London by Night

Chapter One


"Honestly, Rosanna, your actions last night were uncalled for and rather embarrassing. You know, I was speaking to Laurette Douglas only last Friday and she has told me that people are beginning to talk about you. You haven't been acting the proper young woman. You're twenty-two and still have not given any thought to a proper suitor. Then last night, we find you speaking to a young man without a chaperone? Really, Rosanna, I must say I'm rather embarrassed by you as of late," Elisabeth Leveson eyed her daughter beside her at the table, fork poised over her intricate dinner plate. Rosanna sighed, lowering her head and nodding, slowly. "Speak up, young woman; a proper gentleman does not like a woman who mumbles."

"I'm sorry, Mother," Rosanna announced, raising her voice a bit and lifting her head, eyes focused directly in front of her. "I was only telling him where the refreshments were. He seemed so lost I felt sorry for him. Not everyone has the knowledge of high society as we."

"Then you should have had someone else inform him. Maybe that...friend of yours, Annalena? It wouldn't be below her to speak to a young man alone," Elisabeth began working on cutting tiny pieces from her meat, completely oblivious to the frustrated grunt that escaped Rosanna's mouth.

"If it is not disrespectful for me to say so, Mother, Annalena is a proper young woman. She has a suitor, a man here from the colonies. I believe his name was...Roger Parker," she announced, clearing her throat and adjusting herself in her seat. "I've yet to see him, but she tells me he's forty-two and rather handsome for his age."

She chanced a glance up at her mother, pausing a moment before regaining her casual conversation. "Quite like Father was, I believe."

Elisabeth's fork clattered down onto her plate, her nostrils flaring as she struggled to keep her temper. Rosanna watched with a mixture of shock and amusement, knowing her mother would have enjoyed screaming obscenities at her. It was times like these when she was thankful that her mother had immersed herself in high society so deeply that she had begun to exercise her manners even in their own home.

"Rosanna, how many times have I told you not to mention that...that man," her voice was breathy and Rosanna noted her deep intake of breath, cut short by the ridiculously taut corset (17 inches, of course. Elisabeth would have it no larger). "No bother. I spoke to Laurette Douglas last Friday, have I told you? Her daughter Rebecca is having her debutante ball this Thursday. She has expressed a strong desire to have you there. Oh, she does so look up to you, you know. She's always seen you as her...older sister. Wouldn't it be lovely to see her again? It's been so long."

"Thursday? Mother, haven't we already been invited to the, um..." Rosanna bit her lower lip, struggling to remember the name she knew rested on the tip of her tongue. "The ball for..."

"The Vandersons? Oh, no, I refuse to go anywhere near that house," Elisabeth waved a delicate hand in the air, placing another tiny forkful into her mouth, chewing slowly before she spoke once more. "Did you know that the wife is with child? At her age? It's preposterous. Her figure will never be the same."

"Yes, I suppose so," Rosanna eyed her food with distaste. She had gained a great dislike for the food her mother had given to her day after day. It tasted horrid and at fourteen she had gone so far as to force herself to throw up, just to get out of eating it. But she was not fourteen anymore, she reminded herself. She was now twenty-two years of age, she had to learn to deal with things she did not like.

"Mm, I almost forgot," Elisabeth picked up her napkin, dabbing at the corners of her mouth, gently as not to ruin her lips. "I've found a wonderful man who is very interested in becoming your suitor. I believe you remember him."

"How am I to remember him if you won't tell me his name?" Rosanna forced a smile onto her face to prevent any bitterness from showing through. Elisabeth grinned, setting her hands on the table and leaning towards her daughter, slightly.

"You knew him when you were young. If I remember right, you two were such good friends. Always together. Inseparable, even," she sat back in her chair, folding her hands in her lap, a conspiratorial grin still present on her impossibly smooth complexion. "Gerard Sheridon. He's come back from New York and has been asking about you for quite awhile. I saw him last week and he is very excited to see you. I told him you were going to Rebecca's debutante ball. I believe he wishes to ask you if he may escort you there. You can't always go to these things with only me for the rest of your life. You'll end up an old maid. And he's so close to your age. It will work out lovely, don't you think?"

