Two of Diamonds - Prologue
It was early January of 1813, the new season in London was drawing near as Alyssa sat in the Macey house’s parlor. Letters sat on the ornate table in front of her as a cup of tea sat in her hands. Any moment her friend would be arriving from her trip into the city, participating in this year’s season with her. Taking a deep breath, she sipped on her tea, wishing the nerves would pass.
Alyssa truly did not wish to participate in the Queen’s viewing in the following week with her friend and the rest of the ton in London. She was not keen on the idea of being courted, just wanting to focus on her studies of the arts. However, that truth would never quite surface.
Surfacing through Alyssa’s thoughts was her housekeeper’s voice, “Miss Macey, Laura Knightley has arrived,” her voice was soft, not wanting to startle Alyssa in her daydream-like state.
“Finally,” Alyssa spoke, setting down the small cup. Her eyes found the little amount of tea remaining, pausing for a moment, the cup returned to her hand. Lips pressed against the thin porcelain, she finished her drink, “She’s late Lucy, I’ve been reading her letters, again and again,”
“It begin to rain Miss,” Lucretia spoke, breaking through Alyssa’s rambling. The two were quite close, as close as a worker can get with the ton family they served that is. Lucretia would like to think that Alyssa would consider her an acquaintance. She did call her ‘Lucy’ after all.
“So it has,” Alyssa spoke over the room’s silence, focusing on the sound of each raindrop that fell against the room’s large, window panes. Her hands found their way to the fabric of the long skirt of her dress. The sage green, satin fabric felt cool against her skin as she gathered it slightly, allowing her to make heist towards the room’s large doors. Watching as Lucretia stepped towards her she almost laughed, “Lucy, please. I want to see my friend,”
“The other housekeepers are tending to her,” Lucretia assured, “I will send her to the parlor when she is settled,”
Lucretia was right, she should let Laura settle after her journey in this weather. However she was keen on at least greeting her. Alyssa watched as Lucretia left the parlor, closing its large, decorative doors.
The fire that kindled in the large fireplace began to die down as Alyssa sat, waiting for Laura’s company. She set down the sketchbook that sat on her lap, the room’s light now too dim to work. Picking up an unlit candelabra, she walked towards the tapering fire, carefully lighting the candles’ wicks.
“You could have asked me for a match,” Laura’s voice cut in, making Alyssa rise to her feet. The candle’s glow reflected off of Laura’s silk dress, its fabric looking dark in the low lit room. Stepping towards her, she sat the candelabra down on the low table, away from her letters and sketchbook. The flames now illuminated the two in the middle of the parlor. Laura’s dress was a dark green, making Alyssa smile slightly at their dresses similarities.
“How was the trip,” Alyssa questioned, “I had not realized it began to rain,” she admitted, watching Laura make her way to the long couch that sat behind her friend.
“Longer than expected,” Laura spoke, motioning to her friend to take a seat beside her. Her eyes focused on the stack of letters she had sent Alyssa sitting on the table in front of them, “but I believe you are quite aware,” she laughed, reaching out, she took a few of the parchments that sat atop the pile.
“I was only checking to see of the day,” Alyssa defended out of slight embarrassment, “it is quite late. I almost went off to bed,” She sighed deeply, “We have an appointment in the morning, a dress fitting,”
“Right,” Laura smiled, quite enthused at the thought of owning a new gown for the Queen’s viewing, “What are the men like here in London, I could not imagine the marriage mart of Cambridge,” she joked, brown eyes falling onto Alyssa’s sketchbook that sat on the table. Without question, she picked it up.
The hand binded sketchbook was filled with charcoal still lives of many objects found around the Macey household. The pages were lined with illustrations of expensive vases, ornate figures and studies of many paintings that lined the house’s decorated walls.
“The men in London are quite their own breed,” Alyssa spoke, “the older men repulse me and most of the younger ones care too much for their sports. But there are poets, painters, musicians,” her mind wandered to a specific poet who was well known by the girls of the ton, “The poet only breaks hearts, turning down all of the infatuated,” Alyssa thought of the many times she had heard girls cry over him while she was to be fitted for a new gown.
