Henriette stared cross-eyed at her best friend as their teacher passed their desk, coaxing a smile from her. Mary gave a pained look, but a hint of a giggle still passed her lips. The young woman quickly clamped a slender hand over her mouth and focused on her book, her body stiff with worry that Miss Price might have heard her.
Laughing inwardly, Henriette leaned toward her friend. “Her hearing is not nearly as sharp as usual,” she whispered. “She has a cold, and you know her ears grow blocked when she is ill.”
Miss Price loudly blew her nose into a handkerchief, further supporting Henriette’s statement. However, Mary was not to be comforted. “Shhh,” she begged, still not looking Henriette’s way.
Sighing, Henriette placed her elbows on the desk and held her chin in her hands. Sitting in French class was tiresome and bothersome, especially when she was already fluent in the language, but she did it for Mary’s sake. The young woman was rather weak in her studies and easily bullied by their teachers, so Henriette became her champion by taking attention away from her friend and placing it on herself. Of course, it usually meant receiving a scolding, but they couldn’t do much beyond that, as her father was one of the seminary’s benefactors. Having a wealthy aristocrat for a father certainly had its advantages, but Henriette wasn’t one to boast about it.
“Miss Fontenoy,” called Miss Price. “Is that any way for a lady to sit?”
The teacher appeared in front of Henriette, her nose red and raw from the constant wiping it had to endure. Henriette slid her elbows off the table and leaned back in her chair, tilting her head to better see the older woman. Miss Price was tall and so slender that the students often took bets on windy days to wager whether she would be overpowered by nature and fall. Henriette had collected a tidy sum betting Miss Price wouldn’t because she was aware of the woman’s strength. She had once seen the older woman pick up her Mastiff like she weighed nothing and bring her indoors.
“How defiantly you look at me, Miss Fontenoy,” said Miss Price. “I wonder if you have absorbed a word I have said today. Would you care to tell us what it was that I just read?”
The class tittered with muffled giggles permeating the otherwise quiet room. Miss Price gave the rest of the young ladies a rather indulgent smile as she told them to hush.
“In English or French, Miss Price?” Henriette asked, her voice sickly sweet with obedience.
“Well, you seem rather confident,” the teacher remarked. “Why don’t you recite the poem in French and inform the rest of the class about the dangers of such behaviour?”
Henriette smiled. “Certainly, Miss Price.”
Little did the older woman know that Henriette was already familiar with the poem Le Paresseux by Marc Antoine Girard De Saint-Amant because it was one of her father’s favourites. Henriette cleared her throat unnecessarily as she stood up and spoke the words from memory.
“Accablé de paresse et de mélancolie, Je resve dans un lict où je suis fagoté….” Henriette recited. “…overwhelmed by laziness and melancholy, I dream in a bed where I am bound….”
Henriette reached the end with ease and with no mistakes, much to Miss Price’s surprise and confusion.
“‘Tis odd that you manage to speak so well when your proficiency is among the lowest in the class,” the woman said.
Henriette blinked her eyes innocently. “‘Tis only under your tutelage that I have been able to accomplish such a feat, Miss Price.”
Henriette wouldn’t be able to take this class with Mary if the teachers knew her proficiency was that of a native Frenchwoman. Her nanny had been French and would only speak to Henriette in French until her passing several years ago.
Miss Price narrowed her grey eyes for a moment, replacing the suspicious look with an expression that revealed nothing of her thoughts. If Henriette had to give a guess of her teacher’s mental processes, she’d say the woman was looking for a way to dent her confidence.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have corrected her all those moons ago, but if one is to teach French, they should do it correctly. I had a time trying to explain how I knew the grammar rule when my knowledge of the language should barely be past that of someone capable of holding a simple conversation.
“Perhaps you can explain to the class what this poem encompasses,” the teacher said. “If you have indeed benefited from my tutelage and that of the other teachers, then certainly you should be able to easily answer the question.”
“Certainly, Miss Price,” Henriette replied. “The poet was well-known for his, uh, libertine behaviour and shunned hard work or hardship. This poses a threat to the moral fabric of our society, where Christian values should be most important. As the proverb says, ‘A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come upon you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.’“
The class seemed to hold their breath as Miss Price stared at Henriette, saying nothing. Henriette kept her hands clasped in front of her in a demure manner that gave off the air of being meek and obedient, but Miss Price likely knew better. Henriette was the champion of the downtrodden and bullied, was well-known for sneaking injured animals into the seminary, and was afforded a little more freedom than the other students. All these factors—added with the grammar-correcting day—had earned her the title of ‘That Incorrigible Girl.’
