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Wedding In Springtime

By:Amanda Forester

To my family, who is my greatest joy. And to Ed, who remains my hero.


One


London, Spring 1810

Ten minutes into her societal debut, Eugenia Talbot was ruined.

A favorable presentation in court cannot ensure a young lady's  successful launch into society, but a poor presentation can certainly  ruin it. Miss Eugenia Talbot pressed her lips together in an attempt to  make the laughter gurgling up inside her die in her throat. The Queen of  England glared down her royal nose at Genie. Her Royal Highness, Queen  Charlotte, was not amused.

Genie took a deep breath-hard to do laced so tight in her stays she  feared one wrong move would crack a rib. The restrictive corset held her  posture rigid, which helped keep her headdress in place, a heavy  jeweled item with a monstrous, white ostrich plume. Genie knelt in a  deep curtsy before the queen, a move she had practiced with a special  tutor hired by her aunt to ensure her correct performance. A deep curtsy  wearing the required elaborate hoop skirt of court that weighed almost  two stone needed to be practiced.

Rising majestically from her curtsy, Genie was pleased she had  successfully navigated that potential hazard and brought herself under  control. Perhaps the queen had not noticed the stifled giggle. It was  hardly Genie's fault, for when the Lord Chamberlain announced her name,  he also let loose an audible bodily noise. Having the unfortunate  influence of brothers in her formative years, Genie could not help but  find amusement in the Lord Chamberlain's offense.

"How is your family, Miss Talbot?" asked the queen with staunch politeness.

"They are all well, Your Highness," responded Genie as coached.

"Are your parents with you in London?"

"No, Your Highness. I am staying with Lady Bremerton, my aunt." Genie  glanced at Aunt Cora, whose frozen countenance betrayed her anxiety over  Genie's presentation.

"And your brothers and sisters?"

"I have four brothers. Two at university, one in the regulars, and one in the Royal Navy."

"Ah, our sons, they have been ripped from our bosom. Ripped I say."

"Yes, ma'am," said Genie, pressing her lips together again. She was  going to kill her brothers when they returned for teaching her  deplorable cant. She could not laugh.

"It is a foul wind that blows from France," said the queen.

And the Lord Chamberlain chose that moment to blow a little foul wind  himself. It was loud and long, and just when Genie thought he had  finished, he gave another little toot. She clenched her jaw so tight  tears formed in her eyes.

She took a calming breath, sure she had gotten herself under regulation  until she spied a man silently laughing, his shoulders shaking, his  smile hidden behind his hand. He caught her eye, gave her a broad smile,  and winked.

The entire drawing room was silently staring at her with censure. The  queen gave her a look that could blister paint. The more Genie tried to  get herself under control, the more amusing the entire scene became. It  could not be helped; her body started to shake.

Genie attempted to take a deep breath and a giggle escaped. She tried to  squelch it, but a laugh emerged, followed by an unladylike chortle and  an unfortunate snort. The more she tried to stop, the worse it became,  and with a burst, Genie was laughing out loud.

The queen waved a hand to dismiss her. Instead of dissipating Genie's  humor, it only made her laugh harder. Genie managed another deep bow and  walked backward out of the queen's presence, giggling as she went. By  some miracle, she did not trip on her gown and fall to the floor. It  hardly would have mattered if she had.

The Lord Chamberlain and the laughing gentleman had conspired against  her. Her debut into society was a disaster. She would surely never be  admitted into the haut ton. She was a failure. A social pariah.

Eugenia Talbot was ruined.

***

People stared as they passed her. Genie never felt more self-conscious,  and feared her face was as bright as her skirt. She wanted nothing more  than to hide away from the malicious looks and vicious whispers.  Unfortunately, wearing courtly attire with feathers that soared at least  two feet above her head, she was hardly inconspicuous among the steady  throng of people in the outer chambers of the drawing rooms. So she  plastered on a fake smile and waited for her aunt to summon her to the  coach while the minutes dragged into lifetimes.