“And the one you care for,” Laura questioned, meeting her friend’s gaze, which immediately dropped.
Alyssa searched her mind for any excuse. Not wanting her friend to know that the man that caught her eye focused on sport. She could scold herself for ever falling for a man who was a boxer. She only knew based on her elder brother, Philip’s, insight, “My focus has been on my studies,” Alyssa assured, her voice hinted a lie, “however, the poet has a friend,”
“Quite fitting,” Laura spoke, interrupting her friend’s weak voice, “we shall start there,”
“It is quite nice to see a friend,” Lucretia spoke, “and to be able to support each other throughout the season,” The housekeeper spoke as she poured Alyssa a glass of water, placing it on her bedside table.
Alyssa turned her brown gaze from where it was stuck in the small book between her hands, “Quite,” She spoke quietly, mind still turning about what was waiting for the friends in the morning.
“It is not so scary, Miss,” Lucretia spoke, “if I may be so bold, I have noticed your interest in the boxer, Thomas,” she spoke slowly, baiting Alyssa’s reaction before she spoke another word.
“That is too bold,” Alyssa warned, friendliness still lining her words, making Lucretia smile, “I have many things to focus on other than a brute. Besides you would not catch me at another one of his matches now that Philip is absent,” she informed, “Furthermore,” Alyssa paused, her eyes focusing back on the page before her, “his sideburns are distasteful,”
“Get rest, Miss Macey,” Lucretia assured, a smile still sitting on her lips, “I will awake you hours before the fitting. Eleanor shall wake Miss Knightley,”
“Of course,” Alyssa spoke, her mind still racing from when Thomas’s name left her housekeeper’s lips. Closing her book, she retired it to her bedside drawer, “I shall see you in the morning, Lucy,” Alyssa’s eyes followed the housekeeper until she was alone in her room. Her mind wandered to the first time she had attended Thomas’s boxing match with Philip before his marriage.
Philip Macey had participated in the previous year’s season, and to prepare his sister, he had dragged her to a handful of boxing matches. Philip enjoyed the sport, too much for Alyssa’s comfort at that, however, he spent his time pointing out any man that would be of her season. That is when she had first seen Thomas Holland.
“Thomas is one of the youngest boxers in London,” Philip stated, “I would feel secure knowing that you had someone who could handle you,” her brother teased, “someone who could protect you as well,” Philip was looking out for her since he soon would be unable to do so himself. Once Philip was to make his proposal, he was to relocate to Norwich, following a job in trade.
“I have things to handle myself,” Alyssa spoke over the loud crowd they found themselves in, “My art, I even picked up the violin,” she informed her brother who had been swept up in the season’s romance, “You have been absent, I doubt you are even aware,” her voice grew silent as she focused on the strength of Thomas’s punches. She studied him as he traveled around the ring, almost making her hum in amusement. From the waist down, he was dressed for the occasion, however he still wore a white cotton shirt. The shirt’s sleeves were rolled, buttons undone, attacking the women’s gaze.
After Alyssa had seen him at that first match, he had caught her eyes around London. Sometimes she swore he was following her every move, however she, just now, was made aware of him. Around London, she had always found him with a book in hand, giving her some hope. But Alyssa had to remind herself how he really spends his time. No matter how hard she tried to look the other way, her eyes were always drawn to his rolled sleeves, tweed pants, and pointed shoes. His hair held into place with gel, its ends curling slightly.
Alyssa attempted to shake the thoughts out of her head, focusing on some rest before she and Laura are fitted for their white gowns. Taking a deep breath, she began to relax, feeling her thoughts fade as she drifted off to sleep. Suddenly, a knock at the door snapped her awake. Eyes opening, she found Lucretia’s warm gaze, making her groan aloud.