“Well said, Miss Fontenoy,” Miss Price finally replied. “Perhaps these last four years have not been a waste after all. I was beginning to think we would never make a young lady out of you, and this being your last year! Your father will be so proud.”
“He already is, Miss Price,” said Henriette, maintaining her sweet smile and tone.
“Yes, I suppose so,” the woman said, pursing her lips. “I think you should—”
A bell sounded outside their classroom, signalling the end of the French lesson and interrupting Miss Price’s words. Henriette was relieved to be rid of the woman for the rest of the day, but she wasn’t keen to see Miss Pocock, their needlework, grammar, and writing teacher. The woman would take the class until the end of the day, which was sure to be as monotonous as the other lessons.
“Before I leave,” said Miss Price, moving to the front of the class. “I want you all to think of your own poems highlighting our society’s moral decay. Of course, it must be in French and will count towards your proficiency assessment. Are there any questions?”
Poor Mary groaned, but not so loudly that anyone but Henriette could hear. Henriette covered her friend’s hand under their desk and gave her a reassuring nod. She would help Mary enough that she could pass but not so well that Miss Price would question the true source of the work.
“Miss Price,” said Sarah Pilkington, a girl who had proclaimed herself as Henriette’s rival. “When you say moral values, may we choose the value we wish to write about?”
“That is a good question, Miss Pilkington,” said Miss Price, smiling. “Yes, you may pick any moral value or cover them all if you wish. Whatever you decide upon must move me,” the teacher stated, touching a hand to her somewhat bony chest. “Let me feel it in here. The best one will win a prize.”
“A prize?” cried all the girls, except Mary and Henriette, who already knew who would likely win.
“Yes, but I won’t say what it is,” said Miss Price, nodding as Miss Pocock entered the room. “Now, let’s speak of it no more. We’ll speak of it more tomorrow.”
The teachers exchanged positions as the students stood up to greet Miss Pocock before taking their places.
“Miss Colder, would you hand out the pieces everyone was working on yesterday?” Miss Pocock asked.
Mary nodded and stood up. “Yes, Miss Pocock.”
Their needlework was stored in a cupboard and was not allowed to leave the classroom to avoid cheating. Miss Pocock was passionate about needlework and loved to see improvement in her students, but she wasn’t like the other teachers who criticised a student if they didn’t do well. The mildly tempered, fair-haired woman was as sweet as she was pretty, which made her spinster situation a bafflement to all. It was rumoured she had fallen in love with a soldier who died in battle but nothing had been confirmed.
Henriette watched Mary hand each girl their needlework, shaking her head when the young woman avoided eye contact with the Loathsome Threesome. She often told Mary not to fear Sarah and her foolish friends, but the young woman could never bring herself to be more assertive in their presence.
At least she no longer bends to Sarah’s will. Poor Mary was nothing but Sarah’s lackey until I came along and rescued her from those silly girls.
Henriette was handed her needlework last, earning her friend a toothy smile and a nose scrunch. Mary smiled, sat down, and began fiddling with the pattern on the material.
“Do you think I’ve added enough colour to the petals?” she asked.
“Is this your way of asking me if I think your needlework is perfect?” said Henriette, lifting her eyebrows. “Because it is. You’re even better than Miss Perfect.”
Mary blushed. “Do not say such things, especially not within her hearing.”
Henriette scoffed, flicking a dark curl away from her face. “After all these years of friendship, do you still think I am worried about Sarah’s words, thoughts, and opinions?”
Mary stilled, looked to her side, and quickly looked back. “Miss Pocock is coming.”
Henriette shook her head in wonder. Her friend had some sort of invisible antennae attached to the top of her head that let her know a teacher was nearing them. A teacher could be many feet away, but Mary would still be able to detect their presence.
“Your flower is coming along well, Miss Colder,” said Miss Pocock. “It reminds me of a peacock’s feathers. What will you add to it?”
“A fox, I think,” said Mary thoughtfully. “Do we still have enough red yarn? We were low last week.”
Miss Pocock leaned over their desk. “I will give you some of my personal supply until my sister, Mrs Pocock buys more.”
Mary smiled. “Thank you, Miss Pocock.”
Of all the teachers at Mrs Pocock’s Seminary for Young Women, Mary was the most comfortable with Miss Pocock. It was likely because they had the same temperament and sweet spirit, and Henriette wondered if Miss Pocock had someone like her to protect her from overbearing people like her older sister.
