I should have done this yesterday for the Nine Ladies Dancing day of The Bleak Midwinter Quiltbag Funfest over at Quiltbag Historicals, but as usual I’m a day late, if not a dollar short. Jones, who is not really a lady, trying to wriggle out of dancing at Lady’s Nailsbourne’s ball, near the beginning of The Flowers of Time.
Do bob on over to the facebook group if you have a moment and like queer historical fiction. Different writers are posting snippets of their work for all the twelve days, and there’s an eighteen-book giveaway draw ending on the 6th of January.
Lady Nailsbourne’s Ball
The ballroom was sweltering. Jones went to push her hair off her face and then remembered and stopped. Her feet hurt in the ridiculous tiny shoes and the corset was pinching her. Her long gloves were making her elbows itch.
Although that might have been the conversation.
She gritted her teeth and nodded once again to the young man who was attempting to engage her interest with a tale of his morning’s fox hunt. “How fascinating!” she attempted to simper. Her simpering skills clearly needed work, because he flinched.
Luckily at that point, the music stopped. They bowed to each other with ill-disguised relief and then Jones remembered she was supposed to curtsy. Too late now. He held out an arm and she took it delicately in order to be escorted back to her chaperon.
She disguised a snort.
Fat lot of good Aunt Caroline would do to protect Jones’ virtue.
Despite herself though, she smiled at the older woman as she rejoined her small group of older ladies. Her escort, Mr Danvers, handed her off with a mutter about going to get her some punch.
She hated punch.
Aunt Caroline gave her a nervous smile. “Frances, my dear! You looked so graceful. Your partner was clearly extremely taken with you!”
Jones raised an eyebrow at her. Her aunt patted her arm in subtle admonishment and hissed. “Stop that! Nice young ladies do not raise their eyebrows! Especially one eyebrow at a time!” before replastering the smile on to her face.
This wasn’t working. She’d known it wouldn’t work and she’d told them it wouldn’t work. But she’d promised Pater that she’d try and she always kept her promises.
Danvers returned with the punch and presented it to her as if he had pulled a rabbit out of a hat and expected applause. She thanked him politely and he retreated, clearly as relieved as she that his obligation to her had been discharged.
“Aunt, I need some fresh air, I think. May I go out to the gardens? Or to the terrace?” The ballroom had been hot with the heat of hundreds of wax candles in the chandeliers when their party had arrived and as the space had filled and the dancing started, the temperature and the odour had risen and risen.
“My dear girl, of course you may. Do you wish for company?” Her ringlets trembled a little as she raised her lorgnettes and peered through them inquisitively. Aunt Caroline was positively cheering for Jones to be importuned into a compromising position by a likely young gentleman and so to have her married off before the season ended.
It was the point of the whole exercise.
“I’ll be fine, Aunt. Only for a few minutes.”
“I believe the terrace is that way.” Aunt Caroline pointed with her glasses and Jones began to make her way through the crush to the large open doors, attempting not to slop her punch onto her gloves. People were sorting out partners for the next dance and she avoided making eye contact with anyone as she moved forward through the jostling crowd. The musicians kept the music going…a piece by Bach, she thought. The music was actually outstanding, a small positive in what was an exceedingly trying evening.
It was a blessed relief to step into the cooler air of the terrace. There were liveried footmen standing on either side of each of the tall French windows that let on to the terrace. They didn’t return her small smile. She wasn’t comfortable here. Ignoring the servants might be the done thing in polite society, but it went against all her instincts.
She smoothed the fine silk of her dress down her middle in a nervous gesture she couldn’t quite suppress and stepped past them out in to the cool of the night. It wasn’t actually all that dark…there were lanterns at strategic intervals along the retaining wall that threw pools of soft light that didn’t quite meet between the sconces. Lady Nailsbourne had had her gardeners place potted trees and bushes all along the expanse. It was lovely. A perfect place for a romantic liaison, should she be seeking one.
Which she was not.