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Drawing Rooms and Daydreams

Lindsey Hale

Alice stared out the drawing room window and imagined what her life would be like were she happy and married. This was typical of a regency romance protagonist, as there wasn’t much else for them to do besides maybe stare dramatically out at the sea. Alice didn’t live near the sea, and so she sat in her favorite spot in the drawing room and daydreamed about her future. She imagined herself arm in arm with a handsome gentleman, strolling through London—far, far away from the dreary countryside, exchanging dreamy smiles with her husband, and attending society’s grandest of events. Alice was a beautiful young woman with soft, angelic features and curly dark hair done up in the latest fashions. She was poor enough that readers could relate to her but high enough in status that a nobleman love interest could still consider her a prospect without promptly bursting into a fit of manly giggles. Mrs. Alice Quesenberry. Alice tried thoughtfully, mouthing the words to herself. It sounded quite becoming. She was getting ahead of herself, of course. Mr. Quesenberry had only just started to court her—escorting her to town, sending her flowers, that sort of thing—but Alice simply couldn’t help herself. The thought of finally receiving a proposal was simply too thrilling. Not that she was expecting anything of Mr. Quesenberry. Not yet, at least. Alas, Alice had been sitting at her perch for the better part of an hour but not a single person had passed the window. She tsked in annoyance and smoothed out the skirt of her best dress, which happened to look remarkably similar to every other dress she owned. “Still no sign of Mr. Quesenberry?” Alice’s sister Jane asked without looking up from her embroidery. Jane was working on a depiction of their home, not that she had any idea what she would do with the piece once it was completed. That had never stopped Jane before. It was either embroider or read, and Jane hated reading. “No,” Alice admitted with a gloomy sigh. “Don’t worry,” said Alice’s other sister, also named Jane. “He’ll show up.” Every good regency romance has at least one character named Jane—be it a serving girl or a sibling or a rival. Alice was lucky in the fact that she knew three Janes; her two younger sisters and her best friend Jane Addleton. This may sound confusing, but only if you think about it. Alice differentiated them as Bookish Jane (Jane Addleton), Tolerable Jane (the sister practicing her embroidery), and Annoying Jane (the other one). Annoying Jane was trying her hand at the pianoforte in the corner of the room, and Alice and Tolerable Jane were doing their very best to ignore her. “He did say he would call on you today, didn’t he?” Tolerable Jane asked, still not looking up from her embroidery. “Well, sort of,” Alice admitted. “He said, ‘See you later.’ But everyone knows that that means, ‘I’ll make a social call at the soonest appropriate time.’” “Well,” said Tolerable Jane, “not to worry then—he still has five whole minutes before tea time ends.” Alice sighed gloomily. “I’m going to die alone.” “Most likely,” the Janes agreed. If Mr. Quesenberry wasn’t going to show, then he at least could have sent someone to express his regrets. No, Mr. Quesenberry was a man of his word. He wouldn’t miss calling on Alice without good reason. Or perhaps she truly had read too much into Quesenberry’s words earlier. After all, ‘later’ was a very vague word. A shadow passed the window, and Alice’s worries evaporated. She jumped excitedly to her feet. “It’s him! It’s Mr. Quesenberry!” Her sisters exchanged an uneasy look but Alice was too busy grabbing her discarded book from off the floor to notice. She settled back into her spot at the sofa and opened the book to a random page, assuming a look of bored indifference lest Mr. Quesenberry suspect that she’d spent the past hour waiting for his arrival. The butler entered the room. “Mr. Quesenberry,” he announced with a bow. The sisters quickly rose to their feet and curtsied as Quesenberry entered the room. Quesenberry was a tall, well-dressed gentleman with blond hair and dazzling brown eyes. He also happened to be broodingly handsome, whatever that meant. Handsome enough to make one brood over his appearance? Handsome only because he broods? Regardless, he was broodingly handsome, and that’s the only thing you need to know about him. Quesenberry bowed to each sister in turn, then smiled at Alice and took the seat across from her. “I hope I find you all in good health.” “Never better,” Alice assured him cheerfully. Annoying Jane coughed. Alice glared at her. “It is a good thing you arrived when you did, Mr. Quesenberry,” Tolerable Jane said without looking up from her embroidery. “Alice was beginning to lament that you might not come. And then where would we have been with our day?” Alice was a very proper young woman who never did anything unless she’d first read about it in an etiquette book, and so she didn’t lunge at her sister and strangle her with her embroidery floss like she wanted to. She did, however, think of a few very improper words