Introducing Miss Joanna – Maggi Andersen

“IT’S SOLD!” Joanna Dalrymple’s father burst through the door, his face wreathed in smiles. She glanced up from slicing meat for their luncheon at the kitchen table. Their maid, Molly, left her seat, and transferring the bowl of shelled peas to the sideboard, withdrew from the room. “That is wonderful news, Papa.” “Not surprising, as the haberdashery is a neat little business.” He brushed a hand over his faded red locks and sat down. “An excellent position, Marlborough being a market town on the Bath Road, it gets all the traffic from London to Bath. Not to mention the shop is on the second-widest high street in Britain, after Stockton-on-Tees.” “Yes, Papa.” While Jo had heard it all before, she was glad her father no longer had to work so hard after he inherited money from a relative who’d done extremely well in the silk business at Spitalfields and invested wisely. Papa was now a man of leisure, but unused to idleness, he still cast around for something to occupy his days. “Are you pleased the shop has sold?” “I am.” He sawed through a loaf of bread with the bread knife and spread butter on two slices. “It’s an excellent time to sell, now with the taxes Pitt has imposed. My best lines, including tea, sugar, soap, candles, and paper, are all heavily taxed because of the enormous national debt.

The Corn Laws protect the landowners, so the rich grow richer, and the poor grow poorer.” He placed a slice of ham on the bread. Jo passed him the mustard. She wondered if he would ever accept he was now a wealthy man. “You could own a farm again. Employ men to do the hard work.” “And I might one day. But now I have a surprise.” His enthusiasm reminded her of their dog, Sooty, after he’d hidden his bone under the sofa cushion. “A surprise?” Jo grinned as she poured him a cup of tea from the kitchen’s brown china teapot.

“I engaged a business manager to find us a house in London for the Season.” “London!” Jo squealed. “Papa! How did you manage to keep this from me?” He folded his arms with a smug smile. “I signed the lease this morning!” “You did?” Jo couldn’t believe her father would do such a thing. Since her mother died, he disliked disruption of any kind and often lectured her that she was too compulsive, and her desire for adventure was unwise. She felt like pinching herself to make sure she wasn’t dreaming. “You shall have your debut as your mother would have wished.” A shadow appeared in his green eyes. “I promised her you would have your chance, and here you are at twenty-one. The men you meet at assemblies and church dances are not good enough for my girl.

Your mother married beneath her when she chose me, bless her heart. I pray I never gave her cause to regret it.” He sighed. “While I dislike your mother’s family, and what they did to Mary, throwing her out because she took your mother’s side, I have to admit they are well-born.” “A Season? I can’t believe it,” Jo said, slightly breathless. “Is Aunt Mary to come with us?” “Your aunt complains of her rheumatism but expresses an eagerness to accompany us.” “She will enjoy being among society people again.” “I believe she will. I have promised to purchase that cottage your aunt wants. She intends to move there with her cats after you marry.

” “She has had her eye on that cottage for ages.” While she was pleased for Aunt Mary, Jo felt a quiver of unease. Should she marry, her father would be alone here. He must come and live with her. And any man she married would need an agreeable nature. Someone calm, gentle, and kind. Her father fed a piece of meat to Sooty, patiently waiting at his feet. “Where is your aunt?” “She has taken an apple pie to Mrs. Jones, who’s feeling poorly.” Jo jumped up.

“When do we leave? I must make a list.” “Now, I don’t intend to leave immediately! There is much to do to prepare. You have need of a ballgown.” “We can purchase it in London,” Jo said, fearing something might occur to change his mind. “Yes. Everything you need, Jo, don’t stint on it. But as to the ballgown, you have nothing to worry about, my girl. I have the matter well in hand.” “Oh?” she asked uneasily. Her initial excitement dimmed a little when it occurred to her she was about to be thrown into the midst of Society matrons and their debutante daughters.

“I’ve spoken to the seamstress, Mrs. Laverty. She has agreed to make your ballgown.” “That is good of her.” The widow, Mrs. Laverty, played piquet with her father every Saturday. Jo had hoped they might marry, but her father still mourned her mother. Mrs. Laverty sewed beautifully but lacked the experience of the London fashions. Jo would study the illustrations in the fashion magazines, but the latest editions weren’t easy to get.

“We’ll depart for London in April,” her father said. “Fred Manion has offered us a ride when next he takes his produce to Covent Garden.” Jo stared at him in surprise. “In his wagon?” He chuckled. “Heaven forbid! Fred has been doing well and has purchased a carriage to visit his family in Bath. He will be our coachman, while his son, Henry, will drive the vegetable wagon to market.” Jo couldn’t help smiling. Her father could well afford a new carriage and a set of prime carriage horses, but she would not dampen his enthusiasm by suggesting it. Especially as she would need a new wardrobe. She’d heard women changed their clothes several times a day in London.

