When Lady B makes a demand, it is impossible not to do one’s utmost to fulfill it. After all, she’s so generous and kind, and hosts a wonderful ball…
Lady B: Miss Darby, are you buttering me up because you bear bad news?
Sabrina: Not at all. I just needed some sort of introduction, of explaining exactly why I’ve invited this particular guest to the ballroom tonight.
Lady B’s brow is furrowed as if she’s struggling to recall. I see exactly the moment that her memory jumps into action. Only…Albert beats her to it.
<< squawk! >> The Actress! << squawk! >>
Sabrina: Precisely. You demanded to meet the heroine of my upcoming novella, The Short and Fascinating Tale of Angelina Whitcombe, and I have delivered.
Lady B: I thought the story was about a Captain Martin. That handsome, taciturn and scarred war hero whose meddling mother advertised for a mistress.
Sabrina: Well, yes, he’s in the story, too, of course. But Angelina is his heroine.
Lady B: And his mistress.
Sabrina: I’m not certain I can speak to that.
<< squawk! >> Tease! << squawk! >>
Lady B is now looking around the ballroom with her lorgnette. Studying the crowd, which is filled with heroines of recent balls past and quite a few heroes. In fact, I see Miss Dare’s Eliza Cade and Miss MacLean’s Cross, and Miss Noble’s Lieutenant Fletcher.
Then I see Angelina, holding court amongst a group of very attractive men. She looks stunning, with her blond hair swept up fashionably and fastened with diamonds. She’s got a wide smile and eyes that seem to flirt with every person, male or female that her gaze rests on. This must be Angelina when she was still the darling of the London theatre, and being kept by Lord Peter Denham. Great. She’s here as a mistress and not the hero’s. How embarrassing!
Lady B: Isn’t that Lord Peter Denham’s mistress?
Lady B: She made a charming Viola in Twelfth Night. However, I’m not entirely certain how I feel about a mistress in my ballroom. It was one thing when you invited the lot of them to my parlour, but this is an exclusive event. Albert, do alert the footman to see her out. What’s her name again?
This isn’t going well at all.
Sabrina: Lady B, wait, that’s actually Miss Whitcombe.
Lady B raises her lorgnette again. Then she lowers it and looks at me with a very arch expression.
Lady B: Why am I not surprised? (She gives a long-suffering sigh.) Shall we?
I approach Angelina and her coterie.
Sabrina: Excuse me gentlemen. (I firmly take Angelina’s arm as I try my own inequal attempt at that flirtatiously confident look.) I need to borrow Miss Whitcombe.
One passively handsome gentleman: Bring her back soon!
The man’s speaking rather possessively, so I stop and take a better look. I realize with a bit of shock that this is her latest protector. I never expected to come face to face with him. After all, he’s merely part of the back story, off the page when the story actually begins.
I hurry Angelina away, ignoring him. Lady B is watching us come near and I see that her right toe is tapping.
Angelina: Lady Beaufetheringstone, it’s such an honor to be here tonight. You have the loveliest home.
Lady B’s foot stops tapping. Her hand unfists and her lorgnette drops down to hang from her wrist. She’s no longer quite as put out and that’s all due to Angelina’s charm. See, it isn’t what she says, but rather how she says it. I can see how magnetic she would be on the stage.
Lady B: When do you leave for Yorkshire? I must say, having seen you now, I’m quite surprised you’d hare off on such a wild jaunt on the basis of an advertisement in the paper. Lord Peter Denham and the accolades of London surely is preferable to such an unknown?
Angelina: I beg your pardon?
Angelina is staring at Lady B with the most politely bland expression, as if she thinks our hostess is crazy but would never, ever intimate such a thing.
I cough loudly.
Sabrina: Actually, Lady B, that hasn’t actually happened yet.
Lady B: What do you mean? I met your cousin Mary. She was in my ballroom.
Sabrina: Yes, but…
Angelina: I’m not certain what you are discussing, but I assure you I am quite happy here in London.
Sabrina: You see, Lady B, the Angelina I know is older and wiser.
Angelina: Surely not so much older.
She looks alarmed even though she clearly still has no clue what I am talking about.
Sabrina: I’ll explain, Lady B. (I shoo Angelina off, back to her admirers who have all been sending frequent and languishing glances this way.) You see, the circumstance that befalls Angelina and leads her to such a desperate situation that she answers my cousin’s advertisement hasn’t yet occurred. Please remember, that while this might very well be the year 1816 today, just a few weeks ago it was 1811.
Lady B very prettily scrunches her forehead.
Lady B: I do follow you, Miss Darby, but it is all rather fantastical.
Sabrina: Much like a ship in your ballroom.
Lady B: (rolling her eyes) Yes, I quite see what you mean. You shall have to bring by Miss Whitcombe later, then. When she has been properly settled.
<< squawk >> What befell her? << squawk >>
Lady B: Quite right, Albert.
They both stare at me, waiting. But as the story does not release till July 31, I can hardly share such delicious gossip. So we’ll have to satisfy Lady B with pure conjecture. What do you think would make an actress leave London to be a stranger’s mistress?