I enter the ballroom today, and already, I can tell something is amiss.
Maybe it’s all the china and crystal in boxes.
Maybe it’s the fact that all the chairs and settees are not only covered in drop cloths, but secured in place with straps.
Or maybe it’s the fact that Lady B is currently trying to stuff – erm, coax a recalcitrant Albert into a cage.
Lady B: “Come now, Albert. I know you don’t like it, but it is necessary!”
Albert: <squawk> “Free bird! Free bird!”
Lady B catches sight of me.
Lady B: “Thank goodness, Miss Noble, perhaps you can talk some sense into Albert. We have to get underway.”
Miss Noble: “Underway?”
Lady B: “Yes of course. For the trip to the country. You should find a chair, or something to hold onto.”
Suffice to say, I am bewildered.
Miss Noble: “Since when are we going to the country?”
Lady B: (looking at me as if I’ve grown a third head) “Since the Season came to a close, Miss Noble. It ends when Parliament ends its session – and that was a week ago now. Lord B is beyond anxious to get to the Beaufeatheringstone estate and begