Devonny Ch. 08bytheDuskyGirl©
****To My Readers: I apologize profusely for now updating you more often. Between work and grad school I've had no time to write. I'm stealing movements here and there to try to get me thoughts down on paper. Thank you for being so understanding and wonderful XXdusky***
It was more than a week before Devonny could venture outdoors without anyone making a fuss over her. And when she finally did venture outside, she was to stay within sight of the house unless Prince or someone else accompanied her. All this coddling was about as much as she could take. She was still a bit out of sorts, she would admit, but she was not an infant.
She'd spent days cloistered in her room, seeing nothing of Gabriel although Eli, Prince and Moira were constant visitors. She would play cards with Eli or Prince while Moira looked on. Or she would read while Moira did some mending or sewing and simply chatted.
She could see from her bedroom window that overlooked the gardens directly behind the house, that Kedleston had grown livelier while she recovered. The Davenports were just now receiving visitors to their home. The gardens behind the house were often filled with people milling about. The women wore the most exquisite gowns she'd ever seen while the men were all immaculately dressed in the latest and most à la mode attire. It seemed that Kedleston was the most fashionable place to see and be seen and Devonny learned to avoid the crowds altogether, finding various ways to exit the house and avoiding the ever popular gardens.
As she looked on, Gabriel and Elijah seemed to have no shortage of feminine companionship. Daily Gabriel would be seen walking with this waiflike blonde or that lovely brunette, while Eli could be seen chatting with one sensuous redhead or another curvy raven-haired beauty. It was obvious that they were in great demand and why shouldn't they be? They were young, rich, charming, and handsome and were most certainly the best matches and female could hope to make.
Gabriel was most in the company of a stunning blonde. The woman was vaguely familiar but Devonny did not care to dissect the matter further. The lady was not overly tall but graced with sensuous curves emphasized by her striking gowns which were always the very height of fashion. There was no doubt that Gabriel was courting her and this lovely young lady would like nothing more than to be the next mistress of Kedleston Hall.
Most recently Devonny could most often be found in the stables. Prince could almost always be found tending to the horses alongside Bernardo at any hour of the day if she were not out riding. She'd begun spent much time in the stables with Prince--in part-- to keep herself away from her tall windows looking out over the grounds were she'd have to watch Gabriel's courtship rituals. But she also felt that she was cultivating quite the relationship with Orion, the Andalusian who had quickly grown to be her favorite mount.
But this morning her mind was not on riding or avoiding Gabriel Davenport. Instead her most pressing concern regarded the two gowns that she had laid upon the bed. She frowned deeply and fretted, pulling her dressing gown tighter around her.
Today was important and she had no idea what to wear or what impression each gown would give to someone who knew nothing about her but whose approval she desperately wanted.
There was a soft knock at the door.
"Yes?" she answered absently, her gaze not wavering from the two gowns on the bed.
Moira entered the room quietly and smiled at her. "I thought you might like some help dressing today."
Devonny smiled at her gratefully though the unease did not completely leave her eyes. "Thank you," she murmured genuinely then sighed. "That is, if I can decide what to wear to begin with."
Moira joined her at the foot of the bed, her face taking on a similarly ponderous expression. Finally she mused, "I think you should wear the russet silk. It's understated but quite elegant."
A small smile flitted over Devonny's face. "Of course you're right."
Moira beamed and gave Devonny's hand a firm reassuring squeeze. "Come, let's get you ready."
An hour later, Devonny was standing in front of the fully length mirror next to the armoire. She gazed critically her reflection, not quite recognizing the young woman standing before her. The gown was simple but there was no mistaking the fineness of the silk or the exceptional tailoring. Fine white lace undersleeves with broiderie anglais peaked from beneath the wide pagoda sleeves. Her waist looked impossibly small. With Moira's help, her corset was laced more tightly than she could have ever accomplished on her own. The skirt of the gown was wide over the crinoline and petticoat, causing her waist to appear even smaller. Moira had coiled her hair into a chignon at the back of her head while allowing a few curls loose to frame her face and the nape of her neck. Dangling pearl baubles hung from her ears and Devonny touched the pearls reverently thinking of Elijah and all his kindnesses.
Moira appeared behind her in the mirror. "You look exquisite, love."
