“Oh of course she would, it’s easy to be asked to countless dances when you are nothing but a harlot.” The giggles behind closed doors did nothing but cause the bruises fading on the body of Lady Juliet Hunington, second daughter to the Marquess of Norwich, to throb behind her lace sleeves. The harsh memory flooded her mind as she continued to walk down the elegantly lit hallway, her breasts rising and falling quickly as she attempted to remain calm. Her heart pounded in her ears as the tears forced their way past her weakened resolve. Juliet wanted to remain strong, remain stoic, to look presentable in the face of their words.
Presentable being a past tense word. The charcoal rounding her eyes smeared down her face as the silent tears continued to fall against her will, exposing her true emotions in a very unlady-like manner. Juliet’s previous adventure to the powder room long forgotten, her internal need to run, to leave, over taking her body. The cherry paneled hallway seemed to stretch on forever, keeping her closer to harm, closer to the very edge of death. It was like even the portraits proudly displayed on the walls laughed at her misery.
Pushing into a door, Juliet hardly cared that it was one of the host’s personal bedchambers. The second the door closed behind her, Juliet sank to her knees, sliding down the red painted walls. There she sat, in a pile of light blue silken lace and expensive fabric, careless on the developing wrinkles, the tears streaming with little sign of stopping. Their aim true, leaving drops and streaks down to her fashionably exposed bosom.
They were calling her a harlot. They labeled her such a harsh word, one she feels she could never forgive herself for.
It was widely known that she was no longer ‘innocent’. Yet the reasoning behind it would forever be misunderstood. If only someone could see the struggle she had done, could have seen how she cried for help, maybe they would take her side. But all they knew were flapping tongues, rumors of her encounter with the wealthy men in society. Their words of her eagerness for their touch are nothing but blatant lies. It was something she had to face, yet hardly did she have the courage to do so.
Juliet was ruined in the eyes of society. Nothing could make her regain the grace and excitement she once had hardly a singular month ago, when at first she believed herself being courted by the Duke’s eldest son. If only she could tell herself to run, to turn down that initial invitation to the theater, but none of that mattered now.
There she sat, creating even more scandal for her and her family’s name. It was against the unspoken code amongst all party goers in society never to enter personal chambers of the host. But it was no use, her knees held no strength even if the sobs that wrecked her body subsided long enough for her to make an excuse to leave. She couldn’t go back out there, to face people she may have once thought were her friends. Ones she knew think of her as nothing but regal trash.
The one who called her such harsh words was Lady Clara Barlett, the first and single daughter of a Viscount. Though by status, Juliet held a higher value to society. Therefore, Clara had always seeked her out at parties and events, clamping to her arm and chatting with sparkling blue eyes. A true beauty, their first seasons aligning together nearly three years ago felt like the opportunity to bond to a forever friendship.
Yet Juliet saw it as it always was; nothing but an attempt to gain the attention of her brother, the heir of the Marquess title, Fletcher. However, with her brother being taught the cruelest of nature from the likes of her father, Fletcher looked at her as nothing more but a pretty distraction. Juliet felt they could maintain their friendship, at least under the understanding that she held no power over her brother, and in some sense they had. All until now.
A light knock on the door scared Juliet out of her mental pity party. All she could do was hold her breath, covering her mouth with a gloved hand in a feeble attempt to stifle the sob that threatened her heart to explode. The room was dark, dark enough that Juliet hoped that with enough silence the one who knocked would just leave her alone. But as most things in her life, she would not be granted what she so desperately desires. With a soft creak that felt like a nail in her skull, the cherry door opened, exposing the yellowed light from the hallway. That which illuminated the previously dark room. Juliet wished the ground itself would suck her in.
In popped a head of loose, flowing ringlet curls, looking dark in color. It was too dark in the room to be seen, this stranger’s identity disguised in the now blinding light. Juliet remained still, hoping once again that this stranger would miss her crumpled floor in the dark room, and move on with their night. All she wanted was to be left alone in her own wallow. Juliet took in a sharp breath as a hand led into the room with a lit candle, illuminated the sparkled beads on her wrinkled dress.
“I heard you outside in the hallway. Are you okay?” The woman spoke softly, more similar to a mother than any of the other “ladies” out in the hall. Yet obvious from her elegant dress, her lightly painted cheeks and moist lips, she wasn’t a servant. Juliet let out one more gasping cry, the hands tightly pressed against her lips to silence her falling in tight balls to her side. She was trying her hardest to suppress and hold it all down, to not be weak in front of a perfect stranger, but it was too hard.
This was the first time someone asked if she was ‘okay’ in the longest of times, in a sincere, honest way.
“Oh honey, don’t cry, it’s okay.” The woman shut the door behind herself as she placed the candle on a table by the door, sinking herself down to Juliet’s level on the cold wooden floor. The kind woman took Juliet’s shaking hand, wrapping both her velvet gloves palms around the tight ball that Juliet refused to relax. A supportive smile painted her face. “You can tell me what’s wrong, and I can do anything in my power to correct it.”