“Oh, Miss Pocock?” called Sarah.
“Excuse me, ladies,” the teacher said and moved away.
“I think Sarah just wants attention,” Henriette muttered. “She cannot stand our teachers to show too much interest in another student. I wonder if her parents give her enough attention?”
“I certainly hope so,” Mary whispered. “Every girl deserves to be treated affectionately by her parents. Even girls like Sarah Pilkington.”
“I suppose that’s true,” said Henriette and held up her needlework. “Help me with my clouds, will you? I cannot get the shape right.”
“Here,” said Mary, showing her a unique trick with a needle. “You need to tilt it slightly…this angle works best for fluffy clouds. Use a little light grey yarn underneath each cloud to make them more alive.”
Henriette tried to mimic her best friend’s trick but failed. Fortunately, needlework was soon overtaken by grammar and writing lessons that lasted until late afternoon. Miss Pocock was kind enough to let them go a half-hour earlier than usual, giving Henriette and Mary more time to chatter before dinner. They entered their shared room, giggling about the handsome master who taught the younger girls music and dancing. All the ladies in Henriette’s year had a tender spot for him, but Sarah was the only one who tried to flirt with him at every opportunity. Henriette believed Mr Wilbur carried a tendre for Miss Price, but the woman was too unaware to notice such a thing.
“I think we should help Mr Wilbur win Miss Pocock’s favour,” said Henriette. “They seem perfect for each other.”
“We cannot do that!” said Mary, sounding scandalised by the very thought. “Students should not be involved in matters of the heart, especially not for teachers.”
“Not be involved in matters of the heart?” Henriette repeated, bouncing on her bed and kicking off her slippers. “We’re both seventeen, and this is our final year. We’ll be introduced to society soon and expected to pay closer attention to eligible gentlemen. Matters of the heart will be all we think about soon, but I sometimes wish it was 1812 and I was twelve without a care in the world. Turning thirteen seemed to make me more aware of the courting and marriage world.”
“Oh, you!” cried Mary, hugging a pillow to her chest. “How can you speak so easily of courtship? It strikes a good amount of fear in me.”
“I suppose it’s daunting to enter into something that we have no experience with, but that is the way of life,” Henriette told her. “Think of it as an adventure.”
“That is easier said than done,” Mary complained. “I’m not as adventurous as you are.”
“I’m not as adventurous as you say,” Henriette protested. “What have I done to merit that label?”
Mary held up her fingers and started counting, putting a finger down for every event she could recall.
“The most recent one was when you went running out in the rain because you heard Mrs Filner’s dog was missing,” she said. “You came back drenched with the shivering dog in your arms. We all thought you would certainly fall ill, but you surprised us all by maintaining your robust health.”
“I couldn’t let the silly thing die out there. Mrs Filner’s health is so fragile, and her servants were not particularly helpful,” Henriette complained. “The poor woman was so distraught. Besides, I did my Christian duty by helping a damsel in distress.”
Mary covered her mouth as she erupted in giggles. “Damsel in distress,” she cried.
Henriette smiled and frowned. “What is so amusing?”
“You’re a woman, Henny!” Mary said. “You cannot say such things. You’re not a knight or a hero.”
“Who said only a man can be a hero or a knight?” Henriette demanded. “How ridiculous!”
She folded her arms in protest, but Mary laughed and joined her on the bed. “Do not grow annoyed with me for saying something true.”
“True doesn’t make it right,” said Henriette.
“You can be the heroine,” Mary suggested.
“That seems weaker.”
“Why? Were you not the one who said a woman is just as capable as a man?”
“The word seems weaker, somehow,” said Henriette. “I’d sooner be known as a hero than a heroine. That word ‘heroine’ sounds like it belongs to a bird, and I am certainly not a bird.”
Henriette jerked towards Mary as the woman hugged her arm. “Oh, you say such funny things at times. You have enough humour for us both.”
“You’re amusing without trying,” said Henriette. “You just do not think much of yourself.”
“Everyone always laughs at me,” Mary countered, hanging her head. “They do not laugh with me.”
Henriette lifted her friend’s chin with a finger. “Have you forgotten all I have taught you? People tend to ridicule those most vulnerable because it makes them feel better or more powerful.”
Mary nodded. “I know. You said it likely means they have problems within themselves and seek ways to lessen the weight of their challenges. It doesn’t make it any easier when you’re the one receiving the attack.”
“That is why I am right here to defend you until you can do it,” said Henriette. “We’re best friends until the end, and if one of us dies first, the other must welcome them in heaven.”
