Journals of a Lady’s Scandal – Emily Honeyfield

The lady took a deep breath as she surveyed the ballroom. It was decorated resplendently, as always; she had been to quite a few balls here over the years, and the hosts, the Wilcox’s, never disappointed. But somehow, it looked different this time. She took another deep breath, for courage, repeating the same thing that she had told herself in the carriage on the way here, and at home, at her dressing table, before stepping foot out the door. I am Victoria Belleville, she told herself once again. I am just the same person as I have always been. But somehow, she knew that it was all a lie. And the fact that she was now a different person was going to become manifest, very soon. She wished she had never let Priscilla persuade her to come this evening. It was too soon, but her best friend had insisted, telling her that she could not hide away like a rodent in a hole forever. Despite herself, Victoria smiled. Her friend always did have a very plain way with words. Nervously, she tucked an errant curl behind her ear that had somehow escaped the confines of her bun. It was now or never. Priscilla turned to her, taking her arm, reassuringly.

“Are you quite ready, dearest heart?” Victoria took yet another deep breath, feeling the air drawing deep into her lungs. She turned, wideeyed, to her friend. “As ready as I will ever be,” she muttered as they slowly walked down the two steps into the ballroom, trying not to feel as if she was on display like fine china in a shop window. *** Mercifully, Mrs Wilcox, the host, swept over to the two ladies almost immediately, a kind smile on her face. Victoria smiled tentatively back. Mrs Wilcox was an old friend of her mother’s and could be relied upon to treat her well, despite everything. “Victoria,” said the older lady, taking her hand and peering at her gently. “How well you look this evening, my dear.” She paused, her filmy blue eyes raking over her. “It has been an age since we have seen you …” Victoria felt her heart beating faster in her chest.

“It is very good to see you, too, Mrs Wilcox,” she said in a soft voice. “And thank you for your kind words. I must admit, I feel rather nervous …” The older lady coughed discreetly into her hand. “Well, we shall not talk of it,” she said slowly. “It is probably for the best. Just enjoy yourself, my dear. Try to put the events of the past out of your mind entirely.” She turned to Priscilla determinedly. “Miss Pierpont. You are looking very well, too.

Is that a gown from Mrs Lambert’s dressmakers? She always does such intricate embroidery, does she not?” Priscilla nodded, casting a quick, reassuring look at Victoria, as she launched into a conversation with Mrs Wilcox about the skills of the dressmaker’s on Church Street, in Farstoke, their local village. Victoria tried to concentrate on the small talk, even joining in occasionally, but it was a hopeless enterprise. Nervously, she glanced around the ballroom. The orchestra played a jig, and several ladies and gentlemen were dancing already, gliding around the space like elegant swans on a lake. Around them clustered many more ladies and gentlemen, chatting while watching the dance. Victoria felt her heart beat faster still. Was it her imagination, or were several of those ladies and gentlemen glancing her way, their looks slightly contemptuous, as they gossiped behind their hands and their fans? Do not be silly, she told herself fiercely. Why do you imagine that you are the centre of attention? They are probably not noticing you at all. To her horror, she found that she had started to shake slightly. Appalled, she gripped her hands together tightly, trying to make it stop.

But it didn’t. Instead, the tremor swept over her ever more forcefully, almost like a force of nature, a strong wind, or a storm. Desperately, she tried to retain her composure. It is true, she thought, in despair. They are looking at me. They are all staring at me and talking about me. How has it come to this? But even as the question lodged itself into her mind, she knew the answer. This was always going to happen. She had just been trying to avoid the inevitable. *** She walked slowly to the refreshment table, trying to remain steady.

She needed a drink. But as soon as she took her first steps into the fray, amongst the assembly, she knew that it was a mistake. The crowd of people, pressing into the ballroom, seemed to part like the Red Sea before her, as she tentatively made her way through it. She tried not to glance left or right, fixing a fake smile onto her face. But still, she saw the cold glances, heard the whispers, felt the contempt, as if it was rising up, to strike her firmly in the face. No one stepped forward to greet her, even though she was acquainted with most of them. Deliberately, they turned their backs on her as if she was a foul smell that had suddenly wafted their way. Tears of utter humiliation sprang into her eyes. Why had she allowed Priscilla to persuade her to come here this evening? It was exactly as she had dreaded. Even worse.

Her soul started to shrivel, just a little, to curl and twist as if it were burning parchment. These people were not her friends. They were judging her as if she was a Mary Magdalene. As if she was a Jezebel. She could almost hear the words of those whispers as she passed by. Who does she think she is, showing her face in public? After what she did to that poor man. Shameless, that is what she is. She will never recover from it … It was all that she could do not to turn and run straight out of the room, like a weasel, with its tail between its legs. That it had come to this. That she was being so misjudged … and she couldn’t say one word in her own defence.

