A/N: Thank you for your feedback. I didn't really think that I was implementing "Sesquipedalianism" in my story. Many of the books I've read use just as varied and lengthy vocabulary as I do here, and so I thought most readers would be able to get the gist of any unfamiliar words through context clues. Plus, I don't admire repetition in my story and simplifying the diction I wish to use would most likely bring some repetitiveness. But I did lighten up on the vocabulary a bit in this chapter.
Thank you all once again for your reviews. I appreciate your advice and comments very much.
Charlotte was struck profoundly by a gust of surprise that seized her thin limbs and froze every muscle in her body. Her fingers circled around the sleek banister of the stairs, steadily throttling the wood as her eyes narrowed in on the trio of regally attired gentlemen entering her home with easy, poised steps.
She observed, with a twitching eyelid, her mother bustling to the front doors with strident cries of welcome, embracing one of the young men at once and kissing both sides of his grinning face. Charlotte sniffed sharply, shifting her eyes away from the arrival of her brother and moving them to the empty, dim hallway of the upper floor. One of the doors suddenly opened, and out popped sixteen year old Gillian, looking like a ghost in her pale, rose-tinted gown. With a frown and curl of an eyebrow, Charlotte noted her red ribbon tied tightly across the high waistline of the mauslin gauze dress.
"I already have one very accurate guess as to why you are wearing such an overwrought garment," stated Charlotte, disapproving of her sister's entire appearance with a shake of her head.
"I expected Gabriel to bring some friends of his." Gillian smiled sweetly. "And unlike you, I will not wait until I am an old hag to marry." Mimicking her older sister's hauteur, Gillian whipped out her fan and giggled the rest of the way down the stairs.
Shortly after she descended, Charlotte heard her brother's booming, "Gillian! Sister! My, how you've grown!" And she watched with a taut jaw as Gabriel lifted Gillian off her feet in a very pointless bear-hug.
"It is good to have you home, Brother," beamed Gillian, hiding her smile from the other two unnamed gentlemen with her fan. "Papa, Crispin and Isaac are out in town on business matters. They are hiring more servants."
"Yes, I've heard. Mother informed me. Say, where is dear old Lottie?" chortled Gabriel as he made way towards the stairs. "How many more suitors has she denied? Twenty? Thirty?" His laughter resonated throughout the foyer and up the stairs, reaching Charlotte's ears with just as much ring to it as it did when it first left his mouth.
"I've denied none, you scoundrel!" Charlotte shrieked, fed up with the jeers and Gillian's inappropriate flirting. She marched down the stairs, book still in hand, and confronted her brother confidently, albeit irritably.
"Do I not get a proper welcome, Charlotte?" teased Gabriel, his arms open wide before her. She hissed at him and stepped aside, reaching the end of the staircase and glaring at the two other officers with a berating stare. Meanwhile, she heard Gabriel's footsteps rise up behind her and she readied her elbow should he pull some ill-conceived prank on her.
"Who are these men and why have you brought them?" she demanded pitilessly. "Mother only prepared a meal for seven people, not nine."
"Charlotte!" Mrs. Benson interjected sharply. The older woman turned to the two, anonymous officers and forced on a nervous smile. "We can always accommodate to guests. Do not mind my daughter's hostility."
"I believe that can be easily done, Mrs. Benson," answered one of the men, taking off his fore-and-aft hat and bowing to both Mrs. Benson and her eldest daughter. Charlotte merely crossed her arms over her chest and refused the attention. "I am Lieutenant Nicholas Hartley."
"He's my first, Mother," Gabriel contributed. "And to his left is Lieutenant Prescott, my second."
Mrs. Benson nodded and greeted each of the men with a warm handshake and nudged Charlotte in the side to remind her of the existence of decorum. "Curtsy," she whispered bitterly, and Charlotte suppressed a moan in her throat and bent her knee minimally before the two lieutenants.
"How do you do, Miss Benson?" asked Nicholas, his limpid, pervenche eyes meeting hers. Charlotte smoothed her lips into a faux smile as she offered him her hand. He took it without delay and for a brief second, Mrs. Benson was hopeful of a relationship blooming between them. However, the older lady was dearly mistaken.
"Just fine without your untimely interruptions in my family's matters," she remarked trenchantly, pulling her fingers out of his grasp with a scornful twist of her head.