"Uncle! I am so glad you are here," said a youthful voice. A young woman  was being escorted into the royal drawing rooms. She struggled forward  in a similar unwieldy hoop skirt, dyed an unfortunate shade of bright  pink.

"I could not forget your presentation to court," said a male voice behind Genie.

"I shall be so much less nervous with you here," gushed the young girl.         

     



 

"Trust me," said the man, "after what I just witnessed, you shall be brilliant by comparison."

"What happened?" asked the girl, forgetting herself for a moment and  cocking her head to one side, which forced her to use both hands to  steady the plume of white feathers rising from her head.

"A debutante with a shocking lapse of propriety, who is no doubt being banished to the outer regions of the empire as we speak."

Genie turned to face her accuser. It was none other than the laughing man.

With a flash of recognition, the man had the decency to look sheepish.  He waved the young girl forward into the drawing room and stepped up to  Genie. He gave Genie a bow and came up smiling, his blue eyes sparkling.  He was a handsome man; there could be no denying his appeal, with sandy  blond hair and laughing eyes. His features were pleasing, with high  cheekbones that gave him an impish appearance. His attire was splendid  in the required royal-purple silk coat and knee breeches. Unlike others  who appeared foppish in the requisite colors of the English royal court,  the man before her commanded his style. It was not every gentleman who  could wear purple silk britches with confidence.

"Please forgive me if I have offended you," said the man with a disarming smile.

"Forgive you? Why, there is nothing to forgive. You only spoke the  truth, did you not?" Genie presented the man with a smile, the kind she  kept on a shelf to feign good humor when she had none to give.

"Not at all. Merely trying to encourage my niece-timid thing, needs encouragement. Do what I can to make her feel at ease."

"You are charity itself."

"No, no I … " The man paused and gave her a guilty grin. "I'm not going to redeem myself from my careless words, am I?"

"I can forgive your words. You are no doubt correct that my aunt is at  this moment trying to find a penal colony for me at the greatest  distance from London. What I cannot forgive is your shocking wink that  caused this trouble."

"Surely this affair is not my fault! It is my Lord Chamberlain who embarrassed himself beyond redemption."

"If you had not laughed, I would have been able to calm myself."

"How could I not be amused? Honestly, I do hope the poor man survives the night."

"But no one caught you laughing," said Genie, getting at the heart of the injustice. "They were only looking at me."

"Naturally they were looking at you. Between the two of us, there can be  no comparison." The man's easy smile turned flirtatious, but Genie was  accustomed to flattery regarding her appearance and considered herself  immune to its charms. The magnitude of her failure weighed down her  shoulders. She wished she could tear off the heavy headpiece, but she  had brought upon herself enough scandal for one day-all thanks to the  man before her.

"I do wish I had never seen you," said Genie in uncharacteristically  clipped tones. "And since you are no doubt correct that my aunt is even  now booking my passage to the Americas or Botany Bay, I will take  comfort in the fact that I will never see you again. Good day, sir!"

With fortuitous timing, Genie was called to join her aunt and she  practically flew into the coach on the plumes of her own headdress.  Unfortunately, her sweeping exit was hindered by the logistics of  maneuvering three hoop skirts belonging to herself, her aunt, and her  cousin, which was done with such haste Genie feared her gown would be  sadly crushed. Her aunt demanded the curtains be drawn, as if the mere  sight of Eugenia Talbot was so offensive the whole of London must be  protected.

"Disaster! Oh, how could you do this to me?" Lady Bremerton lay back on  the plush squabs of the town coach as it jolted forward, her hand on her  forehead for dramatic flair. "I should have known you needed more  training, more tutelage. After all, your father's family can have no  concept of what is expected in higher society, let alone what is proper  in court."

Genie swallowed down a retort. She had intended to prove she was every  bit as polished as the other debutantes. Acting the hoyden before the  queen revealed otherwise.

"I am sorry, Aunt Cora," said Genie, her contrition a tight knot in her  chest. "Sorry, Cousin Louisa." Louisa's eyes were sympathetic, but her  aunt would give no quarter.

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