There’s nothing the hostess of a ball enjoys more than introductions and, as you know, I–Lady Heliotrope Beaufetheringstone–am particularly fond of introducing well-gammed young gentlemen to lovely young ladies and providing them a direct route to dimly-lit alcove or, even better, the steps to the gardens beyond the ballroom (someone must facilitate Society chatter, after all).
Tonight, however, I shall make do with introducing this rather motley group of authoresses to you, dear guest.
<squawk!> Writing is common! <squawk!>
Oh, hush, Albert. Writing may be common, but I must say that these ladies are anything but. Additionally, there’s nothing wrong with common if it comes with nice legs or a nugget of scandalous gossip. And while I wouldn’t presume to consider their legs, in this group, scandalous goings on are regular as rain.
We’ll begin with the lovely and talented Gaelen Foley. Now, Miss Foley is an expert when it comes to writing about the men in society . . . secret societies, that is, and I have an idea that she likes a handsome one as much as I do (the reason I married a mere baron, guests). Miss Foley, do share . . . what’s your weakness? Nice legs? Strong arms? Eyes that promise everything? Lips that deliver?
GAELEN: Welllll, handsome is always good, but there’s a certain charisma some gentlemen possess that snares a lady’s attention. Not sure what it is, exactly… Sharp wits, attitude, a sardonic sense of humor…? Soulful eyes, a sexy voice…? Of course, I certainly don’t object to great pecs and washboard abs. All the better if said hero is skilled enough to open a can of Regency whup-ass as necessity may require. You never know what sorts of villains may menace our heroines, after all. The ladies can often defend themselves if properly armed, but it’s an awfully nice gesture for a hero to oblige in this regard, don’t you think, Lady B?
Well said, Miss Foley. You may sit by me at any time you desire to opine on the male form.
<squawk!> I like good shoulders! <squawk!>
Yes, yes, Albert . . . everyone knows you like a broad shoulder for a perch.
–Oh, dear. Do you see Lord Farthen by the lemonade? What possessed his tailor to outfit him in such a ridiculous shade of yellow? His dear mother would swoon if she were alive to see it.–
What was I saying? Ah. Yes. Shoulders. Don’t you think, Albert, that your perch on a shoulder is a bit piratical? I, of course, don’t mind a brigand now and then to keep things interesting. Neither does Katharine Ashe. Everyone knows Miss Ashe likes her romance on the high seas! Miss Ashe, tell everyone who may not yet understand the appeal of adventure the way we do—Lord B and I have quite a story, as you know—what is it about swashbuckling excitement that makes for such a quick route to love?
KATHARINE: We might ask Miss Serena Carlyle. She recently learned a lot about such adventuring rogues. One rogue, in particular.
I daresay. Ladies like dear Miss Carlyle who are overlooked by Society tend to observe keenly and can be remarkably clever–much cleverer than ladies who go about chatting incessantly, I always say.
<squawk!> Present company excepted! <squawk!>
Albert, you are impertinent–of course–and an unrepentant flatterer when I’ve put lobster patties on the supper menu. But see here, Miss Ashe, is Miss Carlyle’s knowledge of pirates all from storybooks, or can she claim personal experience?
KATHARINE: In fact she first came across such a man in an unused little parlor off a ballroom very much like this one. A dark parlor. Quite marvelously dark, as it turned out.
How I enjoy a young lady with a streak of daring in her! Whatever did she find to converse with him about?
KATHARINE: As I understand it, my lady, they did very little conversing. (arches brow)
Better and better! (Lord B first importuned me in a shadowy garden, of course, and I didn’t mind it a bit.) But Miss Carlyle’s libertine no doubt had remarkable legs. All that sauntering about storm-tossed decks, after all. Did she discover his identity?
KATHARINE: With a bit of assistance from a band of smugglers, a wicked stepmother, and her own intrepid spirit—yes, indeed. Both of his identities.
Both! Rake and pirate in one. How fabulously delicious! But do tell my guests tonight, Miss Ashe, what does a lady require to capture such a rogue?
<squawk!> A sharp cutlass! <squawk!>
KATHARINE: Rather, the courage to show a man what it means to be truly worthy of his noble heart. And, of course, a taste for a bit of adventure now and again!
