The Melody of A Lady’s Heart – Aria Norton

Helena paced the attic floor, tapping a paintbrush against her mouth. Inspiration continued to elude her, frustrating each of her efforts to complete her latest painting. Her canvas was currently a blob of colours, but no picture would emerge no matter how hard she tried. “Why do I continue to torture myself? A simple painting of a meadow or a mountain would have sufficed!” Alas, Helena could not bring herself to dabble in the usual boring landscapes that so many amateur artists preferred. She was bone-weary of creating conventional paintings. However, if Helena didn’t complete this painting soon, people would go without. “Charlotte requires a new coat before the winter sets in, and Murphy could do with some trousers.” The rest of the money she would get from selling the painting would be set aside for the ever-present needs of the less fortunate. Selling her growing hoard of paintings had been a marvellous idea. Not only had it rid the attic of clutter, but it had also enabled Helena to help others. The buyers had no notion that Helena was the artist behind the paintings. They believed the artist to be an eccentric gentleman by the name of H A Pembar. In fact, it was actually Helena Anastasia, and Pembar was a mixture of Pembroke (her father’s title right) and Barclay (her family name). “I do not think that many would buy my paintings if they knew a woman had painted them.” Lady Helena Anastasia Barclay was respected and adored by many, but she was still a woman in a male-dominated society.

She could not count the number of times I have seen my paintings grace the walls of men who would be simply horrified to discover that a woman had painted their masterpieces. Blowing away a few wisps of golden hair that had settled on her brow, Helena sat before her unfinished canvas, tilting her head this way and that. Perhaps looking at it from a different angle would help her creativity flow. Three knocks, a pause, and two knocks sounded on the door. That could only be one person. Smiling, Helena crossed the room, unlocking the door. “Have I been summoned already?” she asked. “Who is it this time?” Rose, her handmaiden and best friend shook her head. “Have you forgotten already? Miss Torrey and Miss Ahlers have come for afternoon tea.” Helena looked heavenward, slapping her brow with her palm.

“Goodness! Is it Tuesday already? I was almost certain it was Monday.” “Is it any wonder? You’ve been in this room for nigh three hours without a break. It’s a Godsend to have your friends occupy you for an hour or two. What good is it to stare at a canvas and do nothing? Surely a walk about the garden or reading a book would serve to stimulate your creativity better?” Perhaps Rose was right. Helena had been staring at her unfinished work for some time, thinking that she would receive some inspiration from the colours she had already applied to the canvas. “You have the annoying habit of being the voice of reason in my life.” Rose choked out a little chuckle. “Annoying habit? I would think ’tis a fine habit to have! You spend your days in the clouds, and I simply bring you down to earth when ’tis required.” The woman leaned forward, rubbing a spot on Helena’s face. “I suggest you give your face a wash unless green is an acceptable rouge for your cheeks.

” “Yes, Mother,” Helena replied. Rose laughed. “Cheeky! I will let your friends know that you will be down soon. And do try to make an effort this time. One would think I’m not doing my job by allowing you to greet your guests with paint-stained clothing.” Helena nodded, tapping her friend’s nose with her paintbrush. “Yes, Rose,” she said, grinning at the paint smudge. “Yellow is certainly your colour.” Pursing her lips, Rose rubbed the paint away. “Be thankful, I adore you.

Do not be a minute later than ten,” she said, turning away. Helena quickly put her art supplies away, soaking her paintbrushes in water. She would have to return later to thoroughly clean and dry them or risk ruining them. They had belonged to Helena’s grandfather before he passed them down to her after discovering her love for the art form. Giving the attic a last glance, she locked it behind her. This room was her sanctuary, and few people were allowed inside. Much like my mind. She thought. I show only what I wish to, and the rest remains hidden. Only a few people can boast to truly know me.

