“That’s too tight!” Josephine cried out.
“I apologize, ma’am,” her servant said. She quickly untied the ribbons on her bodice, and proceeded to begin tying it up again.
“Hurry up,” she snapped. “The ball is in less than two hours and my gown isn’t even on yet,”
Josephine Verley stared into the ornate mirror, taking in her appearance. Her long blonde hair flowed down her back in curls, and her bright blue eyes sparkled with intelligence and wit. She sighed in frustration as her servant took her time tying up her bodice. She had been to countless balls before, but Queen Victoria herself was going to be at this one. Not to mention, her father was going to introduce her as a lady, rather than a girl, for the first time.
“It is done. Does it feel alright?” asked the servant apprehensively.
“It feels fine. Please get my gown so I can begin getting ready,” she replied.
The servant left the room for a few moments, before coming back with another girl and the gown. The gown itself was well-fitting at the top, and it flowed outwards dramatically starting at the hips. There were so many layers to the gown that it required a hoop sewed into the hem to keep it in shape. Josephine rose, standing in such a position that was ideal for slipping it on. She adjusted herself before allowing the servants to take control. They tugged in some places and pulled at others, correcting the sleeves, waist, neck. Finally, the laced ribbon at the back was tied together in an elaborate bow.
The rest of the two hours were spent putting on her makeup and spraying her with different perfumes to achieve the most splendid scent. She spent some time rehearsing her introduction as well; if it wasn’t up to her father’s standard, she would be a disgrace to her family. If her three older sisters did it, she was determined to do a more splendid job.
“Ma’am, Lord Verley has sent for you,” a messenger knocked on her chamber door. She slipped on her delicate shoes and followed him downstairs.
“You look delightful, Josephine,” said James Verey.
“Thank you, father,” she replied politely, her earlier feistiness gone.They entered into the back of their black carriage, allowing the driver to take them to the ball.
“Have you adequately prepared?” he questioned. “This is a very important night, for the both of us,”
“I have, father. I do hope I do well,”
“You must to better than hope, my dear,” he replied harshly. “You must perform,”
Not knowing how to respond without angering him, she kept quiet. The carriage slowly pulled up to the large building, expertly crafted with elegant swirls and statues. There were people everywhere, walking back and forth. The warm summer weather was ideal for long walks, and romance.
Josephine entered the ball with her father by her side, her posture perfectly erect and her head held high. Her upbringing was evident in the charming smile she donned, her sparkling jewelry, and most of all, her brilliant blue eyes. She was a lady who knew how to take care of herself, and leave quite an impression.
“Hullo, James,” said one man, embracing her father intimately. “How do you do?”
“It’s a pleasure, as always, to see you Robert. And all of you,” he turned around and gestured to those around them. “It is an honour. I would like to take this opportunity to introduce this young lady, my daughter, Josephine,”
Josephine shot the crowd a brilliant smile, allowing her dimples to show. Curtsying, she left her father’s side, as was tradition, and walked around the ballroom. Finding a group of ladies, she stood in their circle and listened to their conversation.
“Have you heard of the dreadful murder in Ireland?” said one.
“Indeed! It is most horrible business. But hush, let’s not talk of such morbid things. Hullo, girl, who might you be?” said the second, turning to look at Josephine.
“I am Josephine Verley,” she began. “Daughter of Lord Verley. It is a pleasure to meet you all,”
“Save your speech for the men, girl,” the second one laughed. The others gasped and gave her dirty stares. “My name is Katherine Adams, and I am not one for ballroom conventions,”
“Nice to meet you, Katherine. However, I must say that I do disagree with you. These conventions, as you call them, are the basis of our society. It is how we distinguish from us and the drunken savages in the streets,” Josephine replied curtly.
"Oh? I wasn't aware that these savages were made of different flesh and blood than ourselves," she retorted, growing more irritated.
"Miss Verley," a smooth voice interrupted. "May I have the honour of this dance?"
"Why, of course," she smiled at the young man.
"How dreadful of me, I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Duncan Broughtan," he said, twirling the two of them around.
"Pleased to meet you, sir," she replied politely. "Say, are you from around here?"
"I am in fact from Ireland. What makes you ask?" he raised an eyebrow.
"Your accent, it is more wilted on certain words than others," she looked away from him, ashamed at her forwardness.
"My lady, do not look away. A beautiful young woman with astute observation skills has nothing to be ashamed of," he reassured her, his eyes kind.
"Thank you," she giggled at the compliment.