Mrs. Benson stood mouth open and gawping at the sheer impertinence of her eldest daughter. The old woman's eyes were stretched to their limits in blatant stupefaction, staring in disbelief at the belligerent encounter Charlotte had so carelessly instigated with Gabriel's guest. The unflattering demeanor of the younger woman only further fortified her unpardonable abundance of arrogance, and Charlotte laughed gaily as she walked away, chin held up high and her hazel eyes sparkling at the success of the argument.
Lieutenant Hartley was more confounded than Charlotte's mother; the young man's hand was still positioned in the air, as if he was still holding the delicate frame of Charlotte's hand, but in reality clung to nothing but dead, listless air. His blue eyes stared blankly at the path her footsteps traced as she traveled to the dining hall, his chiseled countenance a vacant mask as he dared to comprehend why on earth any woman would greet a man like that.
"Nicholas?" uttered Gabriel as he unsuccessfully tried to stifle his laughter. Nicholas ignored him, feeling a swelling ripple of red embarrassment invade his face. Gabriel patted him lightly on the shoulder. "Don't mind her, Hartley. She's just…" his voice lost its assurance as he delved into his mind for a fitting selection of vocabulary to describe his "unique" sister. He turned to Gillian for an answer, becoming just as confused as both his mother and his friend, and Gillian twittered a few giggles behind her fan, saying afterwards:
"Indecent? Foul? Impudent?"
"Yes! Those are the words," Gabriel praised. "Thank you, Sister."
"S-Shall we proceed to supper?" stammered Mrs. Benson, recovering from the rudeness of Charlotte's welcome. She scuttled past them towards the dining hall, trusting that they'd follow.
And follow her they did.
Mr. Benson and his two youngest twin sons, Crispin and Isaac, arrived but fifteen minutes into the meal, and at hearing Gabriel's joyfully verbose gabble, the three males gladly introduced themselves as they strolled into the dining hall, with Mr. Benson lightly kissing his wife as he passed by and then exchanging cordial greetings with his two daughters. When he came to Gabriel, father and son embraced each other warmly, and it occurred to Charlotte in the moment when her graying, russet-haired father hailed her brother that the two resembled each other with frightening accuracy. Perhaps the only scrap of difference between them was that Gabriel had inherited their mother's pale, brown hair (as it were. Now Mrs. Benson's hair had greyed completely) whereas Mr. Benson had retained most of his original hair color, that being a deep, brownish-red. They had the same, clear eyes, square face and were similar in height and build as well. And their resemblance only caused her to wonder or to become aware of any likeliness she possessed of her mother.
She glanced at her Mother's thin, vaguely wrinkled visage over the rim of her wine glass as she took a drink, and instantly refused any comparison between them. She liked to think of herself as different anyway.
"Did you get us anything, Gabriel?" Isaac asked eagerly, taking his seat beside Charlotte and manually grabbing knife and fork in his hands as he equipped himself for more gluttony.
"A ship model, Gabriel! You brought us one, didn't you?" Crispin joined in, his hazel eyes bright with hope.
The twin boys were both seven years of age, attaining the fair, curly hair of their mother and the family's common characteristic of hazel eyes. Crispin's mop of hair was a shade darker than Isaac's and such a mark was the only attribute they were distinguished by. However, the two were an inseparable and mischievous duo. Charlotte had taken a liking to them, appreciating their convivial company far better than the excessively effeminate interests of her sister, and therefore the puckish pranks and schemes the twins delightfully executed were very much accredited to Charlotte's own gleefully disposed cunning.
"Why, I think I might have two miniature replicas of a British Man-of-War stashed in my sea chest somewhere," Gabriel answered duly, happy to liven up the dull lives of his young brothers with a few more toys and trinkets for their already vast collection. "And Father, Crispin, Isaac, these are my very good friends." He gestured at Nicholas and Prescott, who naturally rose from their seats and introduced themselves with a short bow and nod of the head.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Sir," Hartley commented earnestly, shaking the hand that Mr. Benson offered both to him and Prescott.
"Indeed, indeed," grinned the old man, taking his seat at the other end of the table. "You are all very much welcome to my home. Gabriel, have you…" Mr. Benson clasped his hands together over the tabletop as he sought for the proper words. With Charlotte sitting within ear's reach, he always had to make sure he said what he wanted to say in a way that would not invoke a biting correction from her grammatically-conscious tongue. "You have introduced Gillian and Charlotte to your comrades, have you not?" he finished, avoiding Charlotte's stare. He knew her eyes were already on him, questioning darkly as to why he had to inquire to such a thing.
