From Chapter Five
Fiona’s outing with Lady Penny had been an eye-opening experience. Having made her own clothes for years, being fitted for a silk gown was an extraordinary pleasure, one she would never get over. The silk shimmered over her skin and she felt like a princess looking in the mirror. Madame Rochelle clucked and fussed with the pins. Taking in the deep burgundy had been a challenge, for Fiona’s waist was so small, yet her legs were long and slender. A nip here, a tuck there, the gown was perfect, although according to the modiste, it did not hang as well as it ought.
Penny giggled when she saw Fiona emerge from the dressing room wearing a deep blue sapphire afternoon gown. “Robert will hardly recognize you.”
Fiona hardly recognized herself.
After Madame Rochelle’s, they descended upon a milliner where Fiona purchased two hats, a cobbler who sold her a lovely pair of deep blue dancing slippers and took measurements for half boots and two more pair of slippers, and another dressmaker shop where she bought a ready made cape in deep blue velvet.
Fiona was famished by the time she arrived back at St. Martin Street. She felt foolish standing at the front door, but didn’t know whether to knock or walk in. Edwards opened the door before she could raise her hand.
“Yes,” he said. Clearly, he did not recognize her.
“Mr. Edwards, we met this morning,” Fiona said. “I am the Duke of Cantin’s new wife.”
Edwards blanched as he stepped back into the foyer, opening the door wide. “Forgive me, my lady. I did not realize it was you.”
Fiona smiled at him. “Truthfully, Mr. Edwards, when I first saw myself at the modiste, I did not recognize myself either.”
Edwards bowed and helped her off with her new cape, and waited for her gloves.
“Tell me, has luncheon been served?” she asked the butler. “I must confess I did not realize shopping would leave me completely famished.”
“Lady Cantin is in the dining room now if you would like to join her.”
She looked down the long corridor having no idea where the dining room was.
Edwards said, “If you would like to follow me, my lady.”
She smiled. “Thank you, Mr. Edwards. That is very kind of you.”
When she entered the dining room, she found Robert’s mother dining alone at a long formally set table. Not knowing where to sit, she stood, unsure of her place.
Lady Joanna looked her up and down. Fiona could tell the woman had no idea who she was.
“Forgive me, Lady Cantin. I have no wish to disturb you. Mr. Edwards said you were finishing your luncheon and having just arrived from my outing with Lady Penny, I thought to join you if I may.
“Fiona, dearest,” Lady Joanna said with a tone that could not hide her surprise, “is it really you? That gown has simply changed your entire countenance. I’m so glad you are back,” his mother said. “You must be famished, yes? Come, come sit down, and lunch with me. Tell me all about your trip to the modiste. I’m glad we have this time alone, I long to get to know you better.”
Fiona wasn’t sure who was more nervous, the duchess or herself. She crossed to the front of the room and took a seat to the left of her new mother-in-law. A footman brought her a bowl of soup. Fiona stared at all the utensils on either side of the place setting. In Scotland, her father and she ate at the wooden plank table in the kitchen with one fork, knife, and spoon. Here, there were a dozen spread out in front of her, not to mention the various glasses and small plates surrounding the entire sphere of where she sat.
She looked at Lady Joanna, who placed her finger on the third spoon to her right.
“Now, tell me dearest,” the duchess said. "Did you find everything at Madam Rochelle’s? That gown certainly becomes you. Did Penny help you choose the color? She has such amazing taste. I hope you did not choose all your outfits from her, because my modiste would love to create something for you.”
Fiona ate her soup while her mother-in-law talked. And talked, and talked. Fiona was grateful the older woman did not wait for her to answer any of the questions she posed. She was also glad she didn’t ask any questions about her and Robert. She had no idea how she would answer.
They finished with luncheon, and Robert’s mother introduced her to the servants. She was appointed a lady’s maid from one of the upstairs maids for the time being. The girl, Merry, was thrilled with the prospect.