“I-I don’t think much could fix what has happened...” Juliet whispered, a chill racking her body. The kind woman gasped, leaning back slightly as she looked over this new stranger. Yet she refused to let Juliet’s hand go, her look more observant than judging. It was as if she was checking if even a singular hair was out of place on Juliet’s chocolate brown head.
“Did something just happen?”
“I-I can’t tell you. You’ll think me lest but a harlot.” Juliet’s voice flattered, wincing at the harsh word escaped her lips. She turned her face away from the kind stranger to avoid seeing the look of disgust she knew she would see. Her cheeks burned bright from a mix of embarrassment and fear, reaching all the way to her ear tips.
“If it upsets you so, I imagine not. Here, allow me introductions so you know my honesty. I’m Countess Ivory Quaman, this is both my house and my quarters you are in. I want to know how I can correct what frightens you so.” The Countess’ comforting hand squeezed Juliet’s hand tighter, finally giving Juliet enough strength to lift her eyes off of the hardwood floors, meeting her hazel eyes to icy blues, the look of honest concern and kindness filling them. It nearly took her breath away.
“I-It’s just... That.... There are men, uh, gentlemen who think that I am, uh... receptive and waiting, to advantages. It happens no matter where I go, balls, parks, the opera. It’s a filthy and demeaning rumor, which has reached the ears of the ton and I have nothing to defend myself of. Oh Lady Quaman, your house is so beautiful and the ball you prepared so elegant, but I find myself wanting to depart home quickly.” Juliet admitted in a rush, knowing that this knowledge would be enough to swoon even the toughest ladys hearts, if one choose to believe her in the first place. Yet Lady Quaman did not falter her grip on Juliet’s hand, lightly coaching it out of the tight ball she still held. Juliet didn’t even notice that her polished nails dug through her gloves and into her palms enough to leave light marks until she opened her palm.
“Oh my dear, Miss, uh...” Ivory stuttered, Juliet quickly remembering she never told her her name.
“It’s Juliet. Juliet Huntington.” Juliet spoke with a wavering tone, ready for the reaction she always received; immediate groveling, only to be spoken to neatly behind her back as if she could have no emotions. The name itself held a toll, a level of expectations of the kin. Yet here she was, sobbing on the floor at a ball instead of dancing with yet another grabby man, who’s hands always seem to wonder past what would be correct when they think no one is looking.
It makes Juliet’s skin prick with goose pimples at the mere thought.
“Oh, my word. Huntington? The second daughter of the Marquess? I’ve never imagined- no, that’s not for now. Come, I will escort you safely home. Your London home isn’t far from here, we may be able to walk if the crisp air allows us.” Lady Quaman rose to her feet, gently guiding Juliet with her. Her dress was crumpled from misuse, the stockings under her pantaloons torn in evidence of her very recent struggle, a tear running right up to where she dare not even think.
Juliet was lucky that this time she managed to get away. She agreed to two dances with a man, and he took that as a sign that she was wanton for him. It was the very opposite, she just didn’t want to be seen standing against the wall, to be cornered by the ladies complimenting her then immediately asking of her brothers availability, or any kind of information that might lead them to introductions with him or his wealthy friends. Her card held open one more spot, and between him and the others it seemed like he was most respectful with his hands. It was enough that the extensive fear she felt subsided for her to swallow her tongue and hand over her card.
Yet even dancing in a fully populated hall remained an unsafe event for Juliet.
At this point she didn’t even want to attend these events anymore, the season more like a heavy cloud than a time of indulgence. If it wasn’t for her sister, Eliene, threatening to inform father of her disagreeable attitude towards social events, she would never show her face in society again.
This woman didn’t recoil at the thought of being seen with a scandalous woman. Juliet thought that maybe she missed the gossip? This was a rather large ball, it could have taken most of the season to plan, giving her less opportunity to be updated in the word of the ton. Lady Quaman kindly gripped her arm, leading her back into the maze of hallways with her head up high. After, of course, allowing Juliet a minute to rub off the stains from her cheeks. She looked nearly presentable at the sake of her now stained gloves. They passed by the powder room at the same time the eligible ladies of the night departed, ones just previously insulting her. Lady Clara Barnett stood at the front, her breasts swelling at the top of her corset, rising and falling fastly at the sight of the two women before her.
“Oh, Countess Quaman, it is such an honor to be invited to quite a party. Quiet a soiree for the end of seasons.” She curtsied low, the girls behind her following suit. They always seem to follow her domineering personality.
“Yes, yes indeed. Please enjoy yourselves.” Almost dismissed, even with a light wave of her hand, Countess Quaman continued walking with Juliet on her arm. She looked behind her coyly, seeing that Clara held such a look of disdain on her face, her brow wrinkling her previously attractive face. Yet another door closed by her horrific personality.
“Let me assume, were those the ladies speaking such harsh words about you?” Though Juliet remained quiet, never one to point fingers or wag her tongue, it was obvious the answer. Ivory just patted her hand comfortingly as they walked to the front door.
They stood waiting as the footman grabbed their coats, the soft hum of music and laughter from the main hall nothing but a dark memory on Juliet’s mind. Their silence was comfortable. The soft fingers on her arm still held her comfortably. That was when he appeared like a dark shadow, creeping up from a darkened hallway, darkened to discourage the casual visitors from passing through.