"Uh, yes," Gabriel said, wondering if a proper introduction ever even took place. "Yes, I did."
Charlotte scoffed loud enough to mock and push his statements to falsehood as she sipped at her wine again. Gabriel heard her sneer clear enough, and he frowned grimly in her direction, the usual rivalry between brother and sister rising to a definite future bickering.
"Do you have anything to say, dear Sister?" asked Gabriel curtly, leaning forward as he expected her answer.
Gillian spoke for Charlotte before she even had the opportunity to open her mouth.
"Of course she does. She barely ever shuts up anyway."
"Why thank you, Gillian, for your unwanted input. I believe the question was addressed to me." Charlotte's thin lips tightened into a rigid line as she swirled the ruby wine in her glass. Then, averting her attention to Gabriel, she said: "I would hardly consider our 'introductions' to be suitable, Brother." She dabbed daintily at the corners of her mouth with her napkin.
"Well, if you hadn't overtly pronounced your dislike to these men—men, whom of which are your guests—then perhaps amiable greetings would have been exchanged. Honestly, Charlotte. Can't you ever show some decent respect for anyone?"
"Why certainly, Gabriel," she mocked, "I would willingly curtsy and smile at the first honorable man I see. You and your friends, Brother, are officers of His Majesty's damned Navy, and I will have no peace with men who kill other men for a King who has gone mad!"
"Charlotte!" exclaimed Mr. Benson, appalled that his daughter would say such scalding words against their home country and at their dinner table.
Gabriel simply leaned back in his chair with a deafening laugh, slapping the palm of his hand on the table as he laughed all the harder, his face turning bright red. The rest of the family and guests at the table were silent, glancing at one another now and then as they contemplated the hilarity that Gabriel found so prominent in Charlotte's reply. Even the twin boys, who often laughed with anyone else who was laughing, were silent as the grave.
"And what, dear Brother, is so funny?" Charlotte demanded, a scowl vibrating from the back of her throat.
"You are, Lottie!" he simpered, slapping his hand on the table again. Tears began to leak out of his eyes. "If we didn't kill of Old 'Bones and Part's' blasted navy, then do you know what would become of us? Of you?" His laughter ebbed as he gained strength in his argument. "England would be French! Do you want to be French, Sister? Would you like to marry, or, God forbid, get taken advantage by a Frenchman? I doubt it."
"Oh God!" snickered Hartley, understanding his comrade's source of humor. He began to jump into the hilarity as well. "No, no, Gabriel. No Frog would dare touch your sister."
"Why not?" Both Gabriel and Charlotte now looked at him.
"They'd all run away screaming for their mother's. No man, trust me; no man would ever want to live every day of his life with that type of woman." He gathered the nerve to point a finger at Charlotte when he stressed 'that' and it was now Charlotte's turn to gawk at them all, insulted and pink in the face from her humiliation. Gillian began to chuckle and the twins started to bubble out their own giggles.
Nicholas was more than pleased with Charlotte's facial expression, and he continued his thoughts, not minding the risk involved in attempting to outwit the bitter bas bleu.
"If any man did decide to marry her, why, I'd feel the greatest amount of empathy for the fellow. He'd have to endure every single day with her quarrels and ill-made points, her grievances and objections and all that other foolishness that she indulges in daily. No, no. No wise man would ever wed her. He'd be marrying the devil if he did."
Charlotte had heard enough, and she shot up from her seat, tossing her napkin onto the table with a quick flick of her wrist, all the while glowering at Lieutenant Hartley with the passion to kill in her eyes. She exited the hall without so much as a pardon or farewell and at her leave, Mr. and Mrs. Benson were not sure if they were happy or discontent. It was unheard of for someone, let alone a stranger, to challenge Charlotte, and yet their stubborn daughter had been defeated most disastrously by a pair of nautical gentlemen.
They considered such an outcome as pivotal. Even amusing.
Oh, they'd never let it go now. The married couple laughed lightly at first, and then they became fully fledged flights of laughter. And soon, the whole dining hall was filled with joyous celebration at Miss Charlotte Benson's first ever defeat.
A/N: Please review! All comments are welcome!