skirts and Mrs. Breckinridge was left to the company of her muddled thoughts and lukewarm tea.
* * * * * *
Marcella passed a hand over her dark, simple bun as she mounted the stairs to her little garret room. So this was the manner in which she was to leave Kensington School. Why must suspicion dog her steps with such relentless persistence? If only she had never been born into her family. Then she could have lived till she too was a Mrs. Breckinridge with two and twenty pupils teaching the same dull lessons year after year.
No. She was never to have the normal life of a school-mistress. Why? Because of the father she had long yearned to forget, because of the mother she had loved with all the passion of a lonely child. Because she had once been Lady Susannah Marcella Chamberlain, daughter of the Duke of Chamberlain.
Marcella’s lips formed a bitter smile in spite of her worry. No one would guess that the simply dressed Marcella Grey was the dazzling Lady Susannah Chamberlain of the London season last year. Yes, she had enjoyed that life, that glittering world of parties and riches. She had lived, like the dolls in the glass-globes, in a beautiful society sheltered, as it were, from any outside troubles. But in order to make the glitter swirl around the doll, Marcella remembered, the globe had to be turned upside down.
And so here she was. A poor, virtually penniless school-marm who had just been “sacked” as the schoolgirls so eloquently put it.
Marcella opened the drawers of the ugly dresser and took her neatly folded things from their depths. These, with many a compression of the lips and a sound that just escaped being a moan, were deposited by Miss Grey in a trunk that looked as if it had seen better days.
Marcella stood and scanned the room with her eyes. The room looked just as it had four months ago when she stood on its threshold with a heart full of determined dreams. It had not been easy to forsake her heritage and stoop to being a lowly teacher at such a stodgy place as Kensington. But the scandal at home had necessitated such extensive changes—there it was again. Scandal. Ever present, ever haunting her life.
Marcella slammed the lid of her chest, then pinned her brown hat with the rose-colored ribbons to her head. Those ribbons were the only relic of Lady Susannah. A link, of sorts, to the old life. She checked her reflection in the mirror before carrying her trunk to the landing and locking the door.
Lucien would be waiting with the carriage. He was an uncouth upcountry lad, but he never looked at her as if trying to decipher the mystery of Miss Grey. He would not chatter and tell tales. And for that, Marcella was grateful. It had become a Kensington game, to guess what Miss Grey was, or had been, or hoped to be.
And to all the suspicion Marcella had been able to lock herself and her emotions away, deeper into the soul of Lady Susannah—until today. Why had she betrayed her tumultuous emotions in front of Mrs. Breckinridge? Her anger and pride only gave credence to the rumor.
Marcella stepped out the front door and hailed Lucien. He lifted her chest to the back of the wagon and helped her in.
“Is thee gooin oon a trip, Miss Grey?”
“Will thee be coomin’ hoom again?”
“Not to this home, Lucien, I’m afraid.” It took all of the Lady Susannah’s pride to admit her dismissal in front of a person who, a year ago, would have been miles below her station.
“Weel, I hoope thee hast a gran’ trip t’where e’er it is thee ist gooin.” And the mild Lucien tipped his hat before climbing up onto the box and starting the horses.
Marcella sunk against the seat of the carriage and loosened her gloves. She could waste no more time in memories or regrets. It was plain the scandal of Chamberlain would follow her to any respectable place she might find.
That was it then. She must go to someplace less respectable. Someplace the Lady Susannah would never set her dainty foot. With sudden decision, Marcella tapped on the outside of her window.
“To the city, Lucien.”
“Eh, Miss Grey? And wha’ can thee be wantin’ wi’ all them fine folk wha’ lives oop there?”
Ironical as it was, Marcella answered him with perfect candor. “I don’t know yet, Lucien, but I’d be much obliged if you would take me there.” She shut the window and let out a quivering breath.
Her nimble fingers, long accustomed to the pretty embroidery all gentlewomen excelled in, could not fail to find employment in the City. Of course she could not do the most delicate and skilled work, for the beautiful stitches and dainty patterns would give her high station away as quickly as if she had “Lady Susannah Chamberlain” on a twist of paper pinned to her bodice.
No, the plain sewing would have to do. She would rent a shabby apartment in a dingy part of town and hem cravats and put tucks into skirts for fine ladies if it killed her. In a few years’ time she might advance to opening a shop, or at least working around town as a seamstress.
The thought brought a wave of memories to Marcella’s feverish mind.
In the old days, the Lady Susannah had been an acclaimed actress among her glittering salon. How many times had she read Scott’s poetry aloud by the hour, or taken the leading roll in the quaint parlor charades and plays that had beguiled the long winter evenings? The first time she played the part of a poor and lowly young woman, they had all laughed. What a joke, that the daughter of the Duke of Chamberlain would take such a roll!
Marcella had forced herself to study the part of the hardworking and piteous woman until her audience no longer laughed, but shed tears instead and thought, with complacency barely ruffled, that perhaps they ought to send a basket round to the numerous poor in the neighborhood.
But of course the next moment the beautiful Lady Susannah stepped from behind the curtains arrayed in gorgeous satin, her dark curls held back with jeweled pins, and the brilliant company clustered around her like so many moths in the light of a lamp.
Yes, Marcella smiled at the memory, and a new sense of power filled her breast. If the Lady Susannah Chamberlain could play a beggar, Marcella Grey would have to try.
There need be little study to play the part. No costume, save Marcella’s own brown woolen dress. No false tears, for they would come on their own, despite her attempts to reassure herself.
It was the one talent Lady Susannah had possessed that Marcella could claim out of the brilliant inheritance she once held. She must act as she had never acted before and make the whole world believe that Marcella Grey was all, and only what she appeared to be.
So....what do you think of my first attempt? :) ~Rachel