Isabella’s eyes wandered lazily as she sat in Louisa’s comfortable drawing room. It was the smallest drawing room of her dear friend’s London residence, used for the entertaining of very intimate friends of the ladies of the house. Isabella was struggling to collect her thoughts or even know where to begin after the events that had transpired over the last two days. She did her best to keep her trembling hands clasped in the lap of her dark black cotton dress. Her hand rattled the teacup just slightly when she took it from Louisa’s loving hands. Isabella was happy for the privacy such an intimate setting provided. She wasn’t sure if she would be able to hold her composure as she retold Louisa all that transpired. “I scarcely know where to begin,” she said after taking a small sip of courage. She didn’t have much appetite at the moment but felt the tea might help to clear her head. The last few nights had been restless and anything but rejuvenating. “Start with when you arrived at Mr. Jenkins’ offices yesterday. I am quite sure we will find a way to untangle any mess you may now find yourself in,” Louisa responded calmly. She was just two years older than Isabella but not the slightest in comparison to physical beauty. Where Isabella had rich, shiny black locks and emerald-green eyes, Louisa had mouse-brown hair, which rarely plaited as it should, and ordinary brown eyes.
It did not prevent them from finding an inseparable bond as young girls at the prestigious Mrs. Mason’s School for Exceptional Young Ladies. Louisa had always been a quiet child who often kept to herself. Isabella, on the other hand, was openly pleasant to be around and was commonly found at the center of the conversation, entertaining the other ladies of the school with wild tales heard from her father’s adventures. Louisa, at first, had listened quietly to her tales, but Isabella saw more to Louisa than her shy exterior. Much as Isabella had expected, Louisa was the most kind and giving young lady she had ever met. Her friendship and confidante was something she treasured all through her youth and young adulthood. “I suppose you’re right,” Isabella responded with a steadying breath before setting the tea down. “I arrived at Mr. Jenkins office yesterday morning.
I was surprised when I was shown in to find Mr. Smith already there.” “Mr. Smith? Your father’s horrid business partner,” Louisa clarified, and Isabella nodded in agreement. “I had done my best to avoid him at all costs since that dreadful event four years ago. It gave me quite a shock as it had not been mentioned to me that he would be there. Though now looking back on it, it was certainly reasonable that he should be there as we discussed my father’s estate.” “Of course, you are not expected to have the clearest of minds in such a time,” Louisa said attempting to erase any guilt Isabella might feel on her state of propriety. “That awful man,” Isabella stated, now with her green eyes full of anger. “He didn’t even stand at my entrance, and in truth, I didn’t see him at all from his chair at the back of the office till Mr.
Jenkins motioned to him during the conversation.” Isabella thought back to that horrible meeting four years earlier. She had been barely seventeen at the time, having completed her schooling and finished her first season out among society. It was a small dinner party that her father was having at their very own Rosewater house. She had been all aglow with the excitement of her season and the joy of having her father momentarily home with her. Mr. Smith was there, of course, since he was Baron Leinster’s closest friend and business partner. Isabella had not paid him much attention as he was even older than her father and she could never imagine him having interest in such a young girl. As the evening transpired, however, Mr. Smith found a chance to enter into a private conversation with Isabella.
It was then he requested that she should consider him a suitor and accept his proposal of marriage. Isabella was so shocked by the declaration that all she managed to say was “but you are so old.” It was probably not the most polite thing for her to say, but so often when she was shocked, she tended to speak truths without thinking. Isabella was young and full of spirit. She had received much attention from various social gatherings of the season. She was not so conceited enough to think she was above those outside the peerage. Isabella had always assumed that with her father’s honorary title she would find herself a gentleman in the society she had been raised to be a part of. Of course, having affection for her future husband was a necessity for her, his status had not been. Even so, she would never have imagined marrying such an older, coarse man at such a young age. She did her best to regain her composure and thank Mr.
