Status: Very Active [Camp Nanowrimo 2018]

La Douleur Exquise

Chapter One

Wednesday morn brought the sound of town life to the ears of those lucky enough to slumber past sunrise. The clatter of carts on cobbles and the distant rumble of industry that sat dotted along the riverside in shades of grey and black, filled the air with noise that woke the once of sleeping town of Watford.

Blue eyes blinked thrice and were met with the backs of hands gently rubbing away the remaining grasps of sleep. From the floor below the scent of fresh bread wafted upwards, combing with the morning chatter it was enough to wake Henrietta from her slumber. With a groan and tired sigh, she rose from her bed.

Perched upon the windowsill was a porcelain wash-basin and small cloth, and with slow, tired movements Henrietta began to wash her face in the morning sun that seeped through the glass. Drying the water from her face, Henrietta glanced over the darting streets that spread out in front of her. Her family home was modest in size, and her room on the top floor allowed Henrietta to peacefully observe the movements of townsfolk beneath without being watched herself. Watford remained a town of integration and innovation; a combination of the traditional and the new. Church spires rose above the mismatched rooves of townhouses in a surprising abundance. The churches’ relics of the growing town, out-dating many of the surroundings buildings that were rapidly growing to suit the needs of Watford's flourishing industry that lay to the south-west, just out of eyeshot of Henrietta’s window. The industrial estate blossomed like dandelions, the dark smoke produced spreading as the fluffy seeds do - taken by the wind.

In the streets below Henrietta’s window, children in tattered garb darted between the skirts of ladies walking with linked arms, their bustles bouncing behind them in an exaggerated contrast to their tiny waists, cinched in by corsets hidden beneath bodices of purples, reds, blues and yellows. Though the sun shone brightly down on the townsfolk it was deceiving. Autumn winds dashed between the houses and nipped at exposed skin, flushing cheeks a bright red.

Henrietta dressed quickly, choosing a grey chenille dress to suit the weather. The dress was loose in form, hanging straight downwards; allowing it to be worn without corset or bustle, both of which were clothing Henrietta was most happy to go without. From outside the autumn wind whistled, prompting Henrietta to pin her brown locks back into a simple up-do in an attempt to stop the inevitable mess of tangles the wind would cause. Once happy with her hair Henrietta headed downstairs.

The ground floor seemed empty sprawled out in front of her. Henrietta silently walked towards the empty hall, her stocking covered feet making no noise on the carpeted floor. From the shoe cupboard by the front door, Henrietta collected her walking boots and began fastening them.
The sound of movement down the corridor made Henrietta jump and she turned in time to see the flash of red skirts escape to the quiet of the drawing room, the door slamming shut behind them. Henrietta sighed, briefly pausing to look longingfully towards the dark oak door that seemed to hide a world unseen behind it.

“I’ll return home after nightfall.” Henrietta desidingly called after the moment of pause, turning back towards the laces of her boots. “The Capell’s will send word if the event runs later.”

With that she rose to her feet and left the house, shutting the door behind her with more force than was likely necessary.


The train ride from Kings Cross to Watford Station had been uneventful and much to Isabella’s disappointment, it seemed that the cart ride to Cassiobury House was much the same. The cobbled streets of the town had quickly passed by and now the cart headed up the winding dirt roads that traversed the extensive grounds of Cassiobury house. The greys of the town led to expanses of green, outlined by the occasional tall oak or ash.

Cassiobury house took centre stage in the fields of green, its red brick bright and tall, towering four stories high making even the oldest oaks seem dwarven in its shadow.

The cart slowed as it approached the large wooden front doors. Once drawn to a stop, Isabella eagerly threw open the cart door, without giving the driver much of a chance to dismount. Gathering her billowing skirts, Isabella stepped out of the cart, landing with a surprising elegance despite the large drop.

“Isabella!” A sweet voice followed the creaking of the large doors, “At last! My wits have been strung waiting for your arrival.”

Isabella turned towards the voice, smiling at the approaching Alice Capell who's grin matched her own; an eagerness to see an old friend. They embraced tightly.

"Oh, I have missed you so." Isabella said, stepping back from the hug but took Alice's hands in her own as she spoke. "There is much we much discuss!"