that perfectly summed up her feelings at the moment. She frowned at Tolerable Jane in disapproval and hoped that Jane recognized it for the rage-filled glower it truly was. “I assure you,” Mr. Quesenberry said, settling in his seat, “you weren’t the only one waiting for this meeting with baited breath.” Alice’s heart swelled. Mr. Quesenberry had thought about her! He continued, “I’m sure your sisters were just as eager as yourself.” Alice was fairly confident that Quesenberry was teasing her, although she couldn’t be completely certain as his expression still hadn’t changed once since he had arrived. Quesenberry was very fortunate that he was handsome, otherwise his brooding-ness might have been perceived as a self-righteous smirk at that moment. “What book are you reading?” Quesenberry asked. Alice froze, realizing that she hadn’t the slightest idea what book was in her hands. She couldn’t very well turn it over to read the cover, so she just shrugged and said, “Oh, nothing, just some light reading.” “The book is upside down,” Tolerable Jane whispered. Alice set the book back down on the ground. “I heard that you purchased some horses. Does this mean that you’ll be staying in town rather than selling your grandfather’s estate and returning to London like you’d planned?” “Oh, well, actually I was thinking of bringing the horses back with me,” he told her. Quesenberry had purchased the horses purely to show off to his neighbors that he could afford to do so and didn’t actually have the faintest idea what he would do with them, but he had no intention of telling Alice that. “Oh. Admittedly, I was hoping that this meant that you would be staying in town longer.” “That’s sweet,” Quesenberry told her. “But no, as soon as the estate’s been sold I’ll be returning to London. I can’t stand the country. I don’t think I’ll ever be returning once I’m rid of it.” “Oh,” Alice said, trying not to read too much into what he said. Clearly bored by the conversation, Annoying Jane resumed her music, tentatively trying to bang out the basic melody of the song in front of her. Annoying Jane desperately wanted to be good at the pianoforte, but, unfortunately for her, Alice was already both the protagonist and good with music, and so Annoying Jane had to settle for being comically pathetic at her attempts instead. This was unfortunate news for everyone involved. Alice’s eye twitched at the sharp trill of the wrong key, but she otherwise managed to keep a pleasant smile in place. “I enjoyed our walk the other day,” she told Quesenberry. “Oh, yes, I did as well. I hope—” Annoying Jane’s music, if one could call it that, drowned out his words. Alice forced her smile just a little wider. “Pardon me, what did you say?” “Would you—” Quesenberry tried again. More wrong notes stumbled loudly over each other, causing even Tolerable Jane to set down her embroidery and cover her ears. “Oh, would you stop with that lousy racket already!” Quesenberry snapped. The music stopped, and the Janes stared at him with open mouths. “I beg your pardon, sir,” Annoying Jane said in a small voice. “I didn’t mean to upset you. Please, continue your conversation.” Alice couldn’t see her face, but she suspected that her sister was redder than a tomato. Annoying Jane always was an easy crier. Alice’s suspicions deepened when her sister remained at the piano bench rather than joining them. “Oh, don’t mind her!” Alice said quickly, searching desperately for a way to smooth over the situation. Surely Mr. Quesenbery hadn’t meant to insult Annoying Jane like that. She simply had that effect on people at times. Alice was confident that an apology was forthcoming. “You know how it is, learning a new instrument. It takes practice, that’s all.” Mr. Quesenberry did not, in fact, know how it was. He had never played an instrument before in his life. However, that didn’t stop him from muttering, “That and basic talent,” under his breath. Alice did not know what to do, so she smiled even wider. Her cheeks burned at the effort as she said, “Mr. Quesenberry, you were about to tell me something, weren’t you?” “Ah, yes,” Quesenberry rose to his feet and began pacing the room. “We’ve known each other for quite some time now…” Quesenberry said slowly. “Almost 2 weeks,” Alice agreed. “Yes,” Quesenberry still didn’t turn around, pacing the room. He looked quite handsome like that, his hands clasped behind his back, his posture as perfect as ever. “And I’ll be returning to London soon. And things are going alright enough. So, if there ever were a time to move forward, now would be it.” Quesenberry looked at Alice expectantly. Alice frowned, waiting for him to go on. The clock chimed in the background. Quesenberry was still watching her as if waiting for something. Alice smoothed the skirts of her dress. “I’m sorry, what?” Quesenberry glanced at Alice’s sisters, who looked just as confused as she was, and then back at Alice with the same expectant stare. “What do you think?” “What do I think of what?” Quesenberry frowned. “What?” Alice studied him. “You don’t mean—Are you asking for my hand?” Quesenberry scoffed. “Of course, what did you think I meant?” “I