Smith but politely decline. He became enraged by her very respectable but negative answer and made quite a scene of it. From that day on, Isabella had done everything in her power to not be in the company of Mr. Smith. It was not always an easy task when he had such close financial relationships with her father. “Mr. Jenkins informed me that my father had left his import and export business to Mr. Smith.” “I suppose that seems reasonable enough,” Louisa said. “After all, as partner, it would only be right that he inherit the whole of the business.
And I suppose you are to be left Rosewater house and a living?” “That is the worst of it. Mr. Jenkins informed me that all of my father’s estates had been specifically put in the charge of Mr. Smith, having no other male family member. He then informed me that my father had also collected a large sum of debts,” she lowered her voice, “gambling.” “Oh dear. Had you any idea of these debts?” “I was aware of his enjoyment of gentlemanly horse races. I suspected the thrill of it was much like that of a boy crossing the sea. But I had no idea that he was in such a poor situation.” “What does this mean?” Louisa asked with fear in her soft eyes.
“Well, Mr. Jenkins said that he had been in conference with Mr. Smith all morning and had made several arrangements.” That moment, when she finally looked over her shoulder to find Mr. Smith sitting behind her would most likely haunt her the rest of her days. He had stood then and walked forward, wholly unearthing himself from the morning shadows that the windowless office provided. He was much older now than would be expected for the four years that had passed since his proposition. His hair was long and straggly on the sides and completely missing on top. Instead of choosing to wear a wig, he tied the straggled strands back with a ribbon. His face was worn and marked by the years he, himself, had spent as captain on a merchant ship before striking business with Baron Leinster.
Though his clothes were of a gentlemanly style, they were outworn and dusty. The edges of his coat were stained with dirt. Undoubtedly, his lifelong bachelorhood had led to the inferior care of his outward appearance. He smiled smugly, showing his blackened tooth, something she remembered quite clearly from her first encounter with him. Quite awkwardly Mr. Jenkins had fiddled with some paperwork on his desk. He was a rather young man for his position, only recently taken on by her father. Her interactions with him, however few, had always been enjoyable ones. Usually, he had a jolly expression to his eyes, especially since the birth of his first child. Isabella wasn’t sure she had ever seen Mr.
Jenkins so uncomfortable, even when he had informed her of her father’s passing. “As the benefactor of your father’s estate, Mr. Smith here has decided to sell all assets in order to pay off the debts incurred, including Rosewater house and everything in it.” “But that is my home!” Isabella said with a raised voice. “Where am I to live?” Isabella could not bear to take her eyes off Mr. Jenkins to turn to the scoundrel behind her. Most certainly he was enjoying the destitute situation he had put her in. “I have spoken of this very concern with Mr. Smith at length,” Mr. Jenkins replied, obviously understanding her fear.
“He feels, as sole proprietor, he is, and I rightly agree, responsible for your safety and security.” Isabella stood up from her spot, forgetting all dignity, “I won’t marry him!” Mr. Jenkins looked at her apologetically, whether from the necessity of marriage between a senior man and a young lady of one and twenty years or other less favorable options she wasn’t sure. “Though I suggested such an arrangement, for the sake of your comfort, I was informed that such arrangements were no longer…no longer…” he hesitated to try to find the words, “no longer a possibility unless…” Mr. Jenkins gave a horribly painful sigh. “He would like you to ask him to take you in.” “Absolutely not,” Isabella stated still standing, trembling with fear and embarrassment. She could hear the tone of disgust behind her but refused to turn to look at him. “Before you speak Miss Isabella, I encourage you to consider your situation. Mr.
Smith does intend to sell all valuable possessions. Even so, it will just barely cover your father’s debts. Without such an arrangement I cannot imagine how you will see to your comfortable lifestyle. “Then I shan’t live as I have thus far. I am willing to be more frugal with my life. Am I not allowed some sort of income from my father’s business?” “I did discuss such matters with Mr. Smith in the event that you did not want to…um…abide to his requirements. He agreed a yearly income was only fair since, after all, he was named your protector. The sum he agreed on was…well…it was fifty pounds a year.” “Fifty pounds a year?” Isabella now turned to face Mr.