Devonny smiled uncertainly. "It's not too much?"
Moira shook her head and gently placed the matching silk bonnet upon her head, tying a comely bow to one side. "It's just right. And don't forget..." She handed Devonny a small beaded reticule, gloves and a parasol.
Moira stepped back once more to examine her handiwork before clapping her hands together. "I wish Margaret could see you thus. She would be so proud."
Devonny's lips curved upwards in a small smile. "I will be sure to write her and tell her all about it."
"Come," Moira said gently, "We wouldn't want you to be late.
Prince was outside the stables hitching up the two Andalusians. He was in his shirtsleeves and waist coat, his jacket and top hat on the seat of the phaeton carriage. A wide grin spread over his handsome face as he saw her approach. He stepped around the carriage and took both of her hands in his own so that he could better look at her. "You look absolutely fantastic," he smiled.
Devonny laughed and dropped a small curtsy. "As do you," she complimented. He did look wonderful. He wore a crisp white shirt beneath a double breasted red silk waistcoat that was finely embroidered with gold swirls, and light tan breeches. His black cravat was perfectly tied with a pearl tie tack and his black boots were polished to a high shine. A gold pocket watch hung from the waistcoat pocket.
Prince handed her up into the carriage with a mischievous smile. "My lady," he gave a slight bow causing her to giggle.
He then bounded around the side of the carriage and leapt up with a whoop. His excitement was infectious, causing her to momentarily forget her anxiety. He shrugged into his jacket and placed his top hat on his head before he took the reins in his gloved hands and they started off towards the Madison residence.
Prince filled her in on the family. Elizabeth's father was a physician and was well respected in the area among blacks and whites alike. They were good people, he said, not given to airs because of their wealth but truly good and decent folk. Elizabeth's mother was described as the sweetest lady who had ever walked the earth and often visited the sick to make sure they were recuperating alongside her husband. And Miss Elizabeth...Prince positively glowed when he talked about Miss Elizabeth. "She's like a sunbeam," he said, "And quite accomplished." She played the pianoforte, spoke fluent French, she also painted. "And she loves books," he winked at Devonny. "Just like another young lady I know. Her father doesn't subscribe to the belief that reading addles a woman's brain."
As Prince continued on to talk about the Madisons, Devonny admiration for them grew as did her trepidation. She did not see how they could possibly accept her into their circle. She was no one, less than no one. She was a young woman alone with a less than ideal upbringing. Her heart seemed to sink lower in her chest and she held back tears.
Prince seemed to notice the change in her demeanor at once and slowed the carriage. "What is it? Did I say something wrong?"
Devonny shook her head mutely. No.
Prince slowed the carriage to a halt and looked at her, lightly grabbing her shoulders and turning her to him when she would have let her bonnet shield her face from him. His face softened at the sadness in her eyes. "Devonny," he said softly. "They will adore you as everyone adores you." He gave her a lopsided smile. "Who has been able to resist you thus far, huh?"
Devonny's only answer was a faint smile. She hoped he was right.
His voice was firm. "I will support you in whatever manner necessary, understand? No one will treat you unpleasantly, I promise. Understand?" Prince dabbed at her eyes with a white kerchief. "Now don't cry," he admonished. "It's going to be a lovely afternoon."
Devonny smiled at his indelible spirit and they continued on towards their destination.
They'd driven a little over a half an hour when the stately manor house came into view. Prince pulled the along the drive. The home was impressive and surrounded by gardens and elegant walkways. There was a small fountain on the lawn. Devonny took a deep breath, absently smoothing her hands over the folds of her skirts.
No sooner had Prince stepped out of the carriage and helped Devonny down, the front door of the manor house open and a lovely young woman clothed in lavender silk came striding out, her auburn curls bouncing. Devonny couldn't help but smile back at the young woman who was beaming at her. She had flawlessly beautiful skin the color of coffee with much cream in it and light brown eyes that complimented her auburn locks that she wore in loose curls falling about her shoulders. She was a perhaps an inch or two shorter than Devonny and curvy though her waist was tiny. Her smile was infectious displaying perfectly straight white teeth and long silky eyelashes above her crinkling merry gaze.
Elizabeth took Devonny's hands in her own. "You must be Devonny," she rushed out. "It's so good to meet you. I've heard so much about you in Prince's letters. I'm sure we will be fast friends."
