How to survive the worst novel ever written
It wasn´t difficult for the Cornells to accept their eldest daughter had been asked to take part in London's biggest event. Of course, one of the first questions they asked after receiving the letter was the same one Sayer asked the day before: When had Madeleine met the Summerfields? But this small obstacle was not enough to make those parents worry.
Sarah Cornell, for her part, must have detected the deception as soon as the letter reached her hands. Accustomed as she was to reading and gossiping with her neighbors about celebrations and distinguished characters of the capital, there´d be no way to make her believe this stamp belonged to the house of some dukes. On the other hand, and despite being aware of this, she was of the same opinion as her daughters. It was not fair that some young girls who were in the prime of life were left without participating in the seasonal acts because of the negligence of their father! The way she saw it, then, if Madeleine had found a way to go to London, she wasn't going to hinder her.
She would not say the document was false. She´d rather scold her daughter later, when they were alone. And then she'd give her some advice on etiquette, assuming Madeleine wouldn't be deprived of the trip.
Edmund Cornell, although he also wanted to know about the relationship between his daughter and the Summerfields, was much denser on social issues. He did not usually remember the faces of his own clients if he didn´t meet them often, it was even easier for him to forget the names of the people he came across. So when Madeleine explained to him that the Summerfields were acquaintances of the Tanners, and that they were the ones who introduced them to him during the previous year, he had no doubt that this was true.
The Tanners often traveled to London, so they had many acquaintances, most of them from high society.
Madeleine shouldn't have felt remorse for lying like that. Her father would not go to question the neighbors about this matter and, anyway, what she said was half true. The Tanners did know the Summerfields... Although only by sight, since they had met and greeted each other at some ball, being this their only contact. They never stopped to talk for more than five minutes, and even less did they remember to mention someone as insignificant as their young neighbor.
But the point is, with Mr. Cornell being ignorant and with Mrs. Cornell feigning ignorance, Madeleine was sent to London along with Beverley and Oscar.
Beverley was mated to the disappointment of Madeleine, who wanted to take center stage, because the false invitation was extended "to all Cornell sisters of age to appear in society." Oscar added such a clause as a mere lifeline, in case anyone suspected something. After all, it wouldn't be normal to leave everyone out of the party and invite only one person. But the main character's parents could not be mentioned and, instead, with Beverley almost as desperate as the other, it was quite likely that she lent herself to the charade. After all, it did her good.
Oscar, for his part, should have no need to accompany them: when one of the Cornells needed to travel to the capital, it was usually Bannister, the old family coachman, who would drive them. The guy had been raised in the underworld of London and knew the city by heart, with him at the helm, it was impossible to get lost. Before, he had worked in the family's factory but, when age no longer allowed it, he retired to the countryside and was only required when it was necessary to drive, since his spirit of traveling and his talent to control the horses never left him.
If Oscar had been able to come with Bannister and the girls, it was because Madeleine had insisted to her parents, using some dirty method that he was not aware of… and did not want to know! But he was satisfied, yes. This way you could monitor the perfect functionality of his plan and also act immediately if something went wrong.
Besides, how grand the capital looked even two centuries earlier than he knew it! With no relatives to foster their daughters, the Cornells only gave them money to pay for a couple of nights at a modest hotel. So having arrived the evening before the ball, Oscar left the girls with Bannister to take them out to squander a few pounds, while he preferred to take a stroll through the wide streets.
This was so different from Snodland…! Even different from his native Edinburgh! Not for nothing was said at that time that that city was the largest in the world.
As if in a trance, he began to walk through the bustling neighborhoods, stopping from time to time in front of a shop window, without entering any particular shop, admiring the architecture of the buildings he passed.
As he was near one of the bridges that crossed the Thames, he saw Westminster Abbey in the distance and, as so many times throughout that afternoon, he lost himself in his own world. He seemed so absorbed that he barely noticed a uniformed boy coming from the opposite direction, with a handful of papers and folders in hand. And, by the time he wanted to realize it, the collision was inevitable.
The contents of a bag spilled on the floor and Oscar rushed to pick it up, continuing to apologize to its owner: An individual who, judging by his way of cursing and insulting him, was in a hurry.
"These people have no education," Oscar had murmured as he watched the man he collided with, having recovered his things, came around the corner without making a single comment. “If he continues like this, I don't think his job will last long.”