"This is your first coming out as a woman, yes?"
"Why, does that interest you?" she raised her eyebrow.
"Why wouldn't it? I would love to see your lovely self again,"
She laughed at their flirtatious exchange. While she was enjoying his company, she suddenly felt suffocated by her gown, the ballroom, simply by the situation. "I hope to see you again too, sir. Thank you for the dance, you have most splendid company, but I must be going now,"
"Of course, I envy the next man you encounter, for you are like the moon; beautiful and mysterious," he smiled. That also means I’m surrounded by darkness, she thought to herself.
She walked around the room for a bit, talking to people and eating and drinking, but never committing to a dance. After the first one, she felt a sense of disappointment when she saw the rest of the men. They didn't have the finesse and elegance that Sir Broughtan had a plethora of.
At one point, she was standing with a group of people chatting when she saw a man in the hallway leading out of the ballroom, waving her over with a nod of his head. Intrigued, as this man was dressed neither as a waiter or a gentleman, she excused herself and followed him out.
"Hey, hey you!" she called out to him as they reached a secluded hallway.
He turned around, his tall frame blocking the moonlight. "Here," he said roughly, pushing a packet into her hand.
"What is this?" Josephine asked incredulously.
"You and I both know that's not safe to say here. What the hell is wrong with you?" he said furiously, walking towards her until she was backed against the wall.
"Sir, this is most inappropriate of you. Please move away and explain your presence here at once," she reprimanded.
He backed away with a look of confusion and anger. "Katherine, what's gotten into you? The Boss himself assured me you wouldn't be a problem,"
I stared at him in shock. He thinks I'm someone else. "We are at a ball, regardless of business. Act appropriately. And call me by my formal name, god forbid someone sees us and thinks most sinful things," she said sternly.
"Miss Adams if it pleases you," he sneered. "You have the damn package, our business here is done. See you in the Raft, Miss Adams,"
He began to run away, but Josephine was too curious to let him go. She began running after him, but her heavy dress made her trip and slow down, until she finally stopped and leaned against the wall, heaving.
She started to worry about if her presence at the ball had been missed, so she tucked the packet into the soil of a nearby plant and rushed back inside.
"Josephine! There you are! This young gentleman has been asking for you,” called her father, with a touch of warning in his tone.
“I apologize for leaving, father. I merely went for some quiet,” she apologized.
“Josephine,” he drawled, about to give her a lecture. Mr Boughtan appeared next to her, so instead he said, “Here she is, young lad! Silly girl, went out and got lost,”
Her father left the two of them to go socialize with others. Looking back at Duncan, she smiled sheepishly and cocked her head. “You were asking for me?”
"Indeed. Might I have another dance?”
“Of course, It would be my pleasure,” she grinned.
They danced and made small talk for quite a while, until her father beckoned her to take leave. She had grown rather attached to Duncan throughout the evening, and was sad to leave him.
"When might I see you again?” she asked quietly, knowing such an advance was unbecoming of a lady.
“Anytime you like, my dear,” he grinned. He didn’t seem to mind her out of the ordinary personality. “I have had a lovely time with you tonight,”
She curtsied and left him, turning around to follow her father. Right as she was about to leave the building to go to their carriage, an arm grabbed her.
“Give me the package tomorrow at midnight at the Raft,” Katherine glared. “Not now, not before then, and not at any other place. Understand?”
“Oh, the package! I left it-”
“Shut your mouth!” she growled, placing a hand on Josephine’s plush lips. “Here it is, tuck it inside your coat and go straight to your room when you get home, claim you’re sick, anything!”
She handed her the small package wrapped in newspaper while glancing left and right worriedly. Josephine reluctantly took it and looked at her acquaintance in confusion. “How am I to go anywhere at midnight? Shall I arrange to have it delivered to you during the day?”
“Josephine! You may speak to your new friend tomorrow, if you wish. It is time to leave,” called out her father.
"No, only you can give it, and only to me. Is that understood? Don’t do anything with it until I contact you. But you must pay attention. Do not open it, and do not speak of it to anyone but me,” she said urgently. She tucked it into Josephine’s coat and left hurriedly to her own family’s carriage.
Josephine awoke the next morning with a dull headache, most probably due to the champagne she consumed the previous night. Suddenly, memories of her night came back and overwhelmed her with curiosity and questioning.
What was in the package? Who was that man? Who is Katherine Adams, really?