Devonny's unease melted away at the girl's animation. She could see immediately why Prince loved her. She was just as he'd described her, a veritable sunbeam. Elizabeth then turned her gaze to Prince who was standing by, and cocked her head to the side giving him a genuine smile of happiness. Prince returned the smile and bowed slightly, extending his hand. "Miss Madison," he said solemnly though there was no mistaking the mirth in his eyes.
Elizabeth daintily gave him her hand and dropped an equally solemn curtsy. "Mr. Adams."
Devonny watched the exchange with interest. The air fairly crackled between them.
"Elizabeth!" An older woman was coming down the walkway towards them. She was unmistakably Elizabeth's mother. They shared the same lovely features though Mrs. Madison was undoubtedly a bit more reserved. "Elizebeth Katherine Madison," she admonished, "I can't imagine why you find it acceptable tearing out of the house like a hoyden with your hair unbound and no bonnet and no gloves."
"Miss Clarke," Mrs. Madison inclined her head to Devonny. "It's wonderful to finally meet you. I apologize for my daughter's..." she glanced at Elizabeth with mock sternness, "excitement." Mrs. Madison's gaze was amused despite her apology for her daughter's behavior. "She was raised by wolves," Mrs. Madison said straight-faced.
"Mother!" Elizabeth gasped and Devonny could not help but laugh.
"It's so good to meet you, Mrs. Madison," Devonny said smiling. "I'm honored you have invited me into your home."
Mrs. Madison gave her a shooing motion. "No need to be so polite, dear. Please call me Caroline. Come, let's inside for some proper tea and conversation," she said giving her daughter a pointed look at the mention of 'proper.' Elizabeth merely grinned.
Devonny and Prince followed the Madison women into the home. Mr. Madison was coming down the stairs when they entered. He was a tall bespectacled man with pure white hair though his chestnut colored face was still smooth and unlined. "Prince, my boy," his voice thundered and he drew Prince into a hearty embrace.
"Sir," Prince returned when he had been released.
Mr. Madison then looked on Devonny. "Miss Clarke, it's a pleasure to meet you."
Devonny dipped a small curtsy, "And you, sir."
Mr. Madison clapped Prince on the shoulder. "Come, let's leave the women to themselves shall we?"
Prince grinned in response and followed Mr. Madison towards the back of the house tossing Devonny a reassuring smile over his shoulder.
Devonny smiled nervously. Elizabeth linked her arm through Devonny's. "Don't worry we don't bite."
Caroline Madison led them to an elegantly decorated parlor where a silver tea server was set upon the table. Devonny sat next to Elizabeth upon the settee while her mother took one of the seats across from them.
"How are you finding the country?" Caroline asked, pouring the tea into the delicate china cups.
Devonny smiled. "It's been wonderful truly." She talked about riding and the books she was reading. She also talked about Kedleston Hall and the grounds when Elizabeth asked. The conversation flowed amiably and easily. It was just as Prince had said: they were wonderful people.
Caroline Madison leaned back in her chair a thoughtful look upon her face. She looked at Devonny seriously. "Now, Miss Devonny, I do not want to offend you when I speak of this. And do not be put out with Prince for telling us of your past, it was quite necessary you see, and he only wanted the best for you."
Devonny flushed, immediately realizing what Caroline was referring to. Of course, she was referring to Devonny's years growing up at Madame Pomfrey's. "I'm sorry ma'am I..."
Caroline Madison held up her hand to halt her though her expression was kind. "There is no sort of apology necessary. Prince has told us everything he knows of your past in hopes that you could still be brought out into our society despite it." She smiled gently, "Now having met you, I think it is entirely possible...pending you agree to some—let us say—embellishments and alterations."
"Ma'am?" Devonny ventured.
"You were raised by a parish priest and his wife, no?" Caroline continued.
"Yes, ma'am." Devonny answered.
"When they passed you then were in an orphanage before running away and being taken into a house of ill-repute."
If possible Devonny flushed even deeper. Elizabeth lightly touched Devonny's hands in her lap.
Caroline Madison took a sip of her tea. "What I mean by embellish and alter is simply that we change your story. I'm told you've little contact with well-to-do people of color?"
