The Mean Dowager
I’ve had the idea to create a Regency world where dragons exist for a while now. I had a great time writing the story. I also had fun experimenting with the illustration. The style is meant to match the style of other illustrators who created art for Jane Austen’s books in the early 1900’s. Specifically H.M Brock. You can see his illustrations here. It was a fun experiment but I’m not sure if I’ll try it again when I create other illustrations in this same world. Which I do plan to do. I hope you have a great time reading the story.
The Mean Dowager
Miss Jane Fernsley felt like she had swallowed a bowl of dragon fish. She hadn’t of course. In fact, she hadn’t eaten since breakfast, toast with marmalade, a bowl of fruit and another helping of toast. She’d been too nervous to eat anything else that day. And now, standing in front of Dowager Lady Templeton’s huge ornate door she wished she hadn’t had the second helping of toast.
Maggie rang the bell and Jane felt an unexpected annoyance that Maggie wasn’t as nervous as she was. Jane knew this thought had no merit but in times of stress, you can’t always control what you think. Maggie acted today as Jane’s chaperone. This happened as often as twice a week, so the visit wasn’t out of the ordinary for her. In contrast, Jane was about to meet her future grandmother-in-law. She’d heard about the dowager’s cantankerous nature, and that she kept two large lap-dragons who would eat you if they felt the desire. Lord Templeton, her fiance, had assured her to the contrary, but Jane wasn’t convinced.
Her mother, Mrs. Fernsley hadn’t made things easier. She’d spent half the morning preaching about the virtues of holding your tongue. The other half of the morning contrived her objection to Jane making the appointment for a time when “Your dear Mama could not attend you”. Mrs. Fernsley had been obliged to refuse the invitation due to another engagement. Jane took her scolding in stride feeling quite certain the visit would be more successful without her mother’s presence. In actuality, Jane had purposely made the appointment for a time her mother was otherwise engaged. And, she refused to feel guilty about it.
The heavy door swung open and a ruler-strait butler stared down at the two women. Jane handed him her card. She’d been holding it in her hand and the cardboard looked a bit limp. She cringed and wiped her clammy hands on her skirt.
The man emitted a highbrow sniff as he read the card, then smiled. The dowager had been looking forward to proving the nerve of the young visitor. He thought the experience would turn out rather entertaining. He sniffed again. “You are expected Miss Fernsley. Please come in.”
The two young women entered into an opulent hall. Their walking boots knocked on the mosaic floor. The sound echoed up into the vaulted ceiling. A handsome footman appeared and took Jane’s parasol and gloves. As he exited Maggie followed him toward the servants quarters.
The butler motioned Jane towards a door on the right. “My Lady is waiting for you in the small drawing room Miss.”
The small drawing room wasn’t small. Light streamed from three large windows on the south side of the house. Lush carpet covered a polished floor. Chairs in the latest fashion, with thin spindle legs and brocaded upholstery, sat in a comfortable arrangement in the room’s center.
The Dowager sat in a stuffed chair opposite the windows. She motioned with a small wrinkled hand, and Jane walked forward and curtsied. Two fat lap dragons did indeed sit at the old woman’s feet. Jane ignored them, and the squirmy feeling in her belly. With a sly smile and another flutter of her wrinkled hand, the Dowager motioned for Jane to sit.
A servant brought in a tray with tea.
The Dowager turned to Jane. “I hope you don’t mind pouring uh”¦Miss Fernsley, was it?” She waited to see Jane’s reaction at her ruse of not remembering the girl’s name. Jane gave none and the older lady frowned.
Jane was unaware of her host’s expression. She was too busy feeling relieved that her mother had made her practice serving tea so often. She could do it now, even with shaking hands.
Jane prepared two cups and passed one to her host. As she lifted her own cup one of the fat dragons unwound himself from the old lady’s feet and made his way toward Jane. She pretended not to notice as it heaved himself onto the cushions beside her. It must not have been a flying breed. Or maybe the animal was too fat to lift itself. This beast was easily five times the size of Pepper the little lap dragon the Fernsley family kept.
