Working on Finagled really made me laugh a lot and sometimes you want to share things like that with other people. I’m glad I live in a time where I can make a pretty book cover and write some silly words and have them bound together or made available as an ebook with relative ease, so that’s what I did.
I feel like it’s taken some courage, though, to make myself do it, and it has certainly been a learning experience. My first proof was kind of… a mess. I’ve spent the last month ironing out all of the details and I’m pretty happy with what I have put together.
This novel began as a NaNoWriMo in 2009 and is inspired by (and intended to parody to a certain extent) all of the romance novels I read as a teenager. Set in a very fictional romance novel 19th century England, where every other man is a Duke and the date cannot be ascertained by fashion or technology, it’s full of ridiculous tropes, but also, I hope, humor and warmth.
Please enjoy the first chapter for free, below!
Finagled by Rachel Kelso
Tardiness was decidedly frowned upon at Mrs. Eustace Fillingham’s teas. In fact, it wasn’t done at all. To some functions it did to be fashionably late, but the look of disdain on the faces of Charlie & Tobias, Mrs. Eustace Fillingham’s twin poodles, was enough to chill the very soul of the latecomer. Not to mention the scandal and cutting you would endure from the human guests.
Ramona Havishamble was late.
Firstly her gown had rumpled when she sat down in it indelicately. Her mother had bristled at her being seen in it, but, after a brief haranguing, judged a wrinkled skirt to be a lesser offense than being late to this specific affair. The precious moments spent being lectured were enough to make the next incident Ramona’s undoing. Perhaps her mother, with infinite experience and wisdom, would have laughed and said, “Ramona Havishamble if the path is muddy, the footman can carry you!” but she wasn’t going to this particular tea, Ramona was being being accompanied by a saucy aunt, Tirinia Shoobukkle, who had little care for scandal at her age, and in fact, enjoyed observing it in the younger set. It was just too much, she smiled archly from her comfortable seat in the carriage, as Ramona carefully picked herself across the pebbled path, skirts lifted delicately and little primrose slippers dodging and scuffling across the bewetted cobbles. The footman daren’t presume to sweep little Ramona off her feet and carry her in the three long strides of his muscled legs that it would take to see her safely to the conveyance. Though he wanted to, oh how he wanted to, wrinkled dress or no she was a delicious little dish, especially exposing her little white stockinged ankles as she did then. Pick pick pick, she chose her path and it took an agonizingly long time. The footman followed behind, trying not to stare at the delicate green bustle that swayed and swuffled in front of him, until, near to the carriage, he sought to hurry her by lowering the steps and offering her his hand. She looked up at him with wide eyes and a face pulled taut with concentration and slipped across the slimy rocks right into his arms, which were well ready to receive her.
This was just enough for her to be late.
Holding her small, befeathered, and silk flowered reticule tightly in her little white hands, she worried it until the flowers were limped and the silk dark with the sweat of her fingers. This was very important, this day, and she well knew it, and now, to be late! Her heart beat fast with dread, remembering a tea she accompanied her mother to, when she was but 13; in came Alyssa Morningrumble with her hair a bit dishevelled, one minute and 22 seconds late, she was, and the poodles strained at their silken cords, baring their teeth silently, matching eyes arched in cold ridicule. Alyssa Morningrumble had fainted dead away, and now where was she, unmarried at 25 and looking much older, only seen in black, widows weeds, at the back corner of the church, always sobbing at her despicable fate.
Ramona had no desire to join her in that pew. Peering through the glass, she rapped the window of the coach, “Please!” she entreated, “do make with the haste!”
But the coachman could not go any faster through the overcrowded streets, slinking and finagling his way through the crush of carriages, carts, wagons, hansom cabs and the occasional manned chair. It was no use, Ramona and her Aunt Shoobukkle arrived at the front of the Fillingham townhouse at exactly the moment when Ramona Havishamble should have been making a slight bow to Charlie and Tobias. Was it even worth going in? Her mother would have had some sound advice, but Tirinia Shoobukkle was already alighting from the carriage, giving the footman a saucy look and approaching the front door.
Tirinia was very short, not stooped with age so much as fantastically petite. Her hair had once been a rich auburn red, but was now pure white. She still wore the rich autumnal colors that had looked so striking with her youthful red locks, deep purples, sapphire blues and iridescent greens. Though she was widowed these 15 years, she no longer wore mourning because she did not feel it suited her, and she rarely did anything that did not suit her.
It would never do! Ramona tried to cry out. Better to feign a sickness outside the door than enter it and have one thrust upon you by the serious glare of Charlie and Tobias Fillingham! She had no words, sounds or breath for the terror that filled her. The longer she stood there wringing her reticule and gasping for air, the later she was, but what did it matter anymore, tardiness to this tea, be it 1 minute and 22 seconds or 5 minutes and 37 seconds or even one millisecond was unendurable, a curse, a blight on your very good name. She saw herself 22 and already consigned to the group of spinsters who sat around and giggled about the mysterious unknown ins and outs of marital congress. Going to her deathbed early for lack of anything better to do, just as virginal as the white underlinens she wore this very day. How could she possibly face her mother? She must run away, now, seek some common life, perhaps the bleed of scandal would not reach the laboring classes and she could find a nice factory worker, fisherman or carpenter who would deign to take her as a wife. She could live plain, she decided, but she could not bear to stay unwed.