“Anxious, Miss,” Lucretia questioned, seeing that Alyssa had already awoke, “Miss Knightley is waiting for you, breakfast is being prepared,”
“Splendid,” Alyssa groaned, faking a smile. Swinging her feet out from the heavy covers and duvet, they settled against the room’s hardwood floor. Stretching her arms she heard Lucretia digging through her wardrobe, helping her select which dress she would wear out for the day. Alyssa wondered if she would see Thomas in town. Pushing past her thoughts, she questioned her housekeeper, “What color dress is Laura wearing for the day? When she arrived we were both in green,” she smiled, “I would not want to attract too much attention out today,”
“I am sure the two of you will catch many glances no matter the case,” Lucretia added, “The two of you are quite beautiful, Miss,” she assured, holding out a pale yellow dress. The yellow was more of an ochre than a bright hue. The satin dress had a layer of tulle that sat over the soft fabric. The puffed, tulle sleeves had ribbon detail, similar satin fabric bunched at the skirts base.
“That will suffice,” Alyssa spoke, walking towards the dress that sat in Lucretia’s hands. She studied the lace detailing that traveled up the dress’s skirt, “No doubt Laura’s dress will draw more attention- It is her first day in London,”
Laura sat at the long table, a cup of tea in her right hand. She wore a plum dress, gold detailing woven in its fabric. The waist band and fan she carried, coincidentally, a yellow ochre. Her chestnut locks were curled, brought out of her face and into a loose bun. Her bangs were curled, sitting a bit higher on her forehead than she is used to, but she did not mind. Laura prayed the footsteps she heard were her friend’s, allowing her to no longer sit alone at the table with Alyssa’s mother.
“How is your sister,” Sophia Macey questioned Laura as the two sat at the table, “How is her marriage to the Duke,” Sophia sipped on her tea as she waited for Laura’s reply.
“Luxuries and riches, I imagine,” Laura spoke, “The time between her letters grow longer, but she has responsibilities,” She watched as Sophia nodded, the ebony curls of her hair bouncing, her stripe of grey adding elegance and wisdom to her appearance, “How is Philip? Alyssa had not spoken much last night,” Laura added, “We were both quite tired,”
Sophia smiled at the thought of her eldest, “Yes, Philip and Beatrice wed in Norwich. Which was the last time Alyssa had seen you, when we stayed the day in Cambridge,” She explained, smoothing out the skirt of her pale, mint green dress, “His work required his move quicker than we had expected. He works in sea trade,”
“Fascinating,” Laura spoke kindly, although Sophia was not poor company, she hoped Alyssa would join them, “I am just glad to be able to make my debut with Alyssa this season. I truly appreciate your kindness in letting me stay for these months,”
Before Sophia could accept Laura’s gratitude, Alyssa had made her way into the dining room, “I apologize,” She spoke, “My hair did not want to comply,” her hands lightly touched her ebony hair that was pulled and curled to the back of her head, tendrils framing her face.
Sophia set down her cup, a smile crossing her lips, “I think you look lovely,” she told her daughter, “Excited for our day in town,” She questioned, watching her daughter fake a smile.
“As alway, Mama,” Alyssa falsely assured, “But I am sure Laura holds most of the excitement,” she spoke, taking a seat at the table. Now that she had arrived, the housekeepers brought out the food for the morning’s breakfast.
Thomas tapped his fingers against the tavern’s wooden table. He felt as if he had been waiting for his friend for an eternity. Just as the thought crossed his mind he watched as the thin poet took a seat across from him, “Hell,” Thomas groaned, “took you long enough, Timothee,” Thomas had bought the first round over twenty minutes ago, leaving the drink that sat in front of Timothee to make its way into his friend’s hold, “How many girls did you ruin on the way over,”
Timothee laughed, running his thin fingers through his dark curls, messing up the gel that once held them in place. Thomas wondered if that was his doing, or if many hands had been running through his locks, “Jealousy is a disease Tom,” he spoke artfully, “Besides, you have just as many women’s eyes on you,” he assured his friend, “However, you choose not to act upon it,” Timothee took a large sip of ale, “The stars aligned, our outing happened to be fitting day,” he informed Thomas.
Timothee’s eyes studied his friend, both of them quite opposite the other. Timothee wore a thin cotton shirt, its sleeves long and pillowing at the cuffs. A wool black vest sat over the white fabric, giving his body back its shape and thinness that was hidden away. On the other hand, Thomas had the body of a boxer, his broad shoulders hunching as he leaned against the tarven’s table. His high collar, cotton shirt was rolled to the elbows, hiding behind a similar vest, as well as a black fabric tie. His grey wool vest matched his pants that were hidden beneath the table. His legs were spread, sharp toed shoes planted firmly on the ground.