And so, forgetting this unfortunate incident, he continued on his way without major altercations. Being that the night of the dance arrived, hardly without realizing it.
In the novel, Oscar had managed to sneak Madeleine through the service door. A feat that on the surface, at least for the first half hour they were inside, was successful. But that, after that time, did not take long to show several drawbacks. One of them, without going any further, was a couple of waiters who had seen Madeleine go the wrong way. They commented on the event to their employer and, shortly after, several people turned up to ask Madeleine for explanations. Then, when the girl was one step away from being thrown out, that was when the male lead saved her, pretending that he knew her and that it had been all his fault for inviting her and forgetting to mention it to the duchess.
Regarding why he had done this, Oscar was not clear.
"Love at first sight", many of the fangirls said in the comments of that chapter, but he doubted it. There was nothing in the way of narrating that scene that led to such a thought, so it was much more likely that it was all due to the invincible aura of the protagonist that Madeleine carried with her.
Still, and once again, Oscar had no intention of playing the game of humiliation to achieve his goals. So, keeping his pride, he dared to tell Bannister to park the carriage in front of the building where the ball was taking place, along with those of the other guests. There, before dozens of journalists, employees of the different families who attended and before the guests themselves, the Cornell sisters got out of the carriage without going unnoticed.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Madeleine asked him when she was down.
One couldn't say that all those looks she was getting bothered her, on the contrary. But she still had some fear that someone would recognize and kick her out.
"If you act confident enough it doesn't have to go wrong."
"And what happens if someone finds out that the invitation is false?"
"No one will notice. Do you think the guys at the door will stop to carefully analyze each person's letter? And now that night has already fallen, how can they read with this light?”
"But inside they can notice me, and they don't know me, and if they start asking me questions…”
"There are several hundred guests," Oscar pointed out curtly, he did not understand why so many doubts came when it was Madeleine herself who insisted that she wanted to come no matter what. “I don't think the Summerfields remember each and every one of them.”
"Well, we sure wouldn't be remembered even if we had met before," Beverley said. “With these dresses from last year it would be even embarrassing if they did. And I know father isn't getting clingy for no reason, but going stylish to such an important event is a must!”
"You have to be positive," Madeleine insisted. “Don't think about clothes, focus on our natural beauty and charm. I'm sure that when we get out of here, we'll have gotten at least half a dozen suitors each.”
“Oh yes, but hopefully they appreciate our character and don´t get everything by sight. Have you noticed how ostentatious some outfits are?”
“It´s okay, if they are blind to our beautiful faces and are not impressed by our impeccable forms, there will always be a hand on our talent for music.”
A grimace of disgust had to be hidden by Oscar. In contrast, a smile crossed Beverley's face as she said excitedly:
"I hope they ask us to dance many times! At Snodland I've often been flattered by my dance moves, they must do the same here!”
"Flattering you will be little, you'll see. We must take advantage of socializing, because today there will be many single men of good position eager to find a beautiful lady to marry.”
When did this turn into a collective tinder date? Oscar wondered. What's more, since when are them good at music? Although neither of them were bad, their dance steps were as common as anyone's. If it was about playing an instrument, like the piano, they knew the basics. And as for singing... They couldn't sing. At all.
If they had to rely on a supposed talent for music, they´d better stay still and quiet, without making too much fuss, and only going out on the floor when someone required them, trying then to imitate the crowd.
"Come on", Madeleine said resolutely, stepping forward with her sister clinging to her arm.
Oscar stayed behind, watching as the girls joined the line of guests that gathered at the doors of the building. Waiting for them to arrive where the staff members were stationed at the front door, deciding who entered and who did not. The young Cornell girls might be undecided about whether to let them pass, but Oscar had no doubts about it.
He went to the trouble of investigating where the Duke and Duchess of Summerfield lived —not a difficult task at all, since they were true celebrities— and had passed their apartment at a reasonable hour the day before. When he saw someone leave the portal, he collided with him on purpose. Crouched on the ground, enduring the well-deserved scolding as he picked up what he had thrown away, the other did not realize that one of the letters he was carrying had been stolen.
It really seemed like Oscar was making stealing his new hobby.
But this had a goal: there was no way that the fake seal he made could be perceived if someone from the Summerfield house saw it. So there was no other way, he had to intercept a letter written by them and exchange envelopes. The rest depended on the reaction of the doorman when extracting an invitation that was still the same that Oscar wrote in secret.
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