Smith. “It is half his yearly wage, though you wouldn’t know it by the way he lived, and it is quite generous considering I will most likely need to take on another partner,” Mr. Smith spit back indignantly. He had quite the smug look on his face as he rocked back and forth on his heels, hands pleasantly clasped in front of him. What was torturous to say for the lawyer, and unbelievable to hear for Isabella, was quite enjoyable for this horrible man. He had positively backed her into a corner. With such a small amount, there was no possible way for Isabella to live alone. It wouldn’t even support a house staff of just one or two servants. He had meant it to force her to beg before him for that which she had denied him all those years ago. “Good heavens, Izzy, what did you do?” Louisa asked as she listened, horrified and enraptured by the retelling.
“Well, I refused to give in to his boorish demands. I told him I would find a way to settle on such low income and that was the end of that. I will starve to death before I give that man the benefit of seeing me grovel at his feet. “But Izzy- without a home or any possessions of your own, how will you do it?” “Well, after I announced I would not give in to the wretched blackguard, Mr. Smith stormed out of the room, slamming the door quite loudly behind him. Mr. Jenkins, the poor man, began apologizing profusely, saying that if there were anything he could do to help me, he would.” “Well, what is there to be done, Izzy?” “I thought on this fact for the better part of last night. I have come to one conclusion. I will need to find myself some sort of employment.
” “Certainly not?” Louisa asked with surprise, though Isabella could already see the wheels turning in her head that this was the likely alternative. “I think we both know that this is how it must be,” Isabella said with a defeated tone. “It is either that or giving in to Mr. Smith. My pride, however sinful to keep, will not allow such a thing. I will not be offended at all if at such a declaration you find yourself unable to keep my company.” “Absolutely not!” Louisa said using a firm tone. “You are my dearest friend. You were the only one who cared to spend time with me when we were together at school. I would never abandon you, no matter the cost.
” “Not even if I am a lowly scullery maid?” Isabella asked, tears welling in her eyes. In all honesty, she had spent the whole night not just thinking about a life of employment, but terrified of the fact that she had no idea what employable skills she had. Though she may have been born on the lower side of the peerage, her father had never spared her a comfort, and she feared she could not even dress on her own, let alone take on tasks. “You will be no such thing,” Louisa said firmly. She placed her own small, delicate hands in Isabella’s lap and began to ponder. “I understand now why you have come to me. We will most certainly find something that would be suitable for your position.” “But I don’t have a position; I am free of status now and completely destitute, without any skills at hand.” “Of course you have skills,” Louisa encouraged. “Why, you were always one of the top performers in our school! Do you not remember? Mrs.
Mason would have you stand and recite your French lessons before prospective students. Why, that is it!” Louisa said with the light of a plan. “You could easily find employment as a governess.” Isabella thought this new idea over for a bit. She unquestionably had loved school and took to it quickly. She was accomplished enough in her educational knowledge as well as music and other various genteel talents. She could certainly teach such things to young lords and ladies. Of course, it was a definite step down from being one of the peerages to serving and educating them. It was not as low as the serving class but somewhere in between. Between her employment and her small allowance, Isabella would most certainly be able to manage on her own.
“Do you think I would be hired as such? Mr. Jenkins did offer to help me find employment when I found myself in need of it.” “Of course. I am quite sure that Mrs. Mason would also be happy to give you a shining reference. You could most likely find a home here in London to instruct pupils at and we could still be close friends.” “Oh, my dear Louisa, I fear wishing so much good fortune to happen at this time in my life,is much like wishing to catch a star. I will be quite satisfied with any position and your continued friendship, even if through correspondence only.” “Have faith, Izzy,” Louisa said, reaching across the small table of tea and taking Isabella’s hands. “We will find a way to overcome this hurdle together.
Certainly, it isn’t something to worry about now. The Season is almost upon us. Mr. Smith certainly won’t put you out till after. It will give you an opportunity to more earnestly search a match and perhaps escape all the necessity for such talk.” “I hope you’re right, Louisa,” Isabella responded, giving her a grateful squeeze of the hand in return. “I was frightened by his rage upon my declaration not to heed his request. I am almost certain he will do everything in his power to hinder my progress at every turn.”