Turning his head, Thomas looked across the way. The town’s well known dress shop in sight. His eyes cycled through many girls that occupied its exterior, “So it is,” He would be lying if he said this season did not have a handful of beautiful girls, however he was not as interested as his friend. As his eyes made their last cycle through, he caught someone’s gaze.
Thomas’s eyes focused on the girl, who had already looked away. He had recognized her from a few of his fights. Tuning out Timothee’s voice, he searched his mind for any thought of her. She had always accompanied a taller man with ebony hair. He wondered if that could be her brother, Philip Macey.
“Tom,” Timothee’s voice grew louder as his friend reached across the table, shaking his shoulders.
“Sorry, I,” Thomas spoke, “I saw someone that has not been to my matches in quite some time,” He watched as Timothee’s eyes followed his gaze, a smile crossing his face.
“Why not go over and invite her personally,” Timothee suggested. Before Thomas could turn down his friend’s idea, the girl and her party had made their way into the shop, Thomas catching her gaze once more, “We will just wait for them to finish their fitting,” Timothee spoke, pushing back his friend’s shoulder, “Fix your posture mate,” he laughed.
Alyssa stood behind Laura, hiding herself away from Thomas’s gaze, “What has gotten into you,” Laura teased, “Waiting outside was a perfectly fine idea,” she spoke, looking around the crowded shop, “I feel like an animal packed in this shop,” however her claim grew quiet as her eyes caught the dresses that lined the walls.
Alyssa’s gaze was fixed on the tarven’s window, making out Thomas and Timothee’s silhouettes somewhat, “Thomas is in the tarven,” She spoke quietly, not wanting her mother to hear her speaking of a man.
“Thomas? Is that the poet’s friend? Or one of your studies,” Laura smiled, finding herself back at Alyssa’s side, “Is his poet friend with him,” she questioned.
“Timothee,” Alyssa questioned, “Of course,” she barely breathed out as Laura lightly pushed her away from the window.
Looking out towards the tarven, Laura made out the shape of two men in the nearest window, “And you failed to tell me,” Spreading her fan, she covered her face, attempting to be more discrete. Her eyes followed their silhouettes as they traveled through the tarven, exiting through the front door, “Thomas is surely keeping an eye on this place. You think he has an appointment,” Laura teased, yet her eyes were fixed on the boxer’s friend.
“Laura, please,” Alyssa spoke, meeting the dress maker’s gaze. The woman nodded, it was her turn for a fitting, “Do not,” She warned before stepping into a small room.
“That must be your friend who is joining us for the season,” Madame Delacroix, the dressmaker, spoke, “Your mother had given me her measurements. I assure that you will both look you will shine for the Queen,”
“Thank you Madame Delacroix. I have no doubt,” Alyssa assured, beginning to remove her gown. With a smile, Madame Delacroix began to uncover her new gown.
The white gown was floor length, a length which Alyssa preferred for her first public debut. The fabric was satin, decorated in subtle, golden embroidered filigree. The same filigree sat on the bodice’s mock corset. Golden gimp trimmed the corset’s v-lined opening that sat over the bodice’s sweetheart neckline. For a moment, Alyssa almost convinced herself that she was looking forward to the Queen’s event.
Stepping out of the small room, one other family remained in the shop, and to her dismay, the closest mirror sat by the shop’s window, “I will leave you and your mother to discuss the gown,” Madame Delacroix informed her, “excuse me, I must get the other girl into her gown,”
“Of course,” Alyssa breathed out over her heartbeat, “Thank you again, Madame Delacroix. It is beautiful,” she smiled, receiving one in return. Walking past the family closest to her she thanked them as they sent their compliments. Holding her breath, she approached her own mother. However, her eyes were not looking for her reaction, but Thomas’s gaze through the glass.
“Oh Alyssa,” Alyssa heard her mother surge, gloved hands covering her smiling lips. Or more so Alyssa assumed, her eyes instead caught Thomas’s dark brown stare. She could not hold the contact for more than a second, warmth rising to her cheeks, hearing Laura laugh.
