Chapter 15

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"My lord, post has arrived," Geoffrey, the butler, announced as he entered the west drawing room on the Mansfield estate, the following Southampton evening. He carried in his hand, a silver tray piled with letters on top. 

Margaret Seymour dropped her knit work on the carpet as she rushed towards the butler, who flinched to maintain his composure as his lady's excited form approached him like a bear pouncing on a fish.

"Oh, I hope the boutique in London responded, it's been months since I've written to them for Rebecca's engagement dress," The lady muttered as she skimmed through the bunch of letters she picked up and paced about the drawing room.

"How many months exactly?" Oscar Seymour asked, an amused smile on his face as he tapped his cigar on the ashtray on the table to his side.

"Four, perhaps five, I've lost count," His mother responded in frantic vigor, her eyes scanning the recipient's address of every letter one by one.

"Mama, I got engaged only a month ago," Rebecca pointed out, confusion evident on her face.

"Precisely," Adam Seymour added in his own amused tone, "It is all in the art of advance preparation, isn't it mother?"

Rebecca scoffed in frustration, how stupid of her to expect less of her mother, "I take it you have decided on names of the children for my convenience as well?" she huffed with evident annoyance and received a shocked gasp from her mother.

Everyone present in the room turned to look at her, even Geoffrey, who had been waiting for a dismissal signal from the lady of the house who had now entirely forgotten he was still in the room. An awkward silence prevailed and Rebecca instantly regretted having used the word children in her sentiment.

"Of course I have," Lady Margaret Seymour announced slowly as she swallowed. She had been meaning to bring up the subject so she could discuss the names she had in mind, but she had wondered what would prompt the subject and now when Rebecca herself has started it, she couldn't resist.

It was now Rebecca Seymour's turn to gasp in disbelief. Was she not allowed to control any part of her life?

"Anyway, there is not a single letter from the London boutique, how infuriating," Lady Seymour sighed, "I guess we would have to make do with what the seamstresses and boutiques here in Southampton have to offer."

"Yes and you shan't worry about that mother," Rebecca announced as she rose up from her seat on the sofa and walked towards the window of the drawing room, peering out into the calm evening weather, "For I have already contacted Madame Carp, selected all the necessary fabric and sent my measurements to her. She just informed me yesterday that she had begun the work on my dress."

Lady Margaret Seymour gasped, her gasp louder than ever before. "Good heavens," her husband, Lord Seymour, who had been quietly reading the paper, uttered, "One would think there isn't enough ventilation in the drawing room."

Ignoring the remark entirely, the lady of the house looked at her daughter, sporting a horrified expression on her face, "Madame Carp? That scandalous french spinster with her abhorrent ideas and bold conversation? No, I declare you will not wear a gown designed by her, I forbid you to!"

"I overrule your objection, mother," Rebecca answered confidently, turning to face her, "Madame Carp is a talented and successful seamstress and her designs are immaculate. Besides, Diana and Alicia have worn dresses by her multiple times and each time they've stood out in every room." Having said that, Rebecca instantly regretted bringing her cousins in the conversation. She would hate to give the impression that she was comparing herself to them in any way, comparing the fact that both of them being one and twenty, six years younger than Rebecca herself, had more decision making power and freedom of expression than Rebecca had.

Lady Margaret Seymour's face softened, "Darling, you know Diana and Alicia are very persuasive. Besides, they are young-,"

"And have much refined tastes than Rebecca has," Oscar interrupted, "Both in fashion and-,"

"Gentlemen," Adam added before his brother could finish, "My friends Lord Buxton and Lord Algernon seemed very taken with them before they left. I wonder if they re-acquainted with the ladies in Portsmouth."