Some people believed Helena to be rather eccentric in her behaviour and beliefs, while others thought her the spoilt daughter of an Earl. Helena was both, but also neither. She knew herself to be a complicated creature with thoughts that did not fit the current society constructs. Nevertheless, her charm and beauty disarmed everyone, and they forgave her ‘oddities.’ Helena longed to be in the company of someone who appreciated her passion for life, and didn’t put it down to restlessness. She snorted, shaking her head as she made her way to her bedchamber. That person, male or female, must live on the other side of the world. Still, it would be wonderful, wouldn’t it? Wearing a clean dress and spotless face, Helena entered her private parlour twelve minutes later. She wasn’t one for rules, anyway. “Helena!” Sophie exclaimed, rising from her chair.

“We wondered what was keeping you. We sent your handmaiden to find you well over ten minutes ago.” Helena turned her cheek, lightly tapping it against Sophie’s cheek. She did the same to Candace before settling in her usual chair. “Oh, you know I cannot be bothered by keeping time, but I am glad that you both came to see me. I see you’ve been served refreshments already.” Candace, short and unfashionably plump, held up her teacup. “We certainly have. Rose never keeps us waiting. She always sees to us immediately.

I wish my handmaiden was as mindful.” Poor Candace was gifted a handmaiden that was about as useful as a candle without a wick. The woman- Clara- was slow, hard of hearing, and spoke with a broad accent that made it difficult for the hearer to understand her. “At least you know Clara adores you,” Helena offered. “She simply needs some guidance.” “I suppose there’s that,” Candace conceded. “Perhaps Rose can take my Clara under her wing and school her in the art of servantship.” Helena almost laughed out loud. Rose had no patience for people who could not grasp the simplest of concepts. There was the slim chance that Rose would show pity and long-suffering, but the odds were not in Clara’s favour.

“I will speak to her for you,” Helena assured. “But I cannot promise anything. Rose is always quite busy. She’s my handmaiden, but Mama tends to borrow her as well. Her efficiency is in demand.” “Oh,” said Candace, a tad disappointed. “Well, I suppose that will have to do.” Helena turned sharply to Sophie when she blew out a gust of exasperated air. “What has you so bothered?” Helena questioned. “All this talk of servants is boring me!” her friend replied.

“Surely we can find a better topic?” Sophie always seemed to be chasing excitement wherever she could find it. She would chase her own tail if she could. Slightly amused, Helena raised her eyebrows. “Then, by all means, tell us what you wish for us to converse about.” “Well, the London Season, for starters. ‘Tis right around the corner, and neither one of us have discussed our outfit ideas yet.” “There are still months left, Sophie,” Candace countered. “I cannot think so far in advance.” Sophie rolled her eyes. “That is what you always say, and then you end up procrastinating.

You of all people should be worried about what you will wear to flatter your corpulent figure.” Helena groaned. It was just like Sophie to put her foot in her mouth. The young woman didn’t mean anything nasty by her words, but her mouth did tend to run away with her. Candace’s corn blue eyes watered, her little nose growing bright red. “You do say the most horrid things, Sophie,” the tearful woman accused. Helena merely sat back and let her friends sort out their little spat. A stranger to their quarrelling would try to step in and fix things, but Helena knew better. Pouring herself a cup of tea, she got comfortable. “Upon my word, that’s not what I meant, Candace,” Sophie insisted.

“What I meant to say is that it might be a little more challenging to disguise a pudgy belly.” Candace uttered a despairing cry, burying her round face behind a lace handkerchief. Sophie’s face showed pure horror as she grabbed her mouth with both hands. Dear me. Sophie has never learnt to filter her words, has she? “Oh, for the love of England,” Sophie exclaimed. “I don’t know how to make your weight sound any better!” Helena’s mouth twitched. She’s digging herself a hole. I might just have to step in after all. I suppose I shall have to use a bit of gossip, although I loathe all it stands for. “Did you hear that Meredith Slanger ran away with her beau?” Candace’s sniffles immediately ceased.