Goodness, what an expense! Some hours later, after she, her father, and Aunt Mary had all contributed their ideas for the trip, Jo retired to her bedchamber to go through her wardrobe. As she feared, nothing was suitable. One wasn’t so fussed with what one wore in the country. She tramped for miles over the fields, in good weather and bad, and her half-boots were scuffed, her pelisse faded, and her best poke bonnet, which was perfectly good for church, had seen better days. The subtle differences between a walking dress and a morning dress or an evening gown and a ballgown escaped her. Accessories were a complete mystery. She had no idea which hats and which gloves to wear with what. Preparing for bed, Jo flicked her braid back and leaned close to her bedchamber mirror. She pondered whether to take the scissors to her waist-length, dark red hair, but decided it needed to be stylishly cut. Her father always said it was her crowning glory, but none of the women passing through the village wore a huge bun at the back of their heads.

During the following weeks, Mrs. Laverty took her measurements and hunted for the right fabric. Jo, eager to see the ballgown, had given the dressmaker an illustration from a magazine she’d found. It was of a slender lady with impossibly tiny feet in a high-waisted dress. Nothing about Jo was tiny. She was tall, and her feet were long and slim like the rest of her. The dress had a low scoop neck and three tiers of ruffles around the hem, with more of the rosebuds sewn onto the capped sleeves. The overall effect was dainty and feminine. At Jo’s first fitting, Mrs. Laverty produced the material for the ballgown.

“Your father believes green suits you best, and I quite agree, you have lovely eyes.” She picked up the fabric from her table and draped it over Jo’s shoulder. “Perfect!” In the long mirror, Jo studied the effect. The blue-green silk was flattering, although she would have preferred the white muslin with the roses. Mrs. Laverty had not only taken her scissors to the silk but had stitched it together and was now slipping it over Jo’s head. “There will be the three ruffles at the hem and the short sleeves you asked for,” she said. The seamstress, enthused by the task, had the gown almost completed by the beginning of the third week. Jo was a little disappointed when she tried it on, but it still needed a few finishing touches. “It’s as you described,” Mrs.

Laverty said, eyeing her carefully. “I couldn’t find any silk rosebuds. The camellias are just as pretty, don’t you think?” Large flowers decorated the hem and smaller ones on the short sleeves. An even bigger camellia sewn onto the skirt made Jo think of a node on a tree. She admitted she was no expert, so decided it would do. And the color was lovely. “It’s beautiful, Mrs. Laverty,” she said as the seamstress fussed about with pins in her mouth. “It does suit you, Jo,” Aunt Mary said. “You look wonderful in it.

” The day of their departure arrived. Their trunks tied on the back of Fred Manion’s carriage, they climbed inside. Fred expressed his satisfaction at having purchased the contraption secondhand at a very good price. The worn seats were hard, and the interior smelled of a sheepdog and something indefinable and unpleasant. However, nothing could rob Jo of excitement as they set out on their journey. Fred rested the horses at the top of Forest Hill. Then leaving the Wiltshire downs behind them, the carriage rattled on through Savernake Forest, passing tramps, peddlers, and wanderers along the way. “London, here I come,” she said with a grin. “You will be the belle of the ball,” Papa enthused. “She will.

” Aunt Mary settled in the corner with several pillows, her eyes shining with anticipation through the lenses of her eyeglasses. Their first overnight stop was the White Bear at Maidenhead, and without the delays of bad weather, or the need for Fred to use his blunderbuss to ward off highwaymen, they reached Kensington a day later. Their journey was almost at an end. Jo’s bottom was sore from the constant jouncing around, and poor Aunt Mary had become pale and silent. The bustling city was a revelation. Jo stared through the window at the busy streets, the shops, and the dazzling display of wares encroaching on the footpaths. Women boldly strode the street corners and chatted to passing men. The roads were filthy, the gutters overflowing, and coal smoke turned the sky gray. An all-pervasive dank smell rose from the Thames. But none of it mattered.

This was London! The carriage pulled up at a crossroads to allow a wagon piled with vegetables to trundle slowly across in front of them. “They’re going to Covent Garden,” Fred Manion observed loudly from the box. “That’s where I’ll be off to as soon as I deposit you in Mayfair.” “So good of you, Fred,” Papa yelled back. “Pies. Pies,” a hawker called to them from the pavement. Holding his tray against his chest, supported by a leather strap looped around his neck, he shuffled over to them. “Fancy a beef pie with onions, yer lordship? Ladies? A pastry that fair melts in yer mouth. Made by me missus.” “I’ll have one,” Fred said, leaning down with a coin in his hand.