"Quite! I've had a fine lunch laid for us in the greenhouse and Henrietta should be arriving soon." Alice squeezed Isabella's hand quickly then began pulling her towards the front doors that stood ajar. The coachman and the valet had begun unloading Isabella's trunks from the back of the cart, standing aside to allow the two girls enter the household before them.

With arms linked, Isabella and Alice headed towards the greenhouse.

"Has Susan been waiting a while?" Isabella asked, eyes scouring over the grand interior of Cassiobury house which had changed greatly since her last visit several months prior.

Alice nodded, "She was here before we had broke fast. I feel she grows more unhappy by the day."

"A shame." Isabella replied solemnly, mind drifting to ponder the life of their close friend Susan Boythorn. The girl had been brought up in a strongly religious family, her father the local vicar who displayed an enthusiastic commitment to the church. Susan was often smothered in her own home by the expectations of her parents; subdued into a quiet dismissive state. In private, however, Susan flourished. She was sure of herself, humorous and playfully boisterous, always the first to break the silence and bring a smile in the saddest of times. Her father was over-bearing but Susan's will had always been stronger, and though she was demure around the church and her family, she was true to herself with her close friends.

Alice and Isabella approached the first door that led towards the greenhouse, another door of oak that mirrored the tone of wood that filled the house. It was nothing extraordinary and often went ignored, but once stepped through it led to a small corridor packed with old plant pots, watering cans and the ripe smell of earth. To the opposite end stood the entrance door to the greenhouse.

The door was tall and thin, made of curving white metal and large windows that mirrored the architecture of the greenhouse itself. The greenhouse was small, but large enough to fit a few seats and a small table - perfect for an afternoon tea amongst friends. Though almost empty of flowers now, it was once filled with tropical flora. Exotic palms and climbing vine flowers that made their home amongst the curving metal of the glass building. Colourful orchids brought from the somewhat local Cornish coast and from the Atlantic rain forests of Brazil much further afield, used to flourish in pots dotted among the floor. It was a maze of colour and smells; a tropical paradise hidden in the British countryside . Now, only the hardiest of plants remained; cacti and local deciduous flowers that Alice collected on days walking. The greenhouse had been built for Alice's late mother, a love letter from Alice's Father, the Earl of Essex, that showcased both the wealth of his love and his bank account. After the passing of Alice's mother five years ago, the greenhouse had become disused, a forgotten aspect of the Capell family life. Arguments with her father had led to Alice re-discovering it a few years prior, when looking for a place to cry and brood. Though the flora no longer flourished, wilting sadly in shades of brown, it was a place of comfort that reminded her of her mother. The greenhouse became an escape from the dramatics of home life; a place for her to talk privately with her friends. It had taken two years to quietly make the greenhouse into somewhere more habitable, but now it was a heaven for Alice and her friends.

Through the glass, Isabella could see Susan stretched across one of the couches that occupied the room. Her skirts were creased, pooled round her as she lounged, the tip of her white walking boots visible as they rested on the arm of the couch. Entirely unladylike, but entirely Susan.

"Isabella!" Susan eagerly called as the girls stepped into the room. She jumped up and hugged Isabella tightly. "Come sit with me, I've missed you so!"

Isabella obliged, sitting down on the couch with Susan who quickly dusted down the arm where her feet had been.

"I've asked the maids to alert me when they see Henrietta approach." Alice said, taking her seat on the gilded armchair opposite the couch where Isabella and Susan sat. She reached out and took a iced orange from the luncheon spread laid out on the table at the centre of the greenhouse. "Do eat, girls. My father had it all delivered from that delightful Parisian bakery near King Street in London."

Susan waved a hand as a no thank you, leaning back into the couch.

"Is your father well?" Isabella inquired as took a small meringue filled with a pink coloured preserve.

Alice nodded, "He departed a week prior to your arrival to meet with Mr David Grant, a businessman from New York of all places."

Isabella raised an eyebrow, intrigued. "The railway magnate?"

"You know him?" Susan, suddenly interested in the conversation, chirped in.

"Heard of him." Isabella replied, "He's a very wealthy man with a lot of influence."

"I was hoping for some treacherous tale of lust and adventure! You have disappointed me greatly." Susan teased, earning herself a playful pinch from Isabella.

"I have no tale to spin about Mr Grant, though there are many others of wealth and royalty who step through my doors." Isabella smiled deviously, but busied herself with eating the meringue. The trick of a good story was to get them begging to learn more.