Devonny nodded. "None whatsoever ma'am until now."
"That's good," Caroline nodded with approval. "Then no one will know you. We will introduce you as Prince's sister, who was raised by a parish priest and his wife until their deaths after which you were raised by the sisters at the Penbrook cloister until you were of age and you went to work for the Daveports, who your family was so close to, rather than take the cloth."
Devonny's eyes were wide. "Prince's sister?"
Caroline nodded. "Prince's parents were a decent sort of people but they died of the pox when Prince was but a boy. Prince's grandfather was very close to the abolitionist movement and thus very close to the Davenport's father. They were friends. When Prince's parents died and his grandparents feared that in their old age they would be able to care for him. He had no other family and his grandfather asked for Mr. Davenport to take Prince in if anything happened to him. And so Prince came to live with the Davenports who never treated him like a servant. His grandfather had left him a sizeable inheritance. You, Devonny, will be the sister that was sent to live in a far away parish. There is no one to dispute it, and with our family backing you no one will try to."
Devonny stared at the woman across from her who had come up with such an elaborate story on her behalf. "You wish me to deceive everyone?"
A sad smile crossed Caroline Madison's lovely face. "I wish it did not have to be so. I wish that we lived in a world where people were judged not on past circumstances beyond their control but by the character and dignity with which they live their lives, but it is not so. You would think that with all our set has been through, that we would not alienate each other but I'm afraid this is the only way that we can circumvent the difficulty of your situation and secure you a possible future."
Elizabeth squeezed Devonny's hand encouragingly. "And the only way we can truly be allowed to be friends." She looked hopeful. "Please, Devonny?"
Devonny drew a deep breath, a million thought whirling in her head. She nodded slowly, meeting Caroline's gaze. "I understand. I will do whatever you think is necessary."
Caroline smiled a wide genuine smile and Elizabeth bounced on the settee next to her and clapped her hands. "Wonderful! This is going to be so much fun!"
Caroline leaned forward sharing her daughter's enthusiasm. "Of course you must come visit often. There is much to do. We shall teach you the latest dances and other etiquette just to be sure although I have heard you are quite familiar with the current social graces."
"And can we visit her at Kedleston?" Elizabeth breathed looking pleadingly at her mother.
"If the Daveports will allow it, dear," her mother soothed.
Devonny smiled. "I will ask them directly and send a note round."
"Good," Caroline said, setting her teacup back in its saucer on the side table. "Shall we walk about the gardens and chat on a lighter subject?"
Prince apologized profusely though unnecessarily on the carriage ride home for telling the Madison's all about her past. As Caroline had said, he only wanted to help. Devonny assured him that he had done just that.
It was still none too late in the day when they arrived back at Kedleston and Devonny went straight to the kitchens as promised to tell Moira everything.
Moira quite agreed with Caroline Madison's plan and saw it as the best thing possible for Devonny. Devonny gave her a full account of the day while helping her arrange pastries on a silver server. The Davenport house was busy as always. Sadie bustled into the kitchen and took the tray while Moira set about making up another pot of tea.
Moira took Devonny's face and looked at her with pride. "I knew you'd do wonderfully for yourself." And with that she took up the tea server and went off to the saloon.
Devonny smiled after her only to look down and realize that she had forgotten the milk. "Moira, wait!" but she was already gone.
Without thinking Devonny went after her. When Devonny reached the salon entrance she stopped short. It was filled with people, she wasn't dressed as a servant and there was no way she wanted to garner any undue attention. She would just wait until Moira came back out. Thinking to step out of sight Devonny turned and made to move to the side when she came into contact with a tall male frame causing the silver saucer to slip from her fingers to clank and skip across the marble floor.
"Goodness!" Devonny bent immediately to retrieve the saucer and flustered took her handkerchief from her sleeve to wipe at the milk that had been spilt. But before she could bend to clean up the mess a firm hand took hold of hers and lifted her to stand.
Gabriel lifted her to her to stand glancing at the spilled milk and quickly pulled her aside. "Leave it, you'll ruin your gown."
Devonny defly tugged her hand from his and took a hasty step back. "Moira simply forgot the milk," she rushed out. "I was bringing it to her and then..." her voice trailed off at the intent look Gabriel was giving her. "What?"