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by Elle
Rated: E · Prose · History · #1988866
When gossip hits too close to home.
A lady's reputation is her most important possession.  Every young lady in society learns this truth at her mother's knee.  I knew I had lost mine the moment the Countess of Eidersley gave me the cut direct at Hyde Park that afternoon. 

My pride screamed at me to show no reaction, to continue my steps along the path, but it took me several painful moments to get over the shock.  I forced my feet to move and pasted a calm smile on my face.  It was clear the gossip had made the rounds. 

Lady Huntly and her daughter strolled toward me and I raised my chin, my teeth gritted behind my smile.  I knew it would happen, but when their cold eyes looked past me and they deliberately avoided an acknowledgement of my presence, I felt despair flood through me.  The fact that I had not broken society's rules was irrelevant.  Perception was everything.  And a reputation once lost could never be regained.

I felt a small measure of relief when I spotted Miss Avery.  A friendly face.  As she drew nearer, the panic in her wide, tear filled eyes registered, and I realised the awful decision she faced.  If she acknowledged me, her own reputation would suffer as a result.  If she did not, what sort of friend was she?  I beckoned my maid and gestured to the 'Upside Down Tree', which wasn't far from where we stood.  We wandered a few feet off the path, and pretended to discuss the unusual weeping beech until Miss Avery had passed.  I knew she would understand, and despite the circumstances and a desire to weep alongside the aptly named tree, a small smile quirked my lips. 

When the path was clear, the maid and I headed towards home.  I had some serious decisions to make.  There were few options available to a young woman of quality whose reputation had been lost.  A match was out of the question, and even the role of governess was unlikely.  Few families wanted their children educated by someone of questionable morals.  But as I walked, I held in my sigh and kept my chin up and my shoulders straight.  I was still English, after all.

370 words.  Written for the April 2014 round of the "Jane Austen Contest .  Prompt: Write a short story where you will talk about one gossip that has been circulating around in the town.
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