Scary Writing Samples: My Lord Spy

A Writing Workshop Writing Sample (Right!?!)

(NOTE: Scary Writing Samples is a series of excerpts created by me and others for use in writing workshops. I needed excerpts that weren’t by “real people” so participants would feel free to say what they really thought. If you wish to use any of these as a sample in a writing workshop or other creative endeavor, please contact me first! This one in particular was for training contest judges.)

Jonathan Harcourt, eighth Marquis of Lytton, crossed his gleaming black Hessian over his knee and leaned back in the Queen Elizabeth chair, albeit carefully, for fear of breaking the delicate wood. “Really, Mama,” he drawled out, flicking closed his elegant snuffbox which he’d decided not to use. “Surely it’s not as bad as all that.”

“The family fortunes are ruined!” His mother, an attractive widow of three years, pressed a rosewatered hankie to her brow and adopted a posture. She was fond of posturing. She and her hen cronies had hired an actor to teach them to posture just…so. It was all the rage.

His mother was also quite fond of declaring the family, or its fortunes, or both, ruined in some way, shape or form. And next, thought Jonathan wearily, comes the accusation.

“You simply must marry this Season, and marry rich. You have fribbled away our money in a gaming hell!” His mother pressed her hankie to her lips, as if to wipe away the word “hell”. It surely wasn’t the word “marry”, because she used it on a regular basis. Especially with regards to him.

“Must I?” he asked plaintively. He reached for one of her bonbons, but she smacked his hand with her damp hankie before continuing.

“My children are determined to send me to an early grave,” the Marchioness insisted. She set the hankie on the table and took up the bonbon, which she popped daintily into her mouth. Jonathan waited patiently because he knew she wasn’t finished with him and had no desire to leave until she was finished. Well, that was a lie; he had quite a desire to leave, but the consequences of abruptly departing amidst his mother’s marital spiel would be disastrous. The last time he’d angered her so, she’d inveigled him to a houseparty simply full of simpering, marriageable misses.

He had yet to get the cloyingly vapid taste of ingénue and ratafia out of his mouth, and it had been months.

“Mama, surely Theodore and Gervaise have been behaving themselves. Have you a letter from them that hints otherwise?” he asked hopefully. There were four Lyttons, only one girl. The Lightfoot Lyttons, they were called in the ton, as all three men were eligible, handsome and possessed of an uncanny ability to lightfoot their way out of the marriage noose.

At least, so far. Teddy and Gervaise were on a Grand Tour of the continent, having tired of their mother’s matchmaking and left him, the eldest, to bear the brunt of it.

“No, they’re quite fine.”

Jonathan tapped his chin with a long, elegant finger. What could be stirring his mother so? Was this her normal pre-Season nag or something quite different?

“Is it Fredericka?” he pondered. “Has she done something?” The youngest Lytton, likely to be billed a diamond of the first water, which would only go to her head, was anticipating her first Season and was the worst behaved. She was aided and abetted by their neighbors, Andrew and Anna Armsford. Anna would be partaking of the Season as well, but couldn’t recall if it was her first, or third, or what. Though she was fetching, he preferred lush widows or actresses who knew what was what. The only noteworthy thing about the bookish gel was she was as troublesome as Fredericka; he cursed the day the Armsfords birthed a girl so close in age to his sister, making them natural companions.

As for Andrew Armsford, Jonathan had already warned the pup not to sniff around Fredericka’s person, or dowry, with a bout of fisticuffs he doubted the young man would forget.

“Fredericka and Anna are being fitted for gowns upstairs, they have done nothing of recent. My concern, dear boy is you.” Mama paused and her face crumpled up like a discarded copy of the Town Tittle-Tattle, a waggish society gossip rag no one knew who authored but anyone who was anyone memorized each Tuesday by two of the afternoon. “Surely you don’t mean to deny me the pitter patter of little Lytton feet at Harcourt Hall? One day soon I’ll follow your father’s footsteps, may he rest in peace.”