She dressed up in a modest, yet fashionable dress. It covered her arms and fell to the floor, leaving much of her chest exposed. She adorned it with a silver locket, which held a painting of her mother inside. Her mother had died of a strange illness seven years ago, and now, at the ripe age of eighteen, Josephine missed her mother more than ever. Her mother should have been there when she came out into the world, her mother should have taught her how to behave in public. Not an expensive nanny hired by her father.
Pushing the bitterness away, she took the package in her hands. It was small, about the size of a book, and very light. It seemed to be covered in multiple layers of newspaper, taped together with clear tape. Curiosity burned within her. If Miss Adams had gone to such lengths to protect this, there had to be something quite important inside. At the same time, she seemed dangerous. From the moment Josephine had met her, she knew something was different about her. Not to mention the mysterious young man who had given her the package in the first place. This entire business had Josephine doubting Katherine’s character. What kind of a lady picks up packages from strange men? Can someone who gallivants around in the middle of the night even be called a lady?
Deciding to resist the temptation to rip open the package, she hid it back inside her bookcase and went downstairs. Her father was drinking a cup of tea with his toast while reading the newspaper.
“Good morning father,” Josephine greeted.
“Good morning dear,” his deep voice said smoothly. “How was your sleep?”
“It was good, thank you. Father, might I have your permission to go shopping in town today?” she asked innocently, trying to keep her face blank of any emotion.
“Why would you want to? You already have so many clothes. I can get Pierre to bring some in for you if you’d like to change your wardrobe,’ he reasoned.
“I am a lady now, and it is rather unfitting for a man to bring me my clothes, regardless of his stature. And I will not be going alone. I would like to invite Miss Adams along with me,” she flashed him a charming smile.
“The young lady you were speaking with last night?” he furrowed his eyebrows in thought.
“Yes, father. We get along fantastically. I like her very much,”
“Alright, I will send a letter to her father, and if she is available, you may go,” he relented.
“Oh thank you father!” she exclaimed, embracing and kissing him.
“Not at all, my dear. Just remember to carry yourself as befits my daughter, a lady,” he said, going back to reading the newspaper.
Josephine went out for a walk in the garden for some time, looking at all the flowers and plants. Her favorite passtime when she was younger was to sit here and draw out all the plants. She would spend hours here, then get reprimanded for not completing her studies. She smiled as she thought of the memory. She stopped short as she saw one of the servants walking towards her.
“Ma’am,” he said, bowing his head. “I have a message from your father,”
“Speak,” she nodded at him.
“He gives you leave to take the carriage and meet Miss Adams in town for lunch, at the eatery by the water,” he said, bowing his head before leaving her.
Excitement ran through her; maybe she would finally get answers as to what exactly happened the previous night. She ran up to her room and changed into formal luncheon attire, before rushing back downstairs and saying goodbye to her father. With a kiss on the cheek, she was off into the carriage, giving instructions to her driver.
She arrived at the restaurant earlier than she expected, so she sat down and waited to for her acquaintance. She sat up straight as Katherine Adams strode, looking very much like an honourable lady, and not at all like the woman Josephine knew her to be.
“Miss Adams, what a pleasure to see you again,” Josephine beamed. “Please, sit and we can spend some time together,”
“It’s not like I have very much of a choice. But we are not going shopping after,” she grumbled.
“Um..” Josephine stumbled, surprised by her surly attitude. “Alright. What do you propose we do?”
“We’ll see. How has your day been?” she asked the question rather reluctantly, as if forcing herself to be polite.
“It has been well. Father allowed me out alone for the first time today,” she said excitedly. “So, tell me Katherine. What do you like to do in your spare hours?”
‘Oh, if only you knew,” she grinned wryly. “I like to knit and sew,”
“Oh really? So that.. thing we were talking about yesterday, that was a result of your own knitting abilities?” Josephine arched an eyebrow.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, and I reckon you don’t either,” she said sharply, glancing around for eavesdroppers.
The waiter walked over to the pair, took their orders and disappeared to the kichten. While Katherine was smiling with radiance, Josephine tried to figure out why. “Miss Adams, if I may inquire, what has contributed to your sudden change in mood?”
“It’s nothing,” she giggled, dismissing her. “It doesn’t matter. I’m merely in a good mood because it is a good day. The weather is fabulous,”
The waiter came back with their food, and as they quietly began to eat it, Josephine finally noticed. “Katherine, I may be sheltered, but I am no fool,”
“What do you speak of?” she snapped.
“You are in love with that waiter!” she squealed.
“I am not!” she said indignantly, but Josephine didn’t miss the colour rising to her cheeks.
