Scolds, gossips and harpies on WIP Wednesday

VFS109732 Ladies Gossiping at the Opera (oil on canvas) by Barnard, Frederick (1846-1896) (attr. to) oil on canvas 39.3x37.4 Private Collection English, out of copyright

Ladies Gossiping at the Opera, by Barnard, Frederick (1846-1896)
English, out of copyright

The scandalmonger is a staple of Regency romance. I like my protagonists (of either sex) with a bit more meanness to them, and lean therefore to malicious gossiping. But maybe yours is just a garrulous person, or a mother with a bit too much interest in the actions of her adult children. Or maybe your work in progress has an outright villain (male or female) who uses social position to exert power.


Please share. Mine is an ex-lover of my hero, expressing her jealousy by supporting an attack on poor Ella, the heroine of A Raging Madness.

Ella, watching Alex treating a crowd of admiring females to his best imitation of a man pleased with his lot, was surprised when Mrs Fullerton spoke at her elbow. “Silly . He is being polite, of course, but I dare say our new Lord Renshaw is hating every minute.”

Ella controlled her surge of irritation. She had no place objecting to Mrs Fullerton’s possessive ‘our’, or her implicit claim to understand Alex. Diplomatically, she replied, “I was surprised at how quickly the news had travelled. He only heard this afternoon.”

“I owe you an apology, Lady Melville. I was very rude when we last met. I was jealous, you see. Alex never looked at me the way he looks at you.” Mrs Fullerton gave a deep sigh. “But one must accept reality. He has eyes only for you, and I was quite horrid. I am ashamed of myself, truly.”

She seemed sincere, her eyes meeting Ella’s, a tentative and apologetic smile just touching the corner of her lips. Ella suppressed the urge to ask how Alex looked at her, and gave way to the impulse not to correct Mrs Fullerton’s misconception about Ella’s and Alex’s relationship.

“We all do things we later regret, Mrs Fullerton. Think nothing of it.”

“You are very gracious.” Mrs Fullerton lifted her glass to her lips. “Bother!”  Somehow she had managed to spill quite a large splash of the drink on one shoulder of her gown, a red spreading stain against the pastel green. “Lady Melville, I hate to impose, but could you…”

What could Ella say? She accompanied Mrs Fullerton to the ladies’ retiring room, helped her sponge out the liquid, and waited by the door to the large drawing room while Mrs Fullerton went out to the front hall to retrieve a shawl to cover her shoulders.

She returned with a footman in tow. “Have you tried the punch, Lady Melville? It is strongly spiced, but hot and quite pleasant.”

She collected two glasses from the footman’s tray and pushed one into Ella’s hand.

“Drink up, Lady Melville, and then we shall go and rescue Lord Renshaw.”

It was over spiced, but Ella did not wish to be rude. She took a large sip, and another.

An instant before the drug in the drink hit her, she saw the flare of triumph in Mrs Fullerton’s eyes, and knew she had made a mistake. She opened her mouth to shout for Alex, but suddenly the footman had a hand over her mouth and another under her elbow, and was hustling, half carrying her through the door Mrs Fullerton held open.

“I will give you a few minutes to make it look good,” she said, and whipped out of the room, shutting the door behind her.

Ella was struggling against the footman and the fog trying to close in on her mind, the dizziness that wanted to consume her. She stamped at his foot, kicked back at his chin, but her soft indoor slippers made no impression. She squirmed, trying to jab her free arm as low as possible, and he twisted away with an oath, pushing her from him so that she fell face forward onto a sofa.

In an instant he was on her, tugging her head back by the hair, straddling her torso. “This will do well enough,” he commented, lifting himself enough that he could push up her skirt and petticoats.

Ella fought to retain consciousness, the pain of her pulled hair helping to keep her from sinking into the fog. “Scream,” she instructed herself, as her assailant’s free hand fumbled at her buttocks, and she shrieked as loud as she could.