“Father was fifteen years older than you and a drunk beside,” Jonathan pointed out languidly. “You’re not about to pop off anytime soon.”

“Then what about the money you lost? I had it from Emily Cowper herself. Will we be forced to sell the family jewels?” Mama placed a fine white hand to her throat, another posture, and gasped theatrically.

“No.” Jonathan ground his teeth. The Almanacs patroness was one of his mother’s bosom buddies and a bad influence, if you asked him. Which no one did, as most of the ton considered him the bad influence. Half his reputation was pure tittle-tattle and the other half —

let’s just say he led an interesting life. It amused him to think not even the most inquisitive gossips of the ton realized just how interesting his life truly was.

“Will you think seriously of seeking a bride this Season, dear Jonathan? You’re thirty years old and should be setting up your nursery. Lady Rothfield’s son just married and already has a grandchild on the way.”

Jonathan forbore from pointing out to his mother that the incipient grandchild was why his friend Charles Rothfield, Earl of Stratton, had married in the first place, though he seemed happy enough. Certainly his wife Dierdre was a fine woman. In fact, last season Jonathan made a half-hearted play for Dierdre and had only half-pretended to be broken-hearted when Charles had spirited her away to Gretna Green for a hasty wedding after her seedy father tried to have her offed so he could use her dowry to repay his gambling debts. The Town Tittle-Tattle, of course, had gotten the whole thing wrong and blamed him for the hasty wedding.

“Mama,” he averred, as he did every year, “I will keep my eyes open. You may count on my attendance with you at Almanacs precisely three times, and I will attend the theatre regularly.” Especially since his current mistress, the exotic La Flower, worked there.

“But what about the money,” his mother persisted. “Will there be enough for Gunter’s to cater ices at the ball? The Lytton ball has always been the traditional Season opener, and one can’t have a proper ball without Gunter’s ices.”

Ah, so that was what she was getting at. “Mama, you have cart blanche to order whatever ice you wish,” he practically whimpered, hiding a wince at what this was going to cost him. He could afford it, though not as plump in the pocket as his friend Duke Havensley. “Flowers, too. And musicians.”

Every year it was the same thing. He almost wished he were on the Grand Tour with his brothers. But there was no telling what mischief Fredericka, the Armitage gel, and his mother would get up to without a level head to offset the damage.

Considering he’d just received a missive from the General regarding a matter of state security, he’d be lucky to attend the painfully dull Almanacs Assembly the three times he promised his mother.

The next several months, he’d be seeking entirely different prey than the colorless debutantes who populated the ton.

# # #

“Anna, you can’t wear that dress to my comeout ball,” gasped Fredericka, her eyes widening in shock. “It’s…it’s too colorful.”

Anna twirled, admiring her reflection the cheval mirror. The dark red gown with its gauzy red overdrape suited her dark looks perfectly. It was high time she escaped the whites and pastels that ummarried girls in their first Season were forced to wear.

“This is my third Season,” she pointed out. “There won’t be a fourth. Think of this as my last hurrah.”

“It might be your last invitation if you show up in that dress,” Fredericka said. Her gown was blue and white satin, which perfectly matched the famous Lytton blonde looks, yet with eyes a dark, midnight blue. On Fredericka and her mother, it made them appear as dolls, while on Fredericka’s brother Jonathan, the Marquis, the guinea gold hair and dark eyes made him appear to be the very devil. Gervaise and Teddy had taken after their father, with auburn hair and stockier frames, though none the less attractive for all that.

“I’ll weather the storm,” Anna promised. “You’ll see.” What she didn’t say was, it might also be her last chance to get Jonathan to notice her. She knew what kind of women he made his mistress–she hadn’t perfected the art of eavesdropping because it was considered a genteel accomplishment–and this year?

She was going to be that woman.

***

© 2005 Jody Wallace