The strains of the orchestra are muted. The notes of the cellist, in particular, feel as intoxicating as good wine. It’s a wonderful evening for a ball at Lady B’s, and here, standing by the open doors of the balcony, I can see that it is also a shockingly clear night. I can actually see stars winking above London.
A beautiful sight—inspires one to wax poetic about the inky blackness of the sky creating the perfect setting for the celestial diamonds. Or perhaps I should borrow a turn of phrase from professional poet—
Sabrina: “Our world’s sun becomes a star elsewhere.”
Lady B: What are you spouting, Miss Darby?
At the sound of that familiar voice, I whirl about. Our hostess is smiling, as if she stumbled upon me in the middle of a good thought. Over her shoulder I can see that the dance floor is filling again.
Sabrina: A line from one of Henry More’s poems. Written in 1647. Well, it isn’t quite a direct quote, because in his poem, the words are “Sunne” and Starre”, but that’s a bit more difficult to say. Much like that song, “Hot in Herre.” I never really did understand about that extra R.
I’m rambling and I know it, but she’s caught me at an awkward moment, with my thoughts still half in the night sky, thinking about–
Lady B: Miss Darby, are you quite all right?
She’s staring me as if I’ve sprouted two heads. And considering the direction my thoughts have taken, that wouldn’t be too off. After all, I’m considering the plurality of worlds and intelligent life. That’s right: extraterrestrials.
Yes, here in Lady B’s ballroom.
But it’s not such an alien topic as you might think.
Sabrina: I am just fine, my lady. I am simply suffering from that overstimulation of nerves that we authors get from when we grow excited.
<< Squawk >>
Sabrina: Yes, and parrots. Not so dissimilar to parrots.
Oh, now Lady B is really giving me a look. That look. The one she usually seems to save for sheep in the ballroom. And perhaps for—
I force myself to focus.
Sabrina: Intelligent life of other planets, Lady Beaufetheringstone. There is a gentleman in the corner over there, a Mr. Hartley, who, I am informed by my sources—which are many—has encountered other beings.
We both stare at Mr. Hartley. Who does seem to have a bit of a glaze in his eyes, but that could be the ratafia.
Lady B: Impossible.
But it’s clear she’s intrigued, as am I. After all, the topic of Other Worlds is at least old as the Greeks and these days, it’s been making the rounds of astronomers and philosophers. Even Benjamin Franklin was a believer in the possibility of intelligent life existing elsewhere. In some form or another.
But contact? Certainly a bit hard to believe.
Lady B: Though he does posses a fine pair of lower limbs…
We both stare at Mr. Hartley a bit more. His legs are certainly attractive. The rest of him as well. But he’s very pale. Such white blond hair and thin features that I’d be more inclined to cast him as a hero in a Gothic story involving ghosts.
Lady B: And he claims to have…seen other sentient beings? What did he see?
Sabrina: That, my dear Lady B, I intend to find out.
Now my thoughts are squarely in the ballroom, trained completely on that poor man standing a few yards away, who has no idea that I’m about to interrogate him mercilessly.
Only, someone’s reached him first. And she’s a strident, stout young woman, who I last saw standing with the rest of the wallflowers. I believe she has a problem with this Mr. Hartley and I wonder what it is.
The debate on the subject of intelligent life and the plurality of worlds was a popular topic in the latter part of 18th century and throughout the 19th. It wasn’t until the end of the 19th century that the idea of contact and UFOs seemed to enter the general discussion. So what about everyone else in the Ballroom. Do we believe it’s possible this Mr. Hartley has witnessed something extraterrestrial? Could he have been…abducted?!