"I was about to say conversation," Oscar scowled as the name of those men associated with his cousins soured his ears. He hadn't thought of it like that, perhaps Lord Buxton and his friend had re-acquainted with Diana and Alicia in Portsmouth. He couldn't help but feel rivaled at the thought that Diana could be conversing with Lord Buxton this very moment. Even though he knew Diana would never throw herself on any man, he still felt uneasy, especially after the night of the Mansfield ball two months ago. Lord Buxton had swooped in unannounced while Oscar was opting for a fashionably late entrance, stolen the spotlight and the two dances he was promised with his cousin. Oscar wouldn't let Lord Buxton steal anything more from him, especially not the affection of the only cousin he wanted. The thought of Alicia associating with Lord Algernon, however, merely irritated him. He would prefer she picked anyone else rather than a friend of the man Oscar despised.

"Well yes," Lady Margaret's voice came again, "They do have good taste. And no, Ruth just mentioned to me all the contents of Diana and Alicia's last letter yesterday and there was no mention of Lord Buxton and Lord Algernon."

Oscar sighed slowly in relief. "Mother, they aren't obliged to mention every single detail. Besides, if they've not yet met, they will soon. Edward replaced Isaac as the owner of the west mill in Portsmouth, where Uncle Arthur works," Adam spoke, flipping a page of the morning paper in his hand.

"What?" Oscar and Lady Margaret asked in unison.

"Yes, it's been three months since he's been Uncle Arthur's new employer."

"No wonder Arthur's so tired and can barely get time off," Lord Seymour spoke from the corner of the room, "Give business into hands such as those two gentlemen's and this is bound to happen. They probably work the employees to death in pursuit of profit, which they already have in abundance."

"Then Diana and Alicia don't have good taste in gentlemen after all," Rebecca hummed to herself as she rolled her eyes and flipped through the remaining letters trying to find anything of importance. Even if she would've said it out loud, not one person in the room would've agreed. Her mother and brothers could go on to praise Diana and Alicia all day and even her father would hum consistent hums of approval, they all only saw fault in her.

"Oscar, you have a letter from the rectory," Rebecca spoke as she eyed the letter in intrigue. Oscar sighed without lifting his head to look in her direction, "It's probably the rector writing to explain to me, despite my disapproval,what his upcoming sermon this Sunday is to be about. You should be aware by now that he sends me one every Thursday and I tend to ignore it and avoid him up until Sunday and after. Until of course Thursday comes again and I receive a letter the likes of this one again, which I, following my usual practice,ignore and thus the cycle repeats."

"This one's signed Jessie Churchill," Rebecca pointed out and Oscar's head shot up.

"Does the rector's daughter explain upcoming sermons to you as well?" Adam asked, clear amusement evident in his voice.

"Are you writing to her Oscar?" Lady Margaret inquired, her tone strict.

"I would've much happily approved of Miss Fisher," Lord Seymour added,narrowing his eyes at Oscar.

Oscar scoffed. "What? No, why would I exchange letters with her when I can't stand her?"

"Very well, then you won't mind me reading it will you?" Rebecca declared as she slid open the envelope and took out the letter, which was a small piece with evidently just three inked sentences written.

Oscar found himself holding his breath. If Jessie Churchill was as loose lipped in her penmanship as she was verbally, his family would be certain to jump to conclusions. Why was she writing to him anyway? It can't be a sermon explanation,however much he wanted it to be just that. Hadn't he clearly given her the notion that he was well above her station and does not wish to chance upon her anytime in the future? What makes her think she had the liberty to correspond with him, that too by the written word? Conversing by written words is something too intimate and real. As his thoughts went berserk, Oscar cringed so hard he felt the hair on his neck stand up.

"'Dear Oscar Seymour, I waited for you yesterday at the rectory but you did not come. Don't you wish to strengthen our acquaintance like you said you would? I sincerely hope you will come by when you're at liberty to do so, signed Jessie Churchill,' " Rebecca finished reading as she turned to look at Oscar.

Oscar gulped as he lifted his hand to loosen his cravat anxiously, the gazes of everyone in his family fixed at him, waiting for an explanation. Oh god, save me, Oscar silently prayed. As he scrambled to find words, his eyes landed on the butler, Geoffrey, who was still in the room and sported the same accusatory gaze that everyone in his family was presenting. Oscar's eyes narrowed, "Get out, Geoffrey," he growled at him, and the butler instantly nodded, falling over himself in attempts to scramble out of the drawing room. 

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