“Whatever you say,” she giggled. “Oh, this is so exciting! A forbidden romance!”
“And why is it so forbidden to love who you wish?” she snapped. “A human is a human. Not that you would understand, Miss Verley. Everyone who is not brought up with money is merely a savage to you,”
“I am not sentencing the man to death, am I?” she defended. “I am merely saying that he is uncultured,”
“That uncultured man has only ever done good. That man has always acted with honour, integrity, and kindness. That is far more than I can say for most of the married men of our cultured society, so don’t lecture me on good men, Josephine” she huffed angrily, throwing her fork in her plate and walking out.
Josephine sat there in shock, trying to process what just happened. Never in her social ettiquette classes had she been presented with a situation in which, her companion stormed out of lunch. After a brief moment of internal conflict, she decided to run after her.
“Katherine! Katherine!” she called out into the busy street. She got rather odd and questioning looks from passerbys. “Excuse me, sir, have you seen my friend? She has curly brown hair and-”
“Josephine!” Katherine appeared out of nowhere, pulling her away from the man she had been talking to. She threw him an apologetic look over her shoulder before turning to her companion. “Don’t ever just yell my name in the street like that,”
“What was I supposed to do when you ran out on me like that?” she puffed angrily. “Katherine Adams, who are you really? On one hand I see the well brought up, kind and benevolent lady my father allowed me to have lunch with. And I also see the angry woman who is in love with a waiter and accepting packages from strange men!”
“Look,” she sighed, looking apologetic. “I’m sorry. We met in rather unfortunate circumstances. If you want to know who I really am, I can tell you. No, I’ll show you. But I need to be able to trust you first. I lead a rather dangerous life outside the ballroom,”
“This is all so new to me. I have never met anyone like you before,” she said in wonder.
“I imagine so,” Katherine grinned. “Tell me this, are you alright with deceiving your father?”
“What?” she gasped. The possibility, the very thought, was beyond scandalous and shameful to her ears. “He raised me, he made me everything I am. It would be wrong to do so!”
“Your father restricted you to his world. He made you take etiquette lessons, made you sit through hours upon hours of sewing and knitting. I reckon he got angry whenever you did something that wasn’t a part of your training to become a lady,” Katherine said patiently.
“Well, of course. It was in my own interest to restrict the time spent drawing flowers in the garden, when I could have been doing far more productive things,” she defended.
“Like what? Learning to become a proper lady? Knowing how to greet others and make conversation? Your father never respected you as a person, Josephine! You are his daughter, his property. He reared you to be a good lady, and in turn, a good wife. You are nothing more to him than cattle is to a farmer,” she ranted, giving a rather wild appearance, with all her angry hand gestures. “You are more than that. You’re capable of so much more than good social etiquette. You can be an inventor, physicist, musician, artist, politician, anything you want!”
“Katherine! Women cannot be politicians, you know that. We’re not versed in matters of the state. Oh, I wish what you are saying is true, but everything I have been brought up with tells me otherwise,” Josephine cried out.
The two had moved to sit on a bench near the river, and to anyone walking by, they were seemingly having a polite afternoon conversation. Josephine knew that wasn’t the case. She was having the most influential conversation of her lifetime. What she was saying was true, wasn’t it? All she had ever been given lessons in was becoming a proper lady.
“Yes, but what does your heart tell you? What does the sharp little mind of yours tell you? You’re no fool, Josephine, I know that. The question is, do you?” she arched her eyebrow.
“I don’t know. I really don’t,” she sighed. “Is an-”
“Have you ever felt incompetent? Ever felt like you could not comprehend something?” she interrupted.
“Then there is no question. You are an intelligent young woman, who is capable of much more than she has been given the opportunity to achieve,” she said stubbornly. “Listen, I must be going. I have things to prepare for. If you want to see something new, explore my world, stand at your balcony tonight. I will send my friend to fetch you,”
“But what if my father catches me?” she asked in disbelief. “Are you sure you trust this friend? How will I get down from the balcony?”
“I trust my friend with all my heart. I trust him with my life, and yours too. Your father will not catch you, I’m assuming he is like most other fathers, in his study for majority of the night. My friend will help you get down the balcony. Calm down, Josephine,” she answered in a rush.
“Alright, if you say so. I am putting an immense amount of trust in you, Katherine. Please, do not make me regret it,” Josephine warned.
“You have my word that you won’t be harmed in any way by anybody,” she grinned, looking excited. “Oh, and Josephine? Bring the package,”