Lady Cantin took her for a tour around the mansion, and then showed her to her rooms.
“I know what an exhausting day you have had, my dear. You should rest, perhaps sleep. I’m sure Robert will not be back until dinner, which is at seven o’clock. We will not be so formal this evening, so whichever frock you choose to wear will be fine. Merry will be there to help you, she is a good girl, and will answer any questions you may have.” Her mother-in-law kissed her cheek. “I shall see you at dinner then.”
Merry waited for her in her room.
“Her ladyship said you wished to rest. I shall help you off with your gown, " the young girl said. "Shall I brush out your hair as well?”
“Brush out my hair?” Fiona could not believe what she was asking.
“Yes, of course, my lady. You do not wish to sleep with it coiled, do you? Before you dress for dinner, I can do it up for you in whichever manner you wish. I have been told I’m very good with hair.” The girl seemed to know more about living in high society than she did.
“Yes, of course. That would be lovely.”
Fiona let Merry take over. She said nothing as the girl took off her gown, and then brushed her hair. Climbing into the huge bed with the pretty, yellow coverlet, Fiona hadn’t realized how exhausted she was. It overcame her quickly and before Merry had finished hanging up her gown, Fiona was asleep.
“Lady Fiona? Lady Fiona? Would you like to get up now?”
Fiona heard someone calling to her. She opened her eyes. It took three seconds before she realized where she was. Surprised, she sat up in bed.
“I took the liberty of bringing you a cup of hot chocolate." Merry placed a tray on the table beside her bed. "It always helps me when I need to wake. I hope you do not mind.”
Fiona took the cup. She smelled its delicious aroma and took a tentative sip. It was heavenly.
“What did you say this was?”
Merry looked at her, surprised. “Hot chocolate, my lady. Have you never had it before?”
“No, I cannot say I have.”
“Well, if you’d like, I can bring you a cup every morning when you wake, if that is agreeable to you.”
“Yes, by all means. That is very agreeable, thank you.”
“Have you decided what gown you’d like to wear to dinner this evening?” Merry asked, heading for the dressing room.
“The dark purple I think,” Fiona said. She wanted to look nice for Cantin on her first night in his house.
‘Twas the least she could do considering he had allowed her to buy the gowns in the first place.
Merry helped her with the gown, and then did her hair in a lovely up-style with ringlets cascading down her back. She stood in front of the cheval glass gaping open-mouthed at the sight before her eyes.
“Is that really me?” she asked the maid.
“Yes, my lady. And may I say you look very beautiful this evening.”
Fiona smiled at her new companion. “Thank you so much for all your help, Merry. I think you and I will rub along nicely together.”
Fiona glanced at the little ormolu clock on her dressing table. She had plenty of time before dinner, but no desire to wait in her room. Perhaps Lady Cantin would be somewhere downstairs.
Fiona descended the staircase at the front of the house and found Edwards in the hall.
“Mr. Edwards, could you tell me if Lady Cantin is downstairs yet?”
“She is with his Grace in the green parlour, Lady Fiona. If you would follow me.”
Fiona tempered her nerves and followed the butler to the doors of the green parlour. She swallowed tightly as he opened the door for her. “Lady Fiona,” he said, and bowed out of her way.
Fiona walked into the room and found Lady Cantin smiling at her. Cantin stood near the mantle, a strange expression on his face.
“Fiona, how beautiful you look this evening," Lady Joanna said. "And your hair is lovely. I knew Merry would be a perfect match with you.” She turned to her son. “Robert, does not Fiona look enchanting this evening?”
Fiona waited for him to say something. He did not. Perhaps he did not like the new gown, or her hair this way. Well, she was sorry to disappoint him, but not knowing any better, she had no idea how she was supposed to look.
“Robert, I say, does not Fiona look enchanting this evening?” his mother asked again.
Robert stared at her as if seeing her for the very first time. “Yes, very lovely, Mother,” he choked out.