haven’t the faintest idea, that’s why I asked.” Quesenberry laughed and shook his head. “Women can be so peculiar sometimes.” “My hand in marriage,” Alice repeated, mind reeling. “Oh, well, um.” She looked back at her sisters. Tolerable Jane had already returned to her embroidery, a rather bored expression on her face as she examined her most recent stitch, considered it, then pulled the stitch out and started again. Annoying Jane was staring down at the piano keys, shoulders hunched, eyes unblinking. Alice imagined her life with Mr. Quesenberry. Strolling through Hyde Park, when Quesenberry wasn’t too busy at the club of course. Smiling dotingly up at his handsome face every day, nevermind that he never smiled back. Going to balls and meeting people who likely had better things to do than socialize with the young and simpleminded Mrs. Quesenberry from the country. Missing her best friend Jane Addleton. Never visiting her home. Writing letters to her sisters and reading about them growing into strangers. Losing this life forever. She blinked, realizing for the first time just how crooked Quesenberry’s cravat was. Honestly, didn’t the man have a valet? And his coat? Positively hideous. It was far too tacky, even for someone from the Ton. The entire room seemed to be holding their breath. Alice cleared her throat. “Er, um, no. No, thank you.” “Excellent!” Quesenberry declared. “I was thinking of a spring wedding, there’s this beautiful chapel in Bath that would be just perfect. I know it’s a little out of the way, but—” Quesenberry trailed off. “Oh. May I ask why not?” Annoying Jane watched with wide eyes. Tolerable Jane redid another embroidery stitch. Alice laced her hands in front of her and took in a deep breath. “We wouldn’t be happy together.” “Wouldn’t be happy?” Quesenberry sputtered. “I make more in a month than your father does in an entire year! You’re one of the most beautiful women in all of England! How could we not be happy together?” “I prefer the country.” Alice shrugged. “That’s because you’ve never been to London!” Tolerable Jane sighed melancholily. “I beg your pardon, sir, but you are being very annoying. Perhaps you could leave?” “You can’t guarantee another man will call on you,” Quesenberry snapped at Alice. “You don’t want to die an old maid, do you?” “Oh, I’m not worried about that,” Alice assured him. “Mr. Baker is hosting a ball next week. His nephews are visiting and they make twice as much as you do.” Mr. Quesenberry tried to come up with a retort but was unable to think of anything. Instead, he, Alice, and the Janes all stared at each other in awkward silence. It was surprisingly common for regency protagonists to reject at least one proposal of marriage throughout the course of their story, if not two or three, but that didn’t make this situation any less uncomfortable. Should Tolerable Jane tell Quesenberry to leave again? Should Quesenberry insult Alice some more? Should Annoying Jane resume her music? Should Alice swoon? There wasn’t any particular reason for Alice to swoon but that didn’t mean that she couldn’t. Quesenberry decided to just see himself out. Alice watched him go and waited for the pang of regret or fear. She was surprised when instead she found nothing but indifference. Perhaps it was too bold of her to have implied that she could catch the attention of one of Mr. Baker’s nephews, but what did it matter? Nephews or no nephews, Quesenberry would not be the only suiter. “Are you sure that you didn’t make the wrong decision?” Her youngest sister asked timidly, peeking over the piano. “He’s so rich and handsome, and he seems agreeable enough. And you seemed so certain of him until just now. I hope you didn’t turn him down on my account.” Alice looked at her sister, surprised to find that she was watching her intently, shifting anxiously from side to side. Had Alice really been behaving so ridiculously that her sisters expected her to choose a man over their well beings? “Yes, well, ‘agreeable enough’ isn’t good enough for me. I expect only the best. I would have thought you knew that about me by now.” Her sister smiled at her, and Alice decided that she didn’t see that smile enough. “Jane, dear, perhaps you’d like to resume your music?” Tolerable Jane groaned. Alice elbowed her in the ribs. At this point in time the protagonist and love interest would typically be discussing their future together or telling each other how much they loved each other or some similarly nauseating thing like that. As Jane began to play the pianoforte, Alice found herself content with closing her eyes and imagining Mr. Baker’s upcoming ball. It would, perhaps, not be as elegant or grand as the London balls she’d pictured attending with Mr. Quesenberry but it was sure to be just as warm and full of life. She imagined herself chatting with Jane Addleton about the latest book she’d read, of teasing her sisters about their latest fancies, of dancing with handsome gentlemen who smiled and laughed with her. It might not have been the happy ending expected of her, but, at least for now, it was enough for Alice.

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