But it is not only the handsome, adventuresome type who makes for the best of men. I like to say that there’s nothing like a still water to run deep. Which brings me to my next guest, Miranda Neville. Miss Neville, I hear, enjoys the quiet, bookish hero with a magnificent manly core, but in her next book, she’s not even come close to a quiet, bookish heroine. Indeed, Miss Celia Seaton (who I’ve not yet had the pleasure of meeting, but I’m told is related to me through the Earl of Chester’s second daughter’s third cousin by marriage) is something of a disaster. Miss Neville, do tell us about her!
MIRANDA: Miss Celia Seaton will be thrilled to know she’s related to you, Lady B., since her antecedents are unfortunately obscure. The last I heard she was in quite desperate straits, working as governess to four noisy boys. And all because her debut in society was ruined when Mr. Tarquin Compton compared her to a cauliflower.
<squawk!> Vegetables are common <squawk!>
I believe I was acquainted with Mr. Compton’s mother – both being the daughters of dukes, don’t you know. That was before the unfortunate carriage accident in Wales. Nothing good ever comes of going to Wales.
MIRANDA: Careful, Lady B. My grandfather was Welsh.
Did he have good legs?
MIRANDA: I am unable to enlighten you, since he always dressed with the utmost propriety. As does Tarquin Compton, the greatest dandy in London since Mr. Brummell left the country. I shall have the honor of introducing Tarquin to you at the ball on July 25th.
Does he have good legs?
MIRANDA: Tarquin’s physique is perfect is every way, as Celia discovers when he is robbed and left half naked on the Yorkshire moors.
(shudders) Yorkshire! (perks up) Half naked, you say? The only thing better than a well-dressed man is an undressed man. With good legs. I wouldn’t expect him to pursue the acquaintance of Miss Seaton.
MIRANDA: He doesn’t have much choice. Celia has escaped from the same villains, wearing even fewer clothes.
Really! Well then, I shall look forward to meeting Mr. Compton on the 25th of July and learning more about this unfortunate and delicious collection of events. Poor man. Girls these days, they’re so troublesome . . . particularly before they become wives. And I cannot even begin to think about spinsters!
<squawk!> Unmarried is unmerry! <squawk!>
Brilliantly said, darling Albert. Indeed, I’m told there’s an entire town in the South where unmarried girls are sent to live out their days; can you imagine? Spinster Cove? Spindle Cove? No matter . . . it sounds positively devastating. But Tessa Dare can perhaps shed some light on this unpleasant epidemic. Miss Dare, I imagine the town to be utterly unbearable, filled with desperate, keening young ladies, all half mad with spinsterhood? Am I right?
TESSA: Er… yes, my lady.
TESSA: Why, yes. Miss Susanna Finch, the village patroness, would be most satisfied to hear that description of Spindle Cove. A village of desperate, keening, meek, miserable spinsters who most definitely never go about exploring caves or shooting rifles or systematically defacing etiquette books. Indeed.
(Albert cocks head.)
(Lady B cocks eyebrow.)
TESSA (loudly): Oh, yes. Miss Finch desires it widely known in Society that Spindle Cove remains a safe haven for demure, fragile young ladies dedicated to their embroidery. Anyone suggesting the Cove has been recently overrun with immense, virile men would be mistaken. They are merely three men. Admittedly rather large ones, who command an undue amount of space and female attention.
Let us keep to essentials, dear. How are their legs?
TESSA: Very bad indeed. Their leader, Rycliff, took a bullet to the knee on the Peninsula. He’s practically lamed. So you see, Miss Finch has this pesky militia situation entirely under control. Any rumors filtering up from the coast of “spinsters gone wild” are emphatically false. Ooh, is that cake? If you’ll excuse me…
<squawk!> Let them eat cake! <squawk!>
A curious one, that one, if you ask me. Mine is the keenest eye for gossip there is, and she’s secrets to spare. I’ll be speaking with Miss Dare again very very soon and shall get to the bottom of this. ‘Spinsters gone wild’ indeed.
Spinster or no, however, everyone likes a lady who takes matters into her own hands . . . especially when matters include gentlemen with a handsome set of calves. And Sabrina Darby knows just what I mean, I assure you. Miss Darby knows all there is to know about women who aren’t afraid to use their charms to secure the men they want. Do share, Miss Darby, the secrets of the feminine wile.