"Oh, Isabella, you are rotten." Susan complained dramatically.

Alice giggled at the exchange, "Do wait until Henrietta arrives. We cannot exclude her from Isabella's ever-so-naughty stories."

Isabella smirked, quietly enjoying the dramatics surrounding her life. Although frowned upon, Isabella had become vastly independent from her family and taken to London to establish a life of her own. At seventeen, Isabella had been taken under the wing of Scarlett Berkeley. They met whilst Isabella worked at her father's inn one night and months of communication led to Isabella leaving the relative comfort of her home life; seeking a greater life. Now, at twenty, Isabella worked as partner to Scarlett, aiding in the management of the brothel and living a wealthy life in upper-middle class London. What made the life so exciting was the insight into the secrets of the extremely wealthy. The brothel was for the elite, a secret place where unconventional sexual desires where explored for large sums of money. Army generals, businessmen, government officials and even royalty silently visited under the cover of night; seeking relations with the girls employed. Though she spent little time with her family, she remained in contact with her dear friends, who excitedly waited upon their meetings to hear tales of the famous men who seeked pleasure and pain in ways that would end their careers in mere heartbeats if discovered. She dared not send letters, so times like these where the four friends gathered, were times of great entertainment.

From the hallway outside the greenhouse a bell chimed.

"Ah, that will be Henrietta!" Alice said eagerly, leaping off the armchair. She smoothed down the skirt of her dress and headed towards the front door, leaving Isabella and Susan behind in the greenhouse.

"Alice tells me things have become more unpleasant at home." Isabella turned to Susan as the door to the greenhouse shut behind Alice.

Susan sighed, tilting her head back as if exhausted at the thought of home; her brown curls tumbling down the back of the sofa. "If only you knew."

Isabella reached out a hand towards Susan, squeezing her hand encouragingly. "Then speak."

"My father arranged another proposal." Susan wrinkled her nose at the memory, "I declined, though I doubt my stories of a marriage to God remain convincing."

"How many proposals have you declined now?"


They both sat in silence, pondering the weight of Susan's words. At twenty-three Susan was fast approaching an age where she would be considered unweddable. Though she often spun lies that no man will ever match her passion for God so she couldn't dare marry such men, her Father had begun to seem suspicious.

"I sense he is getting desperate." Susan continued. "The man was not a member of our parish."

"Now that is a sign of desperation. I would have thought your father would have sought to keep you close." Isabella let the situation play over in her mind, trying to find a suitable explanation for the unexpected marital union he had attempted to form besides desperation. It would seem more likely that her father should be searching for more distinct men, men of a high religious calibre in the local parish that meant he could watch over Susan intently even after she was wed.

"Maybe he wishes to be rid of you?" Isabella settled on, a hopeful tone in her voice. It would do Susan well to be sent far from her father, though that came at the risk of an unpleasant husband.

Susan laughed, "I highly doubt such a thing."

The door to the hallway that led to the greenhouse opened and the sound of light chatter could be heard as Alice returned with Henrietta in tow.

"As do I." Isabella murmured.

The greenhouse door opened and Henrietta rushed to Isabella, hugging her tightly. Overjoyed to see her close friend.

"You must return home more often." Henrietta playfully scolded Isabella as she took a seat next to Alice, opposite the couch where Isabella and Susan sat. "These two would have me sent to a madhouse with the way they talk."

"And I would not?" Isabella laughed heartily, the seriousness of her conversation with Susan swiftly washed away. "Surely I am the worst!"

"A dreadful sinner." Susan chimed in with a small giggle.

Alice had begun pouring out the tea which had been brewing quietly whilst they chatted. She handed a cup and saucer to Isabella, a intrigued gleam in her blue eyes. "A sinner with a devious web of wicked tales to corrupt us with."

Isabella accepted the cup, smiling at the playful teasing. "What web would you wish for me to weave first? The tale of Lieutenant Henry Chichester or the tale of the American cowboy Almeric Paget?"
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Decided to bring this story back from the dead for Camp Nanowrimo. I do still have the first (unfinished) version on my Mibba still as I'm still integrating the chapters as I write. It'll probably be taken down in a week or two when this version over takes it.

I hope you all enjoy this! I know the characters don't talk in a fully Victorian manner, but I tried to integrate that style of talking with understandable modern language so that the story could be wider received.

Comments, subscriptions and recommendations are much appreciated!