*** “Dearest heart,” whispered a sweet voice just behind her. “I am so sorry that Mrs Wilcox distracted me …” Victoria turned. Priscilla was at her elbow, gazing at her sorrowfully, her pale blue eyes so large in her face they almost looked like saucers. She felt a rush of love and affection for her best friend. Dear Priscilla – she was always there for her, fiercely defending her, almost like a mother lion when one of her cubs strayed out of the den. But even Priscilla, with all her strength and fortitude, could not save her from the public censure that had always been waiting for her. “It is quite alright, my dear,” she said, blinking back the tears. “I am a big girl, after all. I can make my way through a crowd and not manage to get lost, I think.” Priscilla sighed deeply, glaring at the ladies and gentlemen, who were pointedly staring at them now.

Even Priscilla couldn’t deny it any longer. Her friend had insisted that no such thing would happen – that these people were neighbours and friends – but it seemed that Priscilla had misjudged just how strongly the antipathy towards Victoria actually was. “Pay no heed to them,” she whispered, anger suddenly clouding those blue eyes. “They are smallminded and petty.” She raised her chin. “Look them straight in the eye, Vicky, and do not betray what you are truly feeling. It shall pass, in time …” “Will it?” whispered Victoria, blinking back tears once more. “I know that you are only trying to make me feel better, Cilla, but I think that we both need to acknowledge the truth of it.” She paused, trembling anew. “I am a pariah in Farstoke society now.

No one will treat me kindly any longer. My reputation is ruined.” Priscilla bit her lip, not saying anything, for a moment. “It shall pass. Your broken engagement will be old news any day now. Something else will come along, some other minor scandal, to entertain their shallow minds. It always does …” Victoria’s mouth twisted. “Well, it has been over a month now since the news of my broken engagement became public, and it does not seem that any juicier piece of gossip has arrived to take its place.” She took a deep breath. “We just have to accept the truth of it, Cilla.

I am a social pariah now. They all think me a cold-hearted, brutal woman, who toyed with her fiancé before discarding him on a whim.” Priscilla sighed again. “If only they knew the truth, Vicky.” She paused, gazing at her friend, almost entreatingly. “All you need to do is mention what truly happened in a few ears, and I am sure that your reputation will be redeemed …” “Would it?” Victoria heard the bitterness in her voice. “You know as well as I do, how admired and feted my former fiancé is in this society. He is a golden boy, so well-loved, that they almost genuflect to him when he walks through a crowd.” She paused. “They would never believe what he actually did, and why I had no choice but to end our engagement.

And besides, I have no proof of it, either. It would be his word against mine. Who do you think they would believe?” Priscilla looked mortified. She bit her lip. Victoria could see that her friend knew she was telling the truth. Priscilla might not want to acknowledge it, but it was there, in her face. Victoria’s heart sank further. It was impossible. She should never have come here this evening. But then, what was the alternative? The crowd started to blur, just a little, through her tears.

Was it her destiny to become a social recluse, then? Must she become a hermit, withdraw from society completely because of what had happened with that man? Stubborn anger burned in her heart, at the very thought of him. Mr Harry Lyndon, local landowner, respected and admired gentleman about town. A pillar of society. She had such high hopes when she had entered the engagement. She had thought him as charming and wonderful as everyone did. She had truly believed that her future was assured, stretching out before her, as golden as the sun. How wrong she had been. For Mr Harry Lyndon, pillar of society was not the golden boy that everyone believed. Mr Harry Lyndon was a liar, and a degenerate, with dark secrets, that he hid – oh so skilfully – from all those around him. It had only been through sheer luck that she had discovered the truth about him, but she had been feeling uneasy, in a way that she could not explain, for weeks before.

Some instinct that had wormed its way into her chest. She had ended the engagement, telling her horrified parents that she had simply changed her mind. They had begged and pleaded with her, not understanding, but she had been adamant. She didn’t tell them the truth, either. It was too humiliating. She had wanted to hide it, licking her wound like an injured animal. She raised her glass to her mouth, taking a deep sip of the champagne. No one knew the truth about her humiliation, except Priscilla. And that was the way it was going to stay. She had confided in her best friend, but to everyone else, the truth was hidden.

She must wear the consequences of her actions now. And it didn’t help that Harry Lyndon was obviously fanning the flames, telling everyone that he had been wronged, by a cold and contemptuous woman, milking sympathy that he was a man done wrong for all that it was worth. She took a deep breath. She was a social pariah now. And God help her; she just had to live with it.

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