Doors burst open: the one onto the hall and a double set into the drawing room next door, and the room filled with people.

It was her worst nightmare come again: the indrawn breaths of shock, the buzz of excited comments, the avid staring eyes. The last thing Ella heard before she sank into oblivion was the amused drawl of the man on her back. “Oh dear, Lady Melville. It seems we have been caught.”


13 thoughts on “Scolds, gossips and harpies on WIP Wednesday

  1. In a bid to put up the entirety of The Long Shadow here in non-consecutive instalments, here’s another bit of it. It’s not gossip, exactly, but it *is* a bit of public nastiness — and amazingly, this actually happened. (My poor characters!)

    In this scene, John has just been promoted from the minister-without-portfolio-like post of Lord Privy Seal (essentially a cabinet post associated with well-connected but not especially talented politicians), and there is much speculation as to who will succeed him. Mary hears a rumour it will be Lord Liverpool, so she goes over to congratulate Lady Liverpool, who … does not quite accept the congratulations in the spirit in which they were intended.


    ‘My dear Lady Liverpool, Lord Macclesfield tells me I am to wish you and your husband joy.’

    Lady Liverpool’s plump face turned to Mary’s in suspicion. ‘Joy? Whatever for?’

    A hand fastened round Mary’s arm. It was John. ‘Mary…’

    ‘For the Privy Seal,’ Mary said, ignoring her husband. ‘I understand it is to be his?’

    Lady Liverpool’s eyes flicked from Mary to John, and Mary saw the colour rise in her jowly cheeks. Only then did Mary realised she had made a terrible error, but it was too late. Lady Liverpool raised her voice and said, loudly, ‘The Privy Seal? Hah! Unlike *your* husband, *mine* will not allow Mr Pitt to make a fool of him so easily.’

    Silence fell instantly across the room. All eyes turned to Lady Liverpool and to Mary; then, as one, they turned onto John. Mary felt the heat rising in her face. She did not dare look at her husband.

    John hand tightened around her arm. ‘Mary, come away, please.’

    Mary longed to repay Lady Liverpool’s rudeness in kind, but she knew she had already done damage enough. She raised her chin and gave Lady Liverpool a shaky but defiant look. ‘You are of course entitled to your opinion.’

    The room began to hum with conversation again, but Mary felt as though everyone was still staring at her and her husband. John shooed her to a more secluded position, his face red with embarrassment.

    ‘Well then,’ Lord Macclesfield said, uncomfortably. ‘That seems categorical enough. Liverpool is not minded to take the Privy Seal.’

    ‘Whatever possessed you to step up to Lady Liverpool like that?’ John snapped at Mary under his breath. Mary’s eyes flickered, but she tried not to react to the injustice of his words. John softened his voice. ‘Look, I know you meant well, but you should have waited until the rumour was confirmed.’

    ‘I meant no malice,’ Mary said. She raised her eyes to meet John’s and said, deliberately, ‘The Privy Seal is an honourable post, after all.’

    John swallowed and gave a wan smile. ‘Yes, it is.’

    He kissed her hand, but Mary could tell his thoughts were elsewhere. She fought down the lump in her throat. Honourable the Privy Seal might be, but it was no more than that. Many considered it a catch-all post for cabinet members unfit for serious business. Lady Liverpool was shrewish enough to have said so to John’s face; but how many others had thought the words she had dared speak aloud?

  2. Will some snobbery and old gossip do? This is from The Reluctant Wife still being pieced together. Mrs. Davis, nasty woman, dragged Clare along to dance with “our poor officers who need the attention of good English women.” The major she refers to is Clare’s brother and Fred’s commanding officer.