The couch’s thin stylish legs wobbled but held as the dragon scooted forward and laid his head on her lap. Alarmed, Jane held herself very still. One never knows what a dragon could do. Fortunately, he seemed to only want a comfortable place to close his eyes and drool.
The old lady squinted at Jane as if trying to bring her into focus. She didn’t react to the dragon’s behavior. “So, you think you are going to marry my grandson?”
Jane’s attention was on the dragon so she didn’t think to search her brain for a polite response. “I’d rather say I know it, Ma’am.” She tried to shift her weight out from under the dragon’s great head, but only managed to spill a few drops of tea and make the couch wobble even more. She decided that wasn’t the best course of action.
Lady Templeton watched all this with amusement. The girl handled her fat pet better than she’d imagined. “Well my dear, do you think you are worthy to join the family of Templeton? We’ve a great history. His name is Wellington by the way.”
Jane hadn’t heard the question, engaged in mourning her favorite peach muslin dress as puddles of dragon drool stained it beyond help. “I’m sorry what was that?”
“Wellington. That’s the dragon’s name. This one,” she gestured at the other dragon making his way across the expensive carpet toward Jane, “is called Napoleon.”
Napoleon reached Jane’s feet and rested his head on her shoes. He drooled in equal measure to his companion and she hoped her boots would hold up better than her dress had.
Lady Templeton continued to ignore the dragons as if they draped themselves over guests every day of the week. Perhaps they did, thought Jane
“Have you been up to visit Lakefield? The house is very grand and the grounds and estate are some of the best in the county.”
Jane shook her head, felt the couch wobble and stopped. “I haven’t seen it yet but I’m told it uh”¦”. Wellington must have taken Jane’s voice as an invitation. As she started talking the dragon lifted his head and scooted forward. He either intended to bite off the young lady’s nose or sample her tea. Jane never found out what he planned because the couch lurched under the dragon’s weight and collapsed. Girl and dragon fell to the ground in a large pile.
She lay on her back staring at a ceiling painted with little fat cherubs. It looked like they were laughing at her. It sounded like they were laughing at her too. Then she realized it was the dowager. Her laugh sounded like a hiccuping dragon.
Jane felt her cheeks grow red. She wasn’t sure if she was angry or embarrassed. She had to concentrate on breathing since Wellington had fallen on top of her. She wished he was a flying breed, and not quite so fat.
In the midst of Lady Templeton’s laughter, Jane heard a bell ring. Soon the thin face of the butler blocked her view of the taunting cherubs. “May I be of assistance Miss?” Jane didn’t answer but he shooed the dragon away and helped her up. Her bodice dripped with tea and drool and a large chunk of fabric was missing from her hem.
Jane saw Napoleon at his mistress’s feet with a chunk of peach muslin disappearing between his jaws. She wanted to rage at the old lady and weep at the same time. Instead, she pulled herself up to her full height and looked at the old woman.
The old woman looked right back. “Have you anything to say?”
Jane stared. She’d expected an apology, but it seemed unlikely. Rage won the emotional battle she’d been having moments before. “I look forward to being an old hag like you someday so that I may treat my guests as poorly as you have me. If you’ll excuse me, ma’am, I’ll take my leave now. “ She turned and marched toward the door. The butler was already there holding it open. At the doorway, she remembered one more thing. “Oh, and my mother sends her compliments.” She turned to go, but the old lady stopped her.
“Miss Fernsley, I’m glad to see you have some backbone. You’re going to need it as a Templeton. Visit me again at your earliest convenience.” Then the Dowager Lady Templeton lifted her withered hand one more time and dismissed her guest with a wave.
Jane left the house with a scowl on her face. Maggie must have noticed her mood because she didn’t ask about the state of Jane’s clothes, or how the visit went.
“Call again?” Jane muttered to herself as they marched down the street. “If I ever visit again I will not, I repeat, will not wear my favorite dress!”