Wedding In Springtime

By: Amanda Forester

To my family, who is my greatest joy. And to Ed, who remains my hero.





One


London, Spring 1810

Ten minutes into her societal debut, Eugenia Talbot was ruined.

A favorable presentation in court cannot ensure a young lady’s successful launch into society, but a poor presentation can certainly ruin it. Miss Eugenia Talbot pressed her lips together in an attempt to make the laughter gurgling up inside her die in her throat. The Queen of England glared down her royal nose at Genie. Her Royal Highness, Queen Charlotte, was not amused.

Genie took a deep breath—hard to do laced so tight in her stays she feared one wrong move would crack a rib. The restrictive corset held her posture rigid, which helped keep her headdress in place, a heavy jeweled item with a monstrous, white ostrich plume. Genie knelt in a deep curtsy before the queen, a move she had practiced with a special tutor hired by her aunt to ensure her correct performance. A deep curtsy wearing the required elaborate hoop skirt of court that weighed almost two stone needed to be practiced.

Rising majestically from her curtsy, Genie was pleased she had successfully navigated that potential hazard and brought herself under control. Perhaps the queen had not noticed the stifled giggle. It was hardly Genie’s fault, for when the Lord Chamberlain announced her name, he also let loose an audible bodily noise. Having the unfortunate influence of brothers in her formative years, Genie could not help but find amusement in the Lord Chamberlain’s offense.

“How is your family, Miss Talbot?” asked the queen with staunch politeness.

“They are all well, Your Highness,” responded Genie as coached.

“Are your parents with you in London?”

“No, Your Highness. I am staying with Lady Bremerton, my aunt.” Genie glanced at Aunt Cora, whose frozen countenance betrayed her anxiety over Genie’s presentation.

“And your brothers and sisters?”

“I have four brothers. Two at university, one in the regulars, and one in the Royal Navy.”

“Ah, our sons, they have been ripped from our bosom. Ripped I say.”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Genie, pressing her lips together again. She was going to kill her brothers when they returned for teaching her deplorable cant. She could not laugh.

“It is a foul wind that blows from France,” said the queen.

And the Lord Chamberlain chose that moment to blow a little foul wind himself. It was loud and long, and just when Genie thought he had finished, he gave another little toot. She clenched her jaw so tight tears formed in her eyes.

She took a calming breath, sure she had gotten herself under regulation until she spied a man silently laughing, his shoulders shaking, his smile hidden behind his hand. He caught her eye, gave her a broad smile, and winked.

The entire drawing room was silently staring at her with censure. The queen gave her a look that could blister paint. The more Genie tried to get herself under control, the more amusing the entire scene became. It could not be helped; her body started to shake.

Genie attempted to take a deep breath and a giggle escaped. She tried to squelch it, but a laugh emerged, followed by an unladylike chortle and an unfortunate snort. The more she tried to stop, the worse it became, and with a burst, Genie was laughing out loud.

The queen waved a hand to dismiss her. Instead of dissipating Genie’s humor, it only made her laugh harder. Genie managed another deep bow and walked backward out of the queen’s presence, giggling as she went. By some miracle, she did not trip on her gown and fall to the floor. It hardly would have mattered if she had.

The Lord Chamberlain and the laughing gentleman had conspired against her. Her debut into society was a disaster. She would surely never be admitted into the haut ton. She was a failure. A social pariah.

Eugenia Talbot was ruined.

***

People stared as they passed her. Genie never felt more self-conscious, and feared her face was as bright as her skirt. She wanted nothing more than to hide away from the malicious looks and vicious whispers. Unfortunately, wearing courtly attire with feathers that soared at least two feet above her head, she was hardly inconspicuous among the steady throng of people in the outer chambers of the drawing rooms. So she plastered on a fake smile and waited for her aunt to summon her to the coach while the minutes dragged into lifetimes.

“Uncle! I am so glad you are here,” said a youthful voice. A young woman was being escorted into the royal drawing rooms. She struggled forward in a similar unwieldy hoop skirt, dyed an unfortunate shade of bright pink.

“I could not forget your presentation to court,” said a male voice behind Genie.

“I shall be so much less nervous with you here,” gushed the young girl.

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