Clearing her throat, Laura did not wish for Sophia to think lowly of her. Sophia being unaware of the situation at hand, “Very you,” She spoke quickly, “It is very lovely, I am sure you will catch Thomas’s eyes,” Laura could not help but say, making Alyssa turn her head, eyebrows furrowed.
“Who is Thomas,” Sophia spoke quickly, “You never showed any interest in this Thomas before,” Turning to Laura, her gaze urged the friend to continue.
“He is no one Mama, Laura is just teasing,” Alyssa spoke, looking back at her reflection, trying to focus back on the purpose of their visit, “I do love this gown,”
“He is right outside, Lady Macey,” Laura exclaimed, “His eyes have been on the window ever since she set foot in the shop,”
“Do not look,” Alyssa spoke to her mother through the mirror’s reflection, but Sophia had already caught a glance.
Both Thomas and Timothee were looking towards the shop, Timothee saying something to Thomas, placing a hand on his shoulder before his gaze fell on a woman who passed by, “Holland,” Sophia questioned, surprised her daughter found interested in a boxer, “London’s youngest boxer,”
“I loathe the sport, Mama, you know this,” Alyssa assured, turning at an angle, studying the gown, “I only know him through Philip. Barely at that. Now please,” She pleaded, praying that Madame Delacroix would save her from this exchange. And to her delight, the dressmaker walked over.
“You have an audience,” Madame Delacroix teased, also catching Thomas’s eyes. In return, making him walk off, heading back into the tarven, “What does Lady Macey think about the gown,” She questioned, pinching the fabric in at Alyssa’s waist, pinning it.
“Perfection, Madame Delacroix,” Sophia spoke, eyes falling back onto the gown from where they sat, inspecting the tarven’s window, “I am sure it will be to our liking, I shall pay for it as we speak then you may take your time,” Sophia beamed, the attention her daughter was receiving rushed through her. Opening her matching green clutch, she pulled out a pen and check.
“I could have gone without all of this,” Alyssa told Laura as she stood by her side, looking at Alyssa’s reflection in the mirror, “I want nothing to do with him. And if I did, I am sure all of this scared him off,”
Laura studied her friend’s expression as Alyssa would not meet her gaze, “Reassurance never hurt anyone,” She spoke, “Besides I believe your mother is just as nervous as you are. Philip moving away last season, and now you. She will be truly alone. With your father being away for business,”
“Right,” Alyssa spoke as she watched her mother pay for her new gown, Madame Delacroix and her mother sharing a smile.
Laura slipped into the sheer tulle fabric, the long train falling behind her and out the small room. A smile crossed her lips as Madame Delacroix buttoned up the back of her dress, it was a perfect fit.
Walking out, the shop was now empty, only the three women residing. Holding the front of her dress, she stepped up onto the platform that sat in front of the large mirror. However, Laura’s eyes fell outside the window, landing on those of Timothee. His eyes fell from a passing woman and onto her, “Huh,” Laura spoke aloud, identifying the poet.
Alyssa’s gaze trailed up Laura’s long train, covered in golden beaded feathers. Her gown was more elegant than her own, however the two gowns complimented each other almost perfectly. The gown's puffed, tulle sleeves cut off below the shoulder, its bodice a straight neckline, showing off Laura’s chest and collarbones. It was plain tulle compared to the ornate skirt and train.
Turning her head, Laura met Alyssa’s gaze in the mirror’s reflection, “Do you like it,” She questioned, watching her friend nod.