And then, suddenly she was down the carriage step on the arm of the footman, who dared to make a bit of eye contact with her, encouraging-like. There Tirinia stood at the doorstep, calling her name. She couldn’t run away, and she didn’t want to marry a fisherman, she wanted at the very least the second or third son of a titled man. Whatever was she thinking of? Holding her head high she determined not to faint when those sharp canines were bared. She would pretend that nothing had happened, as if being late was as fashionable here as it was at Maryanne Makable’s dinner parties, where you were expected to be at the least an hour late, and at the most fashionable, not to have shown up at all. She would do this, she could not let one old woman and her intimidating twin poodles ruin her chances at happiness.
The footman who announced Tirinia and Ramona had a slightly amused look on his face, and quickly backed out of the room before the tension could unnerve him. Tirinia had always planned to act as if nothing had happened, because she considered nothing had. She had been arriving late to teas since Mrs. Eustace Fillingham was on leading strings, and she wasn’t going to change her ways for some 60 year old upstart. She walked with confidence to the spot where the other ladies were assembled. Several were hiding behind fans and fluttering about with tittery giggles, trying hard not to look too closely at the poodles bristling on their leads, lest they find themselves overcome with the emotion of the moment. Tirinia made a slight bow, complimented Tobias’ lavender ribands and Charlie’s powder blue booties and took her seat. Tobias and Charlie, slightly stunned, yapped sharply and turned their attention to Ramona, who approached from the white lacquered doorway.
Mrs. Eustace Fillingham was quite plump, like one of the tea things on the tray, covered in sugary powders and pale pinks and blues, her skirts taking up an entire settee. The poodles would occasionally emerge and periodically retire from the many folds and sometimes underneath one would see the tassel of a pillow being gnawed relentlessly.
The poodles were indeed twins, and Mrs. Eustace Fillingham delighted in saying this again and again, identical! Uncanny! Wonderful! she would exclaim, and so well mannered. Why, they were even more obedient than her beloved eldest son, Eustace Fillingham Jr. But then such a spirited boy as he could hardly be kept in check, they have got to run free, young men, before they can be corralled in by the proper wife.
The cloying smell of mixing scents, the perfumes of the other ladies, the rosewater that Tobias took for his headaches, the lemongrass tea, the powdered noses, sugared teacakes and cucumber sandwiches soaked in vinegar filled Ramona’s delicate nostrils, and Charlie and Tobias took a step toward her, their eyes alight with effrontery. She gave a small smile and bowed.
Ramona took a deep breath. She let it out. Her satins were intact, the strings remained taut, but held the two poodles firmly. Their mistress and mother Mrs. Eustace Filliangham, while still formidable from her seat behind them, said aloud, “Well, really!” hoping to promote support from her other, more punctual guests. Ramona took her seat and a cucumber sandwich, while Tirinia poured their tea, and said aloud, “Really Gretchen, must you keep those animals about whilst we’re indulging in foodstuffs?”
Mrs. Eustace Fillingham, the Gretchen in question, gasped sharply. Her own strict edicts of etiquette restrained her immediate response, which was to hit Tirinia Shoobukkle about the face and head with her ivory and lace fan. “Well, really!” she repeated.
Ramona felt a surge of strength from the reception of Tirinia’s insult. They had not been brutally mangled by the pair of poodles, who had both backed into Mrs. Eustace Fillingham’s voluminous skirts, mirroring the snarl on each other’s snouts, all that was now visible from the piles of fabric.
Ramona turned to the lady seated to her right. “Hollyhock Mcgee, I haven’t seen you since we were practically babies!’
Hollyhock Mcgee, stunned at this address, replied cooly, unsure of herself and not desiring to raise the ire of the poodles or their hostess, “Indeed, is it any wonder?”
“Well indeed, I suppose not,” Ramona replied, slightly offended, for she and Hollyhock had been quite close in those previous days, in fact, Ramona’s mother had expressed jealousy of the close relationship developing between the two toddling female children. “It is probably because my mother thought yours gave you too many sweets and she feared your hyperactivity would rub off upon me and sully my countenance.”
Hollyhock Mcgee let her mouth hang open unattractively for a moment. “Well…” she too felt the sting, she had actually been quite fond of the young Ramona. Their warm friendship might have been rekindled if it weren’t for a number of things, such as slick cobbles and poodles obsessed with their own imaginary ideas of etiquette. Now it was irrevocably irretrievable.
The tea was tense but Ramona emerged from it with roses in her cheeks, and no inclination to order in large bolts of black fabric from the mourning warehouse. Tirinia chuckled to herself on the carriage ride home. Ramona was not ruined, just made slightly aware of a burgeoning sense of independence. This was what Tirinia had hoped for when she had instructed the footman to pour buckets of water on the cobbled walkway and trudge up slimy mud by walking to and fro across them. Ramona had been given a spirit which Tirinia had found her sorely lacking. She had had no doubt that Ramona would manifest one in a dire moment, she just wanted to nudge it along. Now to find the girl a suitable husband, not the type Ramona’s parents were intending for her, someone cookie-cuttered out of Eton with pastel cravats and a white summer suit. Ramona’s delicate beauty would be best suited by someone slightly rough around the edges, to really set her blonde pale prettiness off, a dusky lord from the North would do best.
Ramona said nothing to her mother about her near humiliation, but found herself standing up for herself over dinner when her mother decided to be critical of her high color.
A change had taken place.
I feel like I should include a small warning for the completely ridiculous but totally dirty love scene. I know that most romance novels have them, but since regency-style novels often don’t, I’m noting it.