Mary pulled back, her eyes full of mirth. “Do you think you’ll get into heaven? You’re rather boisterous and get into all sorts of trouble.”
Henriette gave a mocking gasp. “Who? Me? How dare you question my character! I am nothing but helpful, courteous, and kind to everyone.” She wrinkled her nose. “Well, almost everyone. Sometimes, people need a little reminder that they are no better than others.”
“If anyone can boast about being better, then it would be you,” Mary claimed. “You’re the beloved and only daughter of the Viscount of Lockton and the only aristocrat in this seminary. You shouldn’t even be here, but you convinced your father to let you study in this boarding establishment because you wouldn’t be separated from me. I still cannot believe he allowed you.”
Henriette sighed and put her head on her friend’s shoulder. “It wasn’t easy, which you know full well. Papa didn’t want to let me go because we were all we had. Losing my mother while very young brought me closer to my father, but I didn’t want to be surrounded by governesses and women pretending to be my friends all the way to adulthood.”
Mary had become Henriette’s friend after meeting each other at church. The young woman and her parents had just moved into the area when Henriette noticed the shy and withdrawn girl hiding behind her mother’s skirts. They became fast friends and were inseparable despite Mary being lower in class with a disposition miles different from Henriette’s.
“He’ll be glad to see you again after this term,” said Mary.
“He’ll see me all he wishes once I complete this school year,” said Henriette. “He consistently reminded me of that when I was at home for Easter. I’m just as excited, but I hope I’ll not always be subjected to tedious parties and balls. Papa said he would have Aunt Beatrice or Cousin Francesca chaperone me once I’ve been introduced to society. I’m not looking forward to it.”
“Perhaps we’ll be attending the same events,” said Mary. “Although you are bound to attend many more than I will.”
“I’d rather go on the Grand Tour than play the perfect little lady,” said Henriette darkly. “Why is it that only men can go on the most interesting adventures? I’m limited to rescuing animals.”
“And people,” Mary added. “You’ve rescued me from women like Sarah, and you’ve been a great help to others. You might not fight dragons and trolls, but you’re my heroine. I mean, hero,” she quickly corrected.
Henriette nodded against her friend’s shoulder. “I suppose we’re all heroes to someone, but do you not want more from life?”
“I’m too simple to want all the things you dream about. I can happily live through you.”
“But that is not a way to live at all!” Henriette protested.
“It is enough for me,” Mary insisted. “Not all of us can dream big things and live a colourful life. Some of us simply do not wish to have exciting lives. A peaceful existence is preferable.”
Henriette pulled away from her friend and placed her hands on her waist. “There you go again with not wanting more while admiring my dreams and adventures. A part of you wants the same things that I want, but you’re too scared to admit it.”
Mary patted Henriette’s forearm. “Let’s not argue about this today. We need to get ready for dinner. Mrs Pocock will expect nothing but a perfect appearance at the dinner table.”
Henriette flopped backwards on her bed, flinging her arms out. “How I tire of following rules in this establishment. People should be able to get up when they are ready, eat when they wish, and spend their days doing things that make them happy. Yes, throw in a little responsibility since humans cannot do without it, but our life is too full of monotony.”
“There is comfort in following routines,” said Mary. “Even if they are monotonous. They give one a sense of security.”
Henriette sighed and said no more. Mary was more stubborn than she realised, but she had chosen the wrong thing to be so resolute in her thinking. They were like wine and water—very different, but they still mixed well together and balanced the other.
“Come, Henny,” Mary urged. “We need to bathe and get ready for dinner. Mrs Pocock will know if we haven’t refreshed ourselves from the day.”
“What will she do?” asked Henriette. “Smell us? No,” she said on second thought. “Do not answer that. I recall what she did to Agnes Greene.”
“Poor Agnes,” said Mary. “If I was made to lift my arms for an entire hour to prove that I was lying about bathing… I don’t know what I would have done. She should have pretended to be sick and not come down to dinner at all if she didn’t have the time to bathe.”
“It’s such a shame that she has skin that perspires so easily,” Henriette commented. “She becomes rather ripe during the summer. I would recommend a few remedies, but I’m afraid she’ll take it in the wrong manner.”
“We can slip a little note under her door with the advice,” Mary suggested as she took pins out of her hair.
“What if the other girl sees it and humiliates Agnes?”
“Oh, that is a possibility,” Mary agreed. “Dorothy Mountjoy is not the understanding sort. She prefers to laugh about everything and anything. She has no limitations.”