“Prudent Meredith? The vicar’s daughter?” “The very same,” Helena affirmed. “Her father wished her to marry another, and poor Meredith couldn’t handle the thought of living without Mark Henry. Her mother is beside herself with worry.” “Oh, how awful!” Sophie empathised. “I too would elope if my father ever thought to marry me off to a man I do not love.” Candace did not feel the same way. “But to elope? Surely there are other ways to deal with such matters? What will they do for money? Imagine going without food for even a day!” And there it is. Helena was waiting for Candace to centre the conversation around food. This must be her new record. She usually brings up food much earlier.

Sophie rolled her eyes. “Oh, Candace! Not everything is about food. We’re speaking about the sake of true love, and you’re worried about where the couple will get their next meal. I assure you that one day without food will not kill them.” “But it will make things rather challenging,” Candace said, defending her statement. “Imagine sitting alone under some bridge in this cold weather with growling bellies. They might frighten each other and think it an animal prowling around them.” Helena burst out laughing, startling her friends. She hadn’t meant to laugh, she really hadn’t, but the image Candace had painted was too amusing to ignore. “What has tickled you?” a bemused Candace asked.

“You and your ridiculous arguments, that’s what,” Sophie said. “Growling bellies frightening them? The thought! Oh, let’s speak of something else now. I tire of this topic.” “Addle-pate,” Candace muttered. Sophie must not have heard the comment because she gave no reaction, but Helena had definitely heard it. Thank goodness, Sophie did not hear Candace refer to her as a fool. I have no patience for her temper today. “The London Season is set to have a record amount of suitors,” Sophie related excitedly. “And if I am to impress, I simply must have the right dresses and gowns. I’ll need at least eight gowns for the balls, several riding outfits, and a few walking dresses.

And do not get me started about the accessories! Mother has promised to give me her sapphire set to wear at the opening ball.” “The one she wore to the Blake dinner party last week?” Candace asked. “The very same,” Sophie boasted. “She received numerous compliments that evening. I cannot help but think that if I wore them, I would be noticed as well. Then I will be sure to find a suitor by the end of the Season!” Their quarrel forgotten about, Helena’s friends launched into a detailed conversation about the London Season, what they will possibly wear, which men would be attending, and who their competition was. This Season would be Helena’s first, but she would have prolonged it if she could. However, at eighteen, it was almost mandatory to be presented as an eligible woman. I am not at all looking forward to being bombarded by men all looking to marry Lord Pembroke’s daughter. I think I must walk around with a sign above my head that advertises the wealth and prestige a man would obtain by marrying me.

Helena could quite happily avoid the entire Season and stay at home while the Ton exhausted themselves on the countless frivolities available at their fingertips. Pushing the Season aside, Helena’s mind drifted to the painting that lay unfinished upstairs. I hate that my creativity has come to a dead end. There was nothing worse than a stagnant imagination, but Helena could do nothing about it. She just needed something to stimulate her once again and bring her mind to life. Helena could not recall any other time in her life where her creativity had simply ceased, and it worried her. Was she losing her joie de vivre? “You’ve gone quiet all of a sudden,” Candace commented, reaching for another biscuit. “Are you not excited about the London Season? I am sure you will receive a great many offers for your hand. Not only are you beautiful, but you are also Lord Pembroke’s only daughter.” That was just the problem, wasn’t it? “I cannot be excited about something I have never been to.

Mama and Papa have attended countless Seasons, and have told me often enough about it, but it doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest. Perhaps I’ll change my mind once I get to London.” That was unlikely to happen. Helena knew precisely what London was like, and she could appreciate its uniqueness lifestyle and pace of life, but she preferred the countryside. “Must you always be so odd?” said Sophie. “If I were in your position, I would take full advantage of it. Could you imagine how many suitors would vie for my attention?” Helena shook her head when Sophie’s face took on a dreamy expression. Her friend was far too preoccupied with thoughts of the opposite sex and was by far the more forward of them. Sophie wasn’t against a little flirtation with a handsome gentleman, but Helena often had to rein her in when the gentleman’s interest took a turn for the worse. Candace was the wallflower of their group, but with a little nudging she could gain just as much attention as Sophie did.

Both women were pretty and would do well at the London Season.

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