Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Chapter Sixty-One

"Leeda, will you sit still."

"But Mizz Marta ..."

"Still," she repeated forcefully reminding me of my grandmother when she was trying to put my braids in order.

I sighed and allowed the torture to continue though I did not quite give up the battle.  "I honestly fail to see why I must leave off the snood.  It was a nice one and I even installed beading on it."

"Two beads Leeda.  Two beads does not constitute 'beading'.  Now stop fussing and allow Alyce to do your hair.  Regardless of what others might think, those of us Below Stairs consider you our representative at the Gala and you have a duty to do us proud.  What kind of status would you represent if you did not look your best?"

I muttered, "Botheration."

"What was that?"

"Nothing," I said less than gracefully

For over an hour, an hour I could have used to accomplish other more meaningful tasks, I had been confined to a chair in Mizz Marta's rooms having my hair brushed and tamed.  I could have told them at the start it was a monumental task best handled with a whip, chair, and braiding but instead Alyce had set a table full of lotions and potions and had put copious amounts of what felt like muck mixed with oil into my hair to put the frizzy curls in order and make them stay that way.  As the muck dried I felt like I was wearing a heavy concrete helmet.

"There Widow, I think that'll stay now."

It was not until that moment that I looked into the peering glass.  What I saw startled me so that my mouth fell open in an unladylike gasp.

"You ... you don't care for it?" Alyce asked.

"What?  Oh ... that's not it.  I just don't look like myself."  And I did not.

Mizz Marta snorted.  "You look like you should given your status.  I believe we all forget too often ... including yourself.  Remember Leeda, you must act the part and look the part.  The packaging of your status is often more important than most would like to acknowledge.  If you wish to be taken seriously ..."  She stopped with a grimace.

Alyce and I glanced at each other.  Marta's health could be uncertain even on her best days and usually it was closely followed by a period of mild confusion which was true this time as well as she looked around and asked, "Now what was I saying?"

"That I should take myself off and do you proud.  And I will as you are undoubtedly needing your rest."  I gave her a kiss on the cheek and shared another glance with Alyce to let her know that I'd make sure trays were sent rather than her having to leave Marta's side.


Reluctantly I headed towards the gazebo which was where the family would meet their guests.  Nancee bounced up and whispered, "Oh I love what you did with your hair!  I didn't realize how ... how much of it there is."

I chuckled.  "Yes, there is rather a lot of it isn't there.  Usually it has the sense to stay tucked in braids or under other cover but it seemed to want to attend Mrs. Linder's gala the same as the rest of me."

She laughed nervously then gasped when Chell looked at me closely and said, "Well, you've certainly put yourself on the market."

Mildly I told her, "Sorry I look like a prize bit of cattle going to the fair, it wasn't intentional on my part.  I didn't want to embarrass the family and allowed someone to tame the mane.  I believe they got a little carried away.  Hopefully my blacks will be enough to remind people with sense of my status as the Widow Linder.  Those without sense will have to simply suffer the consequences when they forget themselves."

The Linder looked at me with an arched brow but I saw Mrs. Linder and April biting their lips as they caught the double meaning of my words.  Nancee missed them and only rubbed salt in by saying, "People without sense would be fools to go up against you.  I saw you move a crowd of unruly teamsters with only a look that day in Little Linderton.  Saints only knows what you could do to someone if you open your mouth."

A man behind me said, "Daren claims she can let blood with her tongue so I'd beware."

We all turned to spot Ronald Nealy stepping forward.  He was greeted whole heartedly by the men and then said, "The Commander will be here momentarily so if you don't mind I'll order the lamps rechecked and made ready for lighting right before dusk.  I've also put a couple of watchers on the gas lines.  Mr. Tosh was kind enough to inform me that three years ago at a similar event there was some hilarity meant to scare the ladies."

I'd heard the story and was glad Mr. Tosh had thought to mention it.  Then he surprised me by coming over and bowing.  He proffered me a wooden rose painted black before saying, "With Daren's compliments.  He said he knew you'd refuse to wear any other color."

I knew regardless of my refusal I was wearing color on my face.  The heat coming off my cheeks alone would have wilted a garden of real roses.  Trying to keep my voice steady I said, "He did not need to do this."

Ronald Nealy grinned.  "He said you'd say that or something similar but he told me to present it in front of the family so you'd have to accept it and wear it.  And he says that your cousin sends his felicitations as well and that when he, Daren, returns he has a letter from him for you."

Trying to not make a further scene I took the rose but looked to the ladies helplessly and asked, "What on earth do I do with this?"

Mrs. Linder smiled and said, "Come here and let me pin it on.  For once I am glad I forgot to mention something.  I had meant to order you some flowers but I believe this suits you much better."

Finally, as the first guests began to arrive I could slip to the back of the crowd and enjoy some anonymity.  Or at least that had been the plan.  Unfortunately I was thwarted as the Linders presented me and used me as a point of attention so they could observe how others reacted to my attendance.

I had suspected that it would happen and had prepared myself but it didn't make it any easier to tolerate politely as person after person expressed their polite interest while trying to hide their real emotions that ran the gamut from boredom to confusion to disdain.  There were a few men whose eyes lingered too long in places they shouldn't have been in the first place.  I decided to ignore those that I could and concentrate on helping April shoo the more persistent flies trying to buzz around Nancee.

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