“She is all laughs and no sensitivity,” said Henriette. “Well, until someone mentions her teeth. Perhaps they push outwards and prevent her from closing her mouth, so she remedies that by laughing all the time. It could be a way of defending herself against those who criticise her.”
Mary tilted her head thoughtfully, her pale golden hair tumbling down her shoulders. “I never thought of it like that, but I can see what you mean. She must be terribly insecure about them, although I think they give her a unique appearance. I like features that stand out on a person, like your pale skin with raven-coloured curls and dark blue eyes. You look like the quintessential witch or Gothic maiden with whom all the handsome poets fall in love.”
Henriette burst out laughing. “A Gothic maiden? I haven’t heard of that before. The witch-likening is usual because Mama had the same colouring and Papa sometimes called her his glorious witch. But Gothic maiden?”
Mary nodded as she poured some water into a bowl. “It’s true. I was reading a book the other day, and I’m convinced the writer described you.”
“Does he know me?” Henriette asked, tongue-in-cheek.
Mary rolled her eyes. “You know what I mean. He described the woman as being a daughter of Aphrodite, but with hair as dark as onyx, and eyes of the deep, dark sea.”
“Did the story end well?” Henriette asked.
“No,” said Mary. “She flung herself from a tower because she couldn’t choose between two men.”
Henriette’s eyes widened. “Goodness! She may look like me, but she certainly does not think like me. How positively macabre.”
“Yes, that’s true,” Mary agreed. “You would never end your life over two silly men. I was rather annoyed with the writer for killing my favourite character in the story, but I suppose he’d say it was necessary.”
“That doesn’t sound like a romance story at all.”
“It wasn’t,” said Mary. “Miss Pocock recommended the story to me, so I assumed it was a sweet love story.”
“I think she was trying to warn you not to fall in love,” said Henriette with a chuckle. “Why else would she give you a book with such a tragic ending?”
Mary’s eyes grew round with realisation. “Why did I not think of that? If she indeed lost her love tragically, I suppose this was her way to warn me away from the dangers of giving my heart away.” The young woman pouted. “But I wish to fall in love and be married. Is that not what all girls dream of?”
“Not all girls,” said Henriette, helping her friend out of her dress. “I want adventure first and love second.”
“But love is an adventure,” Mary countered. “Do you not wish to meet a kind man, fall in love, and get married? I’m sure you do.”
Henriette stepped away from Mary to sit on the bed and remove her stockings as she thought about her friend’s question. Marriage was something she knew had to eventually happen, but she had never given much thought to it.
“Why so quiet?” Mary asked. “You do wish to marry one day, do you not?”
“It is not a matter of if I wish to, but one where I am sure to. Marriage is one of those responsibilities that women must bear for the continuation of our species.”
“You make it all sound so sterile and without emotion,” Mary complained.
“Perhaps I’ll think differently if I meet the right man,” said Henriette, pulling off her last stocking and getting to her feet. “Would you help me with my dress?”
That ended the discussion about marriage and falling in love. It wasn’t that Henriette didn’t want to experience love and marriage, but a slightly irrational fear was attached to the idea of pledging one’s self to another. Henriette lost her mother when she was but six, and her father lost his wife after only seven years of marriage. It was a cruel blow to their little family and made her wonder if she would suffer the same fate. To fall in love only to lose a beloved was a fate worse than death.
“The Baron I Fell in Love With” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Scottish-born Lady Elena Graham has a great mistrust of the English, after being ruthlessly mocked by the other debutantes at her coming-out presentation. When her father makes arrangements for her to meet an English Baron, she feels her life is over. However, when she finally meets the handsome nobleman, she wonders if she had been wrong all along…
Will Elena ever trust her heart to a man she thought to be her enemy? What could happen when she finds out about his duplicitous past?
Lord James Compton was known as a terror around the village, playing pranks on the townsfolk with his twin brother. Things have changed though, as he is a grown man and knows he has to settle down and be worthy of his title. A prospect that proves rather exciting, after meeting the mesmerising Elena, whom he can’t stop daydreaming about. Unfortunately, the past is returning to haunt him, with his reputation unexpectedly hanging from a thread.
If only James could foresee that his past mistakes would jeopardise his future happiness…
Even though Elena and James cannot deny their growing feelings, they will soon find themselves in a tangled web of rumours. Rumours that James will have to disprove, or lose Elena forever. Will Elena be able to let go of her prejudice and open her heart to James? Will the two of them stand up for their love, or will their romance drown before it even starts to blossom?
“The Baron I Fell in Love With” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.