"Gerard?" Rosanna could not hide her surprise, green eyes widening. "Oh, I haven't seen him in...eleven years."

"I knew you would be excited. Won't this be lovely? And I've found the most beautiful dress. He's become so handsome," Elisabeth began flitting about the dining room, Rosanna watching her, shock still running through her body. "Come along, get up. Go change, we have guests coming for tea."

"A typewriter. That's what I need. A bloody typewriter!" Evan Milbank slammed a hand down upon his worn desk, watching with disinterest as the glass container housing his black ink teetered precariously on it's edge before finally toppling over. It took a moment before he jumped to his feet, pulling his old handkerchief from his pocket and struggling in vain to blot the ink from the oak.

For the past three months he refused to even think the two words that newspapers had boasted about him. He refused to allow anyone near him speak the words or even hint towards them. But now, standing before his ruined desk, dripping pages and-he was now noticing-stained suit, he had become to accept that he did, indeed, have a very severe case of Writer's Block. He sighed, eyeing the soaked stack of pages, the container of ink still dripping from its spot atop the desk, wondering how in the world he had come to this. The aged headlines above his desk never would have given his current state away. With such glorious headlines as "English Author Shocks and Entices American Readers," "Author Milbank Popular Among New Yorkers" and even "Family Portrait Considered a Masterpiece," one never would have expected him to be seated in such a dim room with only one or two chapters finished in three months and five days. It had become his ultimate undoing.

Just four months earlier, he had been a happily married man with a four-year-old daughter. Danielle and Clara had been his entire world. He had never let a day pass without telling them how much he loved both of them. But when he began holing himself up in the office, refusing to speak to either of them, Danielle had taken Clara away from him, promising that he would never see his daughter again. At first, he hadn't believed her. How could his wife steal his own daughter from him?

The sound of the bell-pull in the main hallway startled him and he jumped, nearly tripping over a discarded item on the ground before him. His hands shot out, grasping the old chair to steady himself as he heard the door open and muffled conversation between the maid and the mystery guest (a male, by the sound of it). Evan straightened, furrowing his brow when the maid let out a soft gasp, the sound of footsteps on the stairs drifting in beneath the door.

"Evan? Evan, may I come in?" Henry. How long had it been since they'd seen each other? At least one month. For a friendship lasting fifteen years, one month seemed quite a long time to avoid one another.

"Henry. Y-Yes. Yes, you may come in," Evan called back, watching the door curiously. Henry pushed his way inside, head lowered, one hand clutching a bright white envelope. "It's been quite awhile. I'd begun to think you had escaped with Danielle."

"Don't say such things," Henry muttered, avoiding Evan's gaze. Something in the way he shuffled across the floorboards, eyes darting from his own boots to the envelope made Evan incredibly nervous.

"What's the matter?" he questioned, voice softening. Henry swallowed, hard, finally looking up. "Is it in that letter?"

"It's from Leeds, Evan. It's about Danielle and Clara," he was whispering now. Evan took three long strides towards him, snatching the letter and tearing it open, scanning the stark black writing.

"Oh God," he choked out, nearly tumbling to the floor. Henry reached out, careful not to let the young man slip from his grasp. "God no, Henry."

Sliding to the floor, he allowed Evan to press his face against his shoulder, neither speaking a word, the letter still clutched in Evan's sweaty hand.

I know this first chapter was a bit dull, but I needed a way to establish the characters and since the format of this one is a bit different from all my others, the introductions are a bit different. It picks up, I promise.

I've been doing quite a bit of research on Victorian Era London, so I'm fairly sure most of this will be accurate, but if I have missed anything or slipped up on anything, please feel free to tell me. But be gentle, I bruise easily.