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.

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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.”

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