Felicity Browning

Submitted into Contest #149 in response to: Start your story with the flickering of a light.... view prompt

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Historical Fiction Romance Suspense

Silhouettes of serpentine phantoms dressed the blanched canopy above. At first, a single spectre careened across the ceiling, morphing into a bickering family; the demons jostled for supremacy, frenzied by the aphonic sounds of the night. The sibilance from demon chatter swirled the vapid air from its slumber. Persiflage in nature, they mocked the light that birthed them. The flame that sat upon a tallow column grew reticent, leaving it unsnuffed, I scurried forth as the opportune time presented itself.

“Morrigan! Wake up!” Her peculiar like for lying recumbent face first plunged into delicate suffocation made me question her heart, beating blissfully of blithe. Whatever phantasmic visions occupied her subconscious mind; tonight, they deserved a reprieve.

“Flee, you rumbustious siren,” she said in pompous imitation of a madame some stations above her own.

“Withhold that preposterous charade until we arrive, help me with the laces, tighten just enough!” I held no desire in contesting for the slightest of waists, yet corsetry admonished crude assumptions upon a woman’s character. The absence of such constrictive attire would only lead to conjecture. Watching Morrigan restrain her matronly figure comforted the distress that such clothing issued upon its wearer. Panic was ill-advised as it would only escalate the feeling of breathlessness. Afterall, Morrigan, thrice my size prevailed over her dress with relative ease, acquiring a figure distant from her own as clumps of excess flesh sprung and pooled amidst her thirty-seven-inch breasts. Resembling a corpulent courtesan rather than her ascribed role of chaperone, I did well not to mention the fact, since I was not to be upstaged in modesty or rank.

“Felicity, remind me, for whom such rigour of toilette subjugates your efforts?”

“How can you be so forgetful? The son of a banker, Elias Crowle is holding a banquet at Lowther Lodge, South Kensington. You, my amiable friend will slice through the wilderness of society and its etiquettes as I am susceptible to becoming farouche amongst such large company.”

“I cannot promise that I will be at your side at all times, for successful engagements require moments of tactful withdrawals, rest assured, that during these momentary retirements, I will be screening the potential suitor from a distance, gauging his interactions with others, studying his movements.”

Our names are announced, veiling myself behind Morrigan’s Herculean shoulder, the hostess, who I assumed correctly, was Mrs. Crowle; welcomed us into the parlour. Her expression upon greeting us was entirely neutral, as the lines of senescence carved upon her features remained unenthused. Once or twice Morrigan filled the muted air with quips and conventions prompting Mrs. Crowle to reply in as few words as possible. I sensed that her resolve had collapsed, not procuring a suitable wife for her son had stifled her into an existence where the only remaining acquaintances she had were inanimate in nature. The room itself imparted similarities to a dancing-room, the vast interior, interspersed with mahogany chairs upholstered in moquette fabric made sitting a slick affair. The ball gown’s watered silk fabric embroidered with threads of silver and gold, trimmed with roses, influenced every movement I made. Better suited for standing, I poised myself and searched for Morrigan, who had disappeared for at least fifteen minutes.

Crowded by a flock of banshees dressed in exposed necklines and low sleeves, in hues of ruby, claret, sapphire and crimson stood Elias Crowle. His visage was flushed, from the heat of course. Conscious of my footing, I sought vantage neither near nor far, from a distance where my gaze would remain undetected. Morrigan had informed me that this was indeed a common sight, men of sufficient wealth and status were few, outnumbered by women, most of whom were doomed for maidenhood, beyond their bloom into old age. All four witches vied for his affection; crimson bellowed a brassy shrill each time she laughed. Sapphire feigned exhaustion in hope of an embrace, whilst ruby and claret changed a few words, relying on feminine disposition and gentleness of manner.

He noticed me, shunting the coven aside, walking towards me, his gait, brisk yet steadied, intruded my sanctity. I wizened a few inches shorter, unprepared for what I had prepared. My accomplice remained inconspicuous.

“You admire the floor, Miss Browning?” She had introduced me, her protégé! I should never have doubted her. “I confess, your associate spoke highly of your character, although it had no influence upon my approach.” His low sonorous voice left me dumbstruck, hindering an immediate reply. Sporting a white dress shirt with gold cufflinks, a loosely tied cravat brushed in obsidian glare enveloped the neck, black trousers with cylindrical symmetry narrowed at the ankles with both ends turned up. Standing close enough, I stole a quick glance. Over six feet tall, bronzed with angular features and just the right amount of plump, marking an appearance unlike that of a native. His wavey short coppery hair, rendered a slight sheen from Rowland’s Macassar oil, fragranced by musky aromas of sandalwood resting over undertones of sweet honey. A wispy coffee coloured moustache completed the impression of a wealthy young man stranded below the summit of adulthood.

“Then what exactly influenced your approach? Stringing sapphire upon a besotted leash of falsehood.”

“Sapphire, how amusing, have you assigned a pet name for me?”

“No.”

“Why you are peculiar, I have only ever encountered young ladies who remain stubbornly agreeable to my every word, you are the first who has challenged these principles, or perhaps, I irritate you?”

“So, it is my peculiar nature which you are inclined to? And how long will the attraction to such oddity endure?”

“The present and no longer, for my temperament safeguards me from the ensnarement of love. Now, if you would allow me to answer. The moment you procured my attention, I found you elegantly regaining your balance after you had caught a foothold over the train of a madame’s dress. The spray of roses that trimmed your white dress from your right shoulder down to its train, indicated an oversight, wearing a ball gown to a dinner party! Unless the intent of being noticed was employed, in which case you succeeded. It was in fact you that summoned me. Placing your fan spread open over your heart, you made the admission that I had won your affection. After which, in the middle of my approach, you started fanning yourself with hysterical speed, informing me that you were engaged. I admire the amount of armour you have on.”

“Mr. Crowle, it is past ten o’clock, I must depart.” A lengthier stay would have wilted the flowers that had begun to sprout, our distance only enhanced the pleasure of meeting.

“Felicity, have you been eating well? you look like a corpse!”

“Why did she admit me here?”

“Mother did what she had to, she wanders the halls every night, calling your name.”

“She agrees to their advocacy that the insane should remain unmarried, as the disease would condemn future generations. I am perfectly fine.”

“That is nonsense, you are the brightest person I know, my sister, you must fight it. The diagnosis of monomania is inaccurate, it is you that will have to convince them otherwise or at least show an improvement.”

“I met Mr. Crowle last night, he has fixed a second date, you would find our union most suitable.”                                                        

June 11, 2022 00:43

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