~March 31, 1808~
Cassia Benton wiped at the soil muddying her skirt, wondering what color roses would bloom, if any, on the bushes she’d planted last autumn. She’d spent the entire morning tending the few plants that had sprouted of the more than thirty she’d started. She was trying to create a pink, hardier, strongly scented rose.
Last fall she’d done all the hard work involved in hybridizing her roses, and now that it was finally spring, she was waiting and watching each and every day to see what would grow. It was slow work that required more patience than skill. Mentally, she made a list of all she still needed to do: note down the growth—
“Cassia! Are you even listening to me?” her mother snapped, her voice getting uncommonly loud.
Cassie’s head jerked up. The sudden movement caused the last pin holding her heavy brown hair to fall. Her wavy locks tumbled past her shoulders. She quickly twisted it into a knot on top of her head and retrieved the pin from the floor. Shoving it in, she hoped it would hold. “I’m sorry, Mother, I was just thinking—”
“About your roses, as always! What am I going to do with you?” The exasperation in Lady Benton’s voice was palpable, leaving Cassie shifting guiltily on the sofa. Her mother turned to Cassie’s older sister, Cynthia, who had come home for a visit. Their mother frowned as she caught Cyn trying to slip Cassie a pin from her own deep mahogany hair—perfectly coiffed as always. “Do you see what I have to deal with?”
“She’s always been this way, Mother,” Cynthia said with the utmost patience. Cassie appreciated her sister a great deal. She’d always been understanding of Cassie’s passions, much more so than their mother. It was odd. Her mother was frustrated but understanding when it came to her father’s scientific work and even her older brother’s—if you could call digging up old bits of pottery science—but she never extended the same courtesy to Cassie. It wasn’t fair.
“I know,” Lady Benton said with an exaggerated sigh. “Cassia, can we have your full, undivided attention for just a few minutes? Please?”
Her mother was reduced to begging? Maybe this was serious. Cassie forced herself to focus. “Yes, Mother. I’m sorry. What is it that you wanted to speak with me about?”
“Your debut, for the twelfth time,” Lady Benton said. She tilted her head and looked meaningfully at Cassie, widening her stormy, green eyes—the same eyes all three Benton children had inherited—so as to stress the importance of the topic.
“We’ve discussed this, Mother. I’m not—”
“Yes, yes, you are,” her mother said, interrupting her. “If you’d been listening to me for the past quarter of an hour, which now, I see, you were not.” Her mother pressed her lips together for a moment, clearly holding back the words of anger she so wanted to unleash on her youngest child. She closed her eyes, took in a deep breath, and started again. “You are now twenty-one years old. You’re practically on the shelf! You will be making your debut this season, and I expect you to be engaged by the end of it. Is that understood?”
“But, Mother!” Cassie started to protest.
“No! You no longer have the luxury to neither argue with me nor take more than a year to find a husband. I have let this go for long enough. I have put up with your arguments and allowed you entirely too much license. That stops now! You will go to London with your sister, and you will make your debut. There will be no arguments and no further discussion. Now you are excused to go and pack.” Her mother paused to look her up and down pointedly. “And for goodness’ sake, change into a clean dress! You are filthy. Why are you not wearing the apron I gave you?”
Cassie kept her eyes lowered so her mother couldn’t see the anger in her eyes. “I forgot. But, Mother—”
“You are dismissed!” her mother said, interrupting her again. “Cynthia, please accompany your sister to her room and assist her in packing.”