Baker and Jones Ch. 16

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Chapter Sixteen

Annette sits at the dinner table, and for a rare moment, deeply appreciates all of the harsh corrections Sister Pullwater made of her table manners. The Sister had been insistent that Annette learn as close to the proper decorum at the table of gentry as possible, and sitting across from the wealthy and powerful residing in Lamishton, Annette is grateful not to be making too much of a fool of herself. After a brief moment of tension when Samantha introduced a collar as her guest, expertly explaining a vague justification, Annette settled into a functional normality at the table. She pokes at her soup bowl, surprised food for the wealthy wasn’t as good as she expected, and listens to Admiral Revier Deveroux go on and on about his various travels.

“-found that I quite enjoyed the summer air by the gulf. Combined with the lovely and persistent sea breeze, why it could be close to paradise, truly,” he insists.

Revier is not what Annette expected. She’d always thought of him as an old, soldierly man descending into the twilight years of his life, kept socially relevant only by acquisition of a beautiful wife, and she’s both surprised and disappointed to find she was so wrong. He’s a spritely and youthful man, no older than his lower-thirties, with a wide smile and a pleasant laugh. He wears his sideburns in fashionable mutton-chops, and he’s a dashingly handsome man. He and Samantha would be easily seen as one of the most attractive couples amongst the gentry, and Annette feels a pang of guilt.

“Should my fleet be commanded to rejoin them once more,” he continues, sneaking bites of his food between excited words, “I would be most pleased.”

“And what of the conditions of the natives?” a woman sitting across from Annette pips up. She’s plain and homely, and her fashionable dress seems deliberately styled to be modest and simple. She’d introduced herself as Elizabeth Hayle, wife to Arthur Hayle, the baron.

“How do you mean?”

“I have heard differing accounts,” she elaborates, seeming to gently recall stories told to her. “On the one hand, that they are comely and eager to accept the gospel, and on the other, that they are savage and brutish.”

“I suppose the truth lies somewhere in between,” Revier shrugs, waving his spoon haphazardly as he does. He sets it down, then suddenly perks up once more. “I recall one time, I was aboard the HMS Martinet, the newest ship in the fleet, when one of the natives attempted to board us with a canoe! A canoe! I turned to the First Mate, a portly fellow by the name of-,”

Annette stops listening, hunkering down to sit through yet another one of Revier’s endless stories. To her right at the table, sitting between herself and Revier, Samantha leans over and whispers, “I promise dinner will be more interesting once Revier has exhausted his stories.”

“I will endeavor to survive until then,” she mutters back.

The tale continues for some time, and eventually it seems as though only the three men at the far end of the table are listening anymore. Lord Winchester, seated at the head, leans back in his chair as Revier regales him at his left, and Arthur Hayle listens patiently at his right. Across from him, Lady Patricia Winchester occupies the other head of the table, and Annette is surprised to be sitting at her right with Elizabeth Hayle across from her and Samantha right beside her.

Disinterested in Revier’s bravado, Lady Winchester gathers Samantha’s attention and muses, “Lady Deveroux, I cannot help but wonder how you might have come across a guest such as yours.” Her head tilts at Annette.

Samantha smiles politely. “I encountered her as part of an attempt to correct the wayward path of an old friend.”

Lady Winchester’s face contorts into a disapproving glare at Annette. She’s a stern woman, with a rich sense of haughty dignity and a stubborn, entitled pride. She’s already dejectedly commented on Annette’s pinafore, remarking that it was hardly sufficient dress for a table of this status. “Indeed?” She crones. “She is the rebellious collar of one Cordelia Jones, is she not? You are once again freely associating with Miss Jones?”

“Solely out of nostalgia and a fear for the state of her soul, Lady Winchester,” Samantha replies diplomatically. “Miss Baker here was briefly torn from the holy path as a result of Miss Jones’ teachings, and so I have taken her on as a spiritual ward in the hopes she might be turned into a correcting influence on Miss Jones.”

Samantha’s way of speaking amongst the nobility is so strikingly different to Annette than the Samantha she was accustomed to. Around women like Lady Winchester, Samantha was a flatterer, a diplomat, and a gentlewoman, able to smoothly deflect barbs and critiques and repackage them in ways that somehow turned her own barbs into compliments.

Elizabeth pips up from the other side of the table. “I didn’t realize you were so concerned with matters of piety.”