SABRINA: But then they wouldn’t be secrets, now would they?
A secret is only useful if it makes for good gossip.
SABRINA: While I do agree with you most whole-heartedly, for I love gossip as much as, or perhaps more than, the next woman, I must demur. My slightly tarnished reputation, you know.
(sniffs) I only invited you for that. I know you admire a well-turned leg as much as I.
SABRINA: Yes, writing about the underworld and the private lives of London’s rich and infamous certainly doesn’t make me a favorite about the ballroom. Though perhaps at some events, like the courtesans’ ball.
So tell me, I hear that that rascal Jones has something up his sleeve. Something to do with a certain someone’s rather scandalous memoir.
<squawk!> Scandalous! <squawk!>
SABRINA: (laughing) Oh that! Well, yes. You know, if you ever decide to write a memoir, you should consider Jones to publish you. I’m sure you have the best stories, Harriet Wilson be damned.
Miss Darby, I only consider flattery acceptable when offered by handsome young bucks with good calves. From you I demand gossip and I shall not be disappointed!
SABRINA: If you insist. Over tea. But really, with our shared love of gossip and scandal, I think we’d best pay more attention to your other guests. There’s something brewing in that corner over there!
Manipulative minx. Where? Oh, now that’s a pair of legs! (lifts monocle to have a closer look) The Duke and Duchess of Leighton, at it again, I see. I don’t mind it, considering that Leighton has a physique that would make Atlas himself cower in shame, but the two are so oft intertwined around town that one wonders if perhaps their townhouse is lacking in the appropriate furniture?
Ah…as coincidence would have it, here is Sarah MacLean, who seems to know the Duke & Duchess quite well. Miss MacLean, is there anything that you can tell us about the two inammoratas over there?
SARAH: Only that I’m not surprised they’re making a scandal of themselves. That seems to be their preferred state.
With legs like Leighton’s, one almost can’t blame the Italian minx.
SARAH: My thoughts exactly. Leighton may be a complete ass, but he’s handsome enough to make any decent lady forget it. I assume that’s why you’ve condescended to invite the Duke & Duchess to your ball despite their recent scandal.
It’s a bit generous to use scandal in the singular, don’t you think? No doubt Leighton and his bride are plagued with scandals–in the plural. Countless scandals. At any rate, there was no condescending about it, dear girl. I like a good show.
SARAH: Then you’ve certainly done well by inviting the six of us to your ball, Lady B. You see, good shows seem to follow us…if I didn’t know better, I’d say that we attract them.
(Turning an alarming shade of red) You don’t attract them, Miss MacLean. I attract them. My ballroom attracts them. Have you missed the number of shaded alcoves and potted ferns and doors that stand temptingly open to the fresh evening air? Do you think this is all coincidence?
<squawk!> Impetuous girl! Impetuous girl! <squawk!>
SARAH (backpedaling): Not at all, my lady. In fact, I’d say that it’s one of the best outfitted ballrooms of the ton. I was thrilled to receive my invitation and would not have dreamed of missing tonight. No doubt, there is plenty of scandal to be witnessed, thanks to you.
All thanks to me. You’d do best to remember that Miss MacLean, before I regret inviting you. (sniffs) Now. I hope you girls brought ink and paper…
<squawk!> Writing is common! The profession of drink! <squawk!>
Really, Albert! I don’t know where you learn such things! No matter what we might think of writing in general, certainly these ladies in particular are quite the exception. Though I have my eye on one or two, I haven’t seen any of them do anything utterly out of hand as of yet.
<squawk!> It’s unfortunate! It’s unfortunate! <squawk!>
It is a bit, isn’t it? Well, we shall just have to wait. As the night goes on, the dancing begins, and the conversations grow more exciting, certainly something untoward will happen.
There’s no place like a ball for excellent gossip, after all.
Thank you for arriving in time for the first set of the evening…as a sign of her unflagging generosity, Lady B is offering a signed set of books from the Misses Foley, Ashe, Neville, Darby, Dare and MacLean. To enter the contest, please comment below and tell us what you would wear to a ball if you had the best seamstresses at your disposal. We’ll choose one winner, at random, on Saturday!