As he bit into the pie, the gravy must have spilled over his pants. With a curse, the reins slipped from his hands. “No need to worry,” he called as he climbed down to retrieve them. Jo put her head out the window to watch the unfolding scenario with interest. The pie still clutched in his meaty fingers, Fred was soon up on his box again. “Eat hearty,” the fellow said and bit into the coin before moving back to his position. His cry went up again. The traffic cleared ahead. “What are you, top-heavy? Get a move on, you bacon-brained fellow,” a groom called from beside the coachman on the box of a glossy black coach. “Cripes! I’m going, no need to get fidgety,” Fred called, waving at them.

Before Fred could move the horses on, the coachman in the black coach took advantage of a gap in the traffic and overtook them. Halted by another snarl, they stopped side by side. Jo, clutching the window frame, stared directly into the coach and met a gentleman’s dark appraising eyes. His mouth quirked up, and he removed his tall beaver hat, revealing jet-black hair. “Good day,” he said through the open window. She suspected she’d turned scarlet at the amusement in his eyes. “Good day to you, sir,” she said crisply. “Who are you talking to, Jo?” Her father craned his neck to see around her. But the coachman had cracked the whip over the magnificent gray horses and moved the coach on. Jo’s pulse thudded as she gazed after the disappearing coach.

“A polite gentleman, Papa.” “Life here is not the same as the country. You must never talk to strange gentlemen in London, Jo,” Aunt Mary said, having revived a little at the prospect of the journey’s end. “While I was in London as a girl, we couldn’t put a foot out the door without the footman.” “Surely times have changed, Aunt Mary,” Jo said. She wasn’t used to being confined. Mayfair was different from the parts of the city they’d passed through. Trees lined the clean streets, and some of the houses had gardens. The townhouse her father had leased was one of a row of narrow-fronted ornate brick houses in Upper Brook Street, three-stories plus attic rooms, with fancy ironwork in front. Lord Pleasance, the owner, was traveling on the Continent.

His servants came with the house. Once their carriage had pulled up outside the townhouse, two tall, handsome footmen rushed out. One put down the steps to assist them down, while the other removed their baggage. Jo joined Aunt Mary and her father to farewell Fred before he drove off to Covent Garden, then they climbed the steps to the glossy black front door, which had an arched window over the top. A gray-haired butler in black garb waited at the door. He introduced himself as Mr. Spears. Sober faced, he escorted them into the entry where they shed pelisses and hats into the arms of a maid. Aunt Mary considered it proper to meet the staff, so she and Jo descended below stairs to the servants’ quarters to introduce themselves to the cook and the housekeeper. Her aunt was keen to discuss the menus and was quite put out to discover Mrs.

Cross, the housekeeper and cook, had the menus for the next week already decided upon. Jo suspected the house ran like clockwork. Jo’s bedchamber was furnished in rose pink and cream floral wallpaper. Sally, the maid who was to attend her, opened the trunk and took out the primrose muslin. Jo cringed to have her few things revealed to the servant’s gaze. “I am to have a whole new wardrobe made for the Season.” Sally nodded, her fresh face kind. “There’s a bowl of hot water on the dresser, Miss Dalrymple. I’ll assist you to change, and shall I tidy your hair?” Jo put a hand to where hair was escaping the pins and sighed. She must get her hair cut.

“Thank you, Sally.” They ate in the dining room at a long table covered in white linen beneath an unlit chandelier. Everything sparkled in the candlelight cast by a pair of silver candelabrum. The footmen served the courses while the butler, Spears, with great aplomb, poured wine from the cellar he’d decanted into crystal glasses. Jo’s father added water to Jo’s. After the dessert course, which was a delicious syllabub and fruit, her father sat back with a hand on his stomach and instructed Spears to compliment the cook. The butler inclined his head but didn’t deem to reply while he poured a glass of port. The man looked down his long nose at her father. Annoyed, Jo held her tongue. Despite the noisy street below her window, which was so different from the quiet countryside, Jo slept soundly.

The next morning after breakfast, while they sat in the parlor making plans for the day, the butler entered carrying a visiting card on a silver salver. He showed in Mrs. Millet, an attractive, fair-haired woman in her mid-forties, dressed in what Jo considered must be the height of fashion, a spring-green dress and a white straw bonnet trimmed with plaid ribbon and silk flowers. She shook their hands in her gloved one. “How do you do? I trust your journey was satisfactory?” Jo’s father rushed to assure her it was. As he assisted her into a chair, describing their excellent accommodation on the road, Jo covertly studied the woman her father had hired to ease their way in society. She disliked that they must rely on anyone but accepted the necessity for it. The ways of London society were new to them, and she fretted about how well they would be received. Mrs. Millet’s carefully modulated tones lacked warmth, and her smile failed to reach her eyes.

Jo supposed she was accustomed to the easy familiarity of country folk, but the lady had exquisite manners.

.

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