“Consider it your influence, istanbul travesti dear Sister,” Samantha smiles. Despite the fact that Elizabeth was Revier’s sister by blood, the differences between the two were stark. “Miss Baker was even raised at the orphanage at St. Bartholomew’s,” Samantha continues, “and so she has a great past of spiritual fortitude to draw upon.”

Elizabeth allows a fond glow to decorate her pale face. “Oh, I adore the new priest at St. Bartholomew’s. He is the picture of an educated, pious, model Christian.”

Annette gulps back a choke of knowing laughter, forcing herself to hide her reaction behind a neutral expression. She’s nearly successful, and the little smile that creeps onto her lips is carefully masked into a shared sentiment.

“Miss Baker is a radical though,” Lady Winchester harps once more, “isn’t she?”

Samantha deflects, “Only in the sense of her radical devotion to the Lord God.”

“But she escaped service and supported the further destruction of property,” Lady Winchester’s eyes stare down Annette, who sinks back into her seat.

Samantha takes a breath and fights to spin the conversation differently. “In her spirit wages a great battle between obedience and waywardness, as one might expect from one born in such lowly places. It is my hope to assist in redirecting her angst towards prayerful consideration of the sacraments, so that she may do likewise with Miss Jones.”

Annette is amazed at how convincingly Samantha feigns piety, and even as the noblewoman’s foot playfully taps her own under the table it feels almost impossible to believe it was the same woman who had seduced Annette so often.

Lady Winchester folds her arms across her chest. “It seems a hopeless task to restore a sinner such as Miss Jones.”

To Samantha’s relief, Elizabeth perks up next. “There have been far more wicked souls who have returned to the flock, Lady Winchester.” She bows her head respectfully and turns to face Samantha. “I believe what you are doing is quite admirable, dear sister.” Her smile then meets Annette’s restrained expression. “I admire your courage in accepting Lady Deveroux correcting influence, Miss Baker. It speaks well of you to obey her direction.”

It’s impossible for Annette to hide her smirk, wondering how the table would respond if they learned exactly how often Annette had obeyed Samantha’s commands. She feigns a warm and appreciative smile to cover it. “She has been nothing if not instructive.”

“I was indeed hoping Miss Baker could learn more of the charity you and your husband partake in, dear Sister,” Samantha presses forward. “It would be an effective antidote to the poisons of radicalism.”

“I would be delighted to-,”

“My husband tells me Miss Baker was quite forward and disrespectful in her speech towards him,” Lady Winchester interrupts curtly, her scowling eyes glaring down at Annette.

Samantha attempts to defend her once more. “Miss Baker’s reeducation is still a work in progress.”

Lady Winchester huffs. “And must her education come at the expense of polite society?”

Samantha sits forward and quickly redirects the conversation. “Are you aware that Miss Baker is twice-born?”

Annette feels her stomach drop suddenly as the three women now turn their gazes towards her, scanning her over quickly and aggressively. She stares back at Samantha, shocked the words could fall out of her mouth so quickly, but the noblewoman doesn’t meet her eyes.

“How incredible!” Elizabeth exclaims.

“Truly?” Lady Winchester leans in.

“I could never tell,” Elizabeth nods excitedly. “That is most remarkable indeed, Miss Baker.”

Annette sits quietly, unsure of how to respond. Samantha presses forward, explaining, “As such, the graces of… well, let us say that Miss Baker might sometimes be less of a natural learner in these ways compared to a woman of your esteem and condition, Lady Winchester.”

She isn’t sure what to say, but Annette moves as though to speak, only to have Samantha’s foot tap hastily against hers under the table. The meaning is clear and leaves Annette frustrated: don’t say anything.

Elizabeth continues grinning happily at Annette. “Yes, but matters of following God’s callings must be so much more defined in her spirit. The holiness of obeying the call to be reborn is quite admirable. You have my respect, Miss Baker.”

“I…” Annette stifles a sigh. “… thank you.”

“Might you now inspire her with your great generosity and charity?” Samantha encourages her sister-in-law.

“Of course,” Elizabeth affirms. “Mister Hayle and I are both moved by a great variety of causes – most recently assisting in the efforts to restore Kereland in the aftermath of its horrid famine.”

“Miss Baker is Kerish.”

“Then you will no doubt appreciate our efforts. Mister Hayle has been working on plans to help modernize their farmlands as best as possible, so that they might not run short on food again.”