    “Tell me Lieutenant Gleason, may I introduce you to my, ah, hostess, Mrs. Davis?” If she must have a conversation with an officer in a room that contained her hostess, she would make sure the proprieties were met.
    Gleason obliged, and Clare blessed him for it.
    “A friend of the Major, lieutenant? A fine man he is, and you are fortunate in your friendship.” Mrs. Davis beamed at Clare, and tapped Gleason teasingly on the arm. “Dancing starts soon. How lucky for our Miss Armbruster to have your attention. I know how you young ones enjoy dancing. Don’t you Clare?”
    Clare, however, had stopped listening. A prickle of awareness drew her gaze to the entrance where another man entered. He stood well above average height, he radiated coiled strength, and her eyes found his auburn hair unerringly. Captain Wheatly had come. The rapid acceleration of her heart took her off guard. Why should I care that he’s here?
    “Clare? The lieutenant asked you a question.”
    Lieutenant? Clare blinked to clear her head, only to see Mrs. Davis’s icy glare turned on Captain Wheatly. “Is that your strange captain from the black neighborhood?” she demanded in a faux whisper.
    The lieutenant’s avid curiosity added to Clare’s discomfort. “Is that Wheatly in a captain’s uniform? I thought they might demote him after the business with Cornell,” he volunteered.
    Clare forced herself to turn to the lieutenant. “Cornell?” she asked to deflect Mrs. Davis’s questions.
    “Collector at Dehrapur. Wheatly assaulted the man. Unprovoked I heard,” the lieutenant answered.
    She looked back, unable to stop herself. Merciful angels, he’s seen me. She watched the captain start toward them. At least Gleason could make introductions.
    The lieutenant went on as though he had her full attention. “He was in line for promotion, the one that went to your brother instead. Robert posted over there right after it happened.”
    Clare found it impossible to look away. The captain gave an ironic smile when he saw her watching. Mrs. Davis gave a sharp intake of breath when she realized Wheatly’s intent. “He’s coming here? Clare, I think I should warn you that a man who has been passed over as this one was—”
    Before she could finish, Colonel Davis, who had been coming from the other direction met the captain and greeted him with a smile. Clare couldn’t hear the words, but Captain Wheatly’s self-deprecating grin seemed to indicate at least a modicum of respect. The two men approached together.
    “Captain Frederick Wheatly, may I present my wife, Mrs. Davis.” The major bowed properly, and the colonel went on, “And our house guest, Miss Armbruster.”
    This time the captain’s eyes held a distinct twinkle. “Miss Armbruster and I are acquainted. I met her when she visited her brother in Dehrapur.”
    “Of course, of course! I should have remembered,” the colonel said jovially. He leaned toward Clare and wink. “He’s a catch, this one. Doesn’t like to boast of his connections, but earls and dukes lurk in his pedigree. His cousin stepped down from Under-Secretary for War and the Colonies just last year!”
    Captain Wheatly looked discomfited by that revelation.
    Gleason looked skeptical. “The Duke of Murnane?” he gasped.
    Before anyone could answer, the small orchestra hired for the occasion began to play, and the captain cocked an eyebrow as if to ask a question.
    “I think the captain wants a dance, Miss Armbruster. It’s your patriotic duty to see to the morale of the troops,” the colonel said coyly.
    He put out a gloved hand, and she put her equally gloved hand in his. Walking away from Gleason and the Davises, she had to admit something to herself. She was glad he came, and she planned to enjoy this dance.

    • This is what Alex’s sister has to say, the following day:

      Now it was Susan’s turn for a smirk. “You do not need to concern yourself with dear Patrice, Alex. She will be judged by a jury of her peers. Indeed, if I am not mistaken, the judging is beginning as we speak, in parlours all over fashionable London. I sent ten notes this morning describing how she conspired with a thief and two bullies to feed laudanum to my brother’s wife, then abandoned the poor lady to the villain’s assault. Thank Merciful Heaven, I said, that my father and brother were in time to save my beloved sister! I asked each of my friends to send ten notes. It will take on a life of its own now, and Patrice Fullerton will find the drawing and ball rooms of the ton barred to her.”

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