“The gown is stunning,” Alyssa spoke, “We shall hope the Queen is a fan of the train,” she spoke, “It suits you. You look beautiful, a perfect neckline for pearls,”
Laura stepped out of the shop, eyes searching for the poet and the boxer, but they were no were in sight. Letting out a sigh, she spoke, “They must have left, with all that time she took to tailor our dresses,”
“It is her job,” Alyssa spoke, stepping next to her friend. Laura’s fan covered her face as she looked for Thomas. Realizing that Laura was right, she closed the fan, handing back to her friend, “That is what we came into town for, our dresses,”
“Yes but it would have been a perfect time for me to introduce you to Thomas,” Sophia added from behind, “without the pressure of a ball. Without dozens of girls properly swooning, he is well known afterall,”
“Mama,” Alyssa spoke, feeling as if she were being treated like a child, when in reality she was a week away from being auctioned off as a bride, “In due time, I dread,”
It was only moments until the first name was called and presented to the Queen. The debutantes all waited behind closed doors. The friends’ eyes searched the room, taking in the sea of white and gold dresses. The dresses are simple, like Alyssa’s mother’s.
“The most beautiful of the lot,” Sophia assured, a proud smile sat on her lips and tears in her eyes. She fixed the necklace that sat around Alyssa’s neck, it was her grandmothers from her father’s side, a matching bracelet sat on her left wrist. The diamonds caught the castle’s light as she took a deep breath. Her eyes fell to Laura, a pearl necklace sat against her chest with pearl earrings dangling from her ears, “I will escort you both, and you two will be wonderful,” Sophia told them, watching them silently nod, their nerves getting the best of them.
“Miss Alyssa Macey,” The man’s voice called from behind the large doors, “and Miss Laura Knightley,” his voice rang through the friends’s ears, “Presented by the Right Honorable Lady Macey,” he finished before the set of doors opened. Both stood still, waiting for the other to take the first step. However, Laura took the burden, her gold flats peeking out from under her gown, stepping into the long room.
The Queen sat at the head of the room, her throne framed by a large oil painting which sat in an ornate golden frame. The room was lined with judging eyes, and somehow they seemed surprised, as if the debutantes before them had been a failure. The crowd took in the two women, small, ornate golden crowns sat woven into their locks. Behind them, next to Sophia, a man held Laura’s train as they made their way to the Queen.
Leaning in, the Queen had uttered a silent claim to the man that stood to her right, allowing the room to stir. As the two reached the Queen’s gaze, they bowed, chests heaving in the heat and under the pressure of the room’s judging glances. Offering her hand to a servant, the Queen stood, leaving her throne and standing in front of the two debutantes. Not daring to meet the Queen’s eyes, the two left their heads hanging. However, their gazes lifted as they watched the Queen’s hands reach out, lifting both of their chins, making them rise to their feet.
The Queen’s gaze was stern and judging, while a smile crossed her lips, “Flawless my dears,” the Queen praised, bending forward. She placed a light kiss to their foreheads before turning her back, returning to her throne.
Alyssa and Laura exchanged a quick glance, small smiles crossing their lips before they took a step back, bowing with Sophia by their side, “Keep smiling, my dear,” her mother whispered, “They are all watching,”
Alyssa’s hands filled through her dresses, deciding on her simplest for her day at home. However, she was interrupted by an open door, making her jump, “Laura,” she shouted, in her undergarments, “Knock,”
“I have gotten the new Whistledown,” Laura stated, shoving it into her friend’s grasp, “Front page, read it,” She almost beamed, making Alyssa wonder what put Laura in such a good mood, early morning.
“Who is Whistledown,” Alyssa questioned, eyes not falling on the parchment that sat between her fingers. She watched as Laura rolled her eyes, walking toward the open wardrobe, looking through it.
“I got my hands on a few of her scandal sheets in Cambridge,” Laura informed, “Paid the girl a decent amount for them too. But they were worth it, nothing exciting in Cambridge newsletters, just the Queen,” She spoke, a hand running over a few of the dresses' fabrics, “She spreads the season’s gossip. Philip did not make any of the newsletters I have. That is probably why you do not know of Lady Whistledown,”
Grasping Alyssa’s curiosity, her eyes skimmed the page that read:
High hopes were waiting for January 1813’s debutantes by readers and for that I, Lady Whistledown have not come shorthanded. For this season, it is told that the Queen has favored not one, but a pair of debutantes. Not only naming one, but two season’s Incomparables. Do not take to heart everything that I claim, but only know that the chosen two shine brighter than the lot they keep in company. I, Lady Whistledown, do not hesitate to declare Alyssa Macey and Laura Knightley as season’s the Two of Diamonds.