Annette istanbul travestileri stomachs her sour feeling and states, “I thought Mister Hayle’s business was primarily oil and steel.”

Elizabeth nods. “He and his business partner, Mister Benton, work on a great many things. I believe Arthur would take all business upon his shoulders if he could,” she looks over at her husband to her left and smiles warmly.

“Broad shoulders they must be,” Annette mutters.

Elizabeth thankfully laughs politely at her jokes and continues. “Imagine if all could be as successful as his company. It is as the Lord says to his faithful, ‘To he who has, more will be given, even unto abundance.’ My Arthur must be trusted greatly by the Lord to be responsible for so much.”

Samantha finishes her next bite and nudges, “Tell her also of your work with the children.”

“Oh, how I adore them!” Elizabeth exclaims, and for a moment it’s difficult not to be a little jealous of the wishful exuberance and innocence of her being. “The Lord has not yet blessed me with children of my own, but I have opened a number of orphanages across Kereland and Emril, and indeed I see our wards as my own children.”

“Indeed?” Annette tries to smile supportively but doesn’t quite succeed.

“I hope they are as lovely as your time at St. Bartholomew’s.”

Annette gulps back a snort of laughter. “It truly was a distinguished experience.”

“We even have an education program I am quite proud of,” Elizabeth relates. “Many of our children learn the skills required to work in a factory, and by the time they are old enough, Mister Hayle graciously offers them a place in one of his own factories. Guaranteed employment!”

“How generous of him…”

Lady Winchester seems to resent not having the platform of conversation for some time, and speaks up. “Well, it compares little when set against the overwhelming service the gentry performs for society.”

Elizabeth nods deferentially. “Oh, I did not mean to make such a comparison.”

For a moment, Annette is confused, until she realizes suddenly that despite being fabulously wealthy, the Hayles were not nobility. Neither came into wealth or land by birth, and the story went that Mister Hayle and his partner, Mister Benton, built their business up from nothing. They were new money, finally trying to get a seat at the table of old, old money. From Annette’s vantage point, it was often difficult to remember how stark that distinction was amongst the upper class.

“What service does the gentry perform?” Annette asks.

Lady Winchester lets out a dismissive and incredulous laugh, and by the silence that follows declines to answer her question.

Samantha once again comes to Annette’s social rescue. “I believe it could be beneficial to Miss Baker’s education to hear it explained in your expert words, Lady Winchester.”

The Lady of the house sighs, tilting her head to the side and deciding to deign to answer the request. “Why, we steward and govern the land, of course.” Her voice, which was always so proper and dignified, becomes even more distinguished. “We provide a model for how society ought to be, and demonstrate for the lower classes what they ought to aspire to in their conduct. Though,” she adds for a moment, gazing over to Samantha, “not all of those from humble origins succeed in this task as Lady Deveroux has done.”

“You flatter me, Lady Winchester,” Samantha smiles. “I hope that Miss Baker, too, may learn from this example.” Her foot taps Annette’s under the table once more.

“And while the barons of industry and their kin might believe themselves to be a model in a similar way,” Lady Winchester continues, “their money does not obey the noble and necessary selection of birthright. Mister Hayle might have the manners and favor of gentry, but he has learned this from us, not the other way around. He is wise and good enough not to intrude upon our sacred duty.”

Annette for a moment recalls the spat between Mister Bembrook and Lord Brimwell. A fight over a land claim seemed to have quickly turned into a heated dispute over Bembrook’s attempt to gain status as a member of society, and according to Lord Brimwell’s letter, it seemed as though the gentry were not happy to invite him into their world.

– – –

“It has been a pleasant surprise to meet you, Miss Baker,” Revier tells her, arriving in the wing of Lamiston that was set aside for the Deveroux’s visit. “I wish more collars had your intellect and beauty.”

Annette shudders slightly, realizing that the occasional glances he had made at her all throughout dinner might have been suggesting something more than just polite curiosity. “Thank you, Admiral Deveroux,” she replies simply.

He turns about the lounging room, smiling brightly at both Annette and his wife. He was the sort of man who became somehow even more social after a few drinks. “And it is lovely to see my wife direct her educational focus travesti istanbul to a case such as yours. Despite your past, or perhaps because of it, I can hardly think of one more in need of her attentions than you are.”

Samantha shares a knowing look with Annette, who restrains a sigh and a smirk. “I do believe Miss Baker is in need of them now, my Lord,” the noblewoman informs him. “I should like to gather her thoughts in response to dinner.”

Revier’s face washes with a forward and flirtatious grin. “I was hoping to likewise receive your attentions tonight…” He pauses for a moment, then adds, “… with a different matter.”

“Perhaps tomorrow night, my Lord?” Samantha deflects. He looks a little disappointed, and Samantha sighs and adds. “Perhaps in an hour.”

He nods, satisfied, and steps over to kiss her before retreating back to his bedroom. Annette smirks and calls after him, “I thank you for your colorful stories!”

“Don’t encourage him,” Samantha grumbles after the door closes.

“He’ll not be receiving my attentions tonight,” Annette shrugs.

“Nor mine,” she shakes her head. “He’s likely to play with himself for the next few minutes then pass out with a hangover before I even make it to bed.”

“Charming.”

Samantha tightens her shoulders then drops them to release the tension and the breath she was holding. “At any rate, come sit with me on the balcony. It is a lovely night.”

“I really ought to be leaving-,”

“I am not letting you walk back to Bellchester so late,” Samantha waves away Annette’s concern, guiding her out through the wood-and-glass doors. “Besides, I was not lying, I still wish to discuss your miseducation.”

Samantha reclines on a small couch that has been placed on the terrace, and gestures for Annette to light the small fireplace in the corner. It wasn’t usual as far as Annette was aware to have a fireplace in such a place, but with the chill air she does appreciate it. Once it’s lit, she turns around to see Samantha gesturing for her to take the spot next to her on the sofa. Seeing no other seating option, Annette relents, gently sitting on it as far from her as possible.

Annette sighs. “You wished to discuss dinner-,”

“I should not have ended things with you the way that I did,” Samantha declares, laying back and facing Annette with her legs outstretched. She’d slipped off her heels before sitting down.

“Truly, I am over -,”

“Allow me to speak,” she interrupts once again. She stares at Annette for a moment to see if the girl would grant it, and Annette shrugs and gestures for her to continue. “I could have – I should have been kinder to you at that moment.”

“You called me ‘pitiful.'”

“I didn’t mean it.”

Annette shakes her head. “You said it nonetheless.”

Samantha looks away at the night sky for a breath, then turns back to say, “Consider this my apology, then. A heartfelt one.”

“Very well,” Annette shrugs and allows silence to fall over them. She would be lying if she said she never thought about Samantha anymore, but these days it was often out of a sense of curiosity at how she would react to Annette and her present actions.

“I worry,” Samantha says after a few moments, “that my rejection is the cause of your radicalism.” Annette makes to speak, ready to rebut her claim, but Samantha stops her once more. “I worry that my spurring of your desires is what drove you to associate wealth and status with malevolence. It has sent you spiraling down a path of great recklessness and fury.”

“And here I thought you enjoyed my daring and my cleverness.”

“This is no joking matter, Annie,” Samantha pouts. “You have committed serious crimes.”

“So I’m ‘Annie’ once more?”

“Annette…” Samantha sits forward, a look of consternation on her face. She takes a breath and resettles herself. “You could have had safety within my home, shelter from such dangerous ideas. I regret that I turned you away from this opportunity.”

“And yet you did,” Annette looks away, feeling a bubbling of pain push forth as she recalls the sting of rejection. “It’s the past.”

“And I should like to make it right.”

Annette furrows her brow. “By forcing me to endure the scorn of the gentry over dinner?”

“By showing you they are people, the same as you and I.” Samantha’s voice fills with a sense of duty and insistence. “Some are more pleasant than others, to be sure, but they are people nonetheless.”

“With enough money to buy and sell a continent.”

Samantha lets out an exasperated groan. “Must it always be about the money?”

Annette declines to answer, instead letting silence come between them once more. She debates her next words, then quietly recalls, “You outed me to the table.”

Samantha waves a hand to dismiss her concern. “To insulate you from Lady Winchester’s worst criticisms and to gain you Mrs. Hayle’s respect. It is simply how the diplomacy of conversation works.”

“You implied my womanhood was suspect and that I lacked it’s natural inclinations,” Annette frowns as she looks over the noblewoman with dismay.

“It was rhetoric, dear,” Samantha defends. “You know I value your womanhood greatly.” She sighs, then looks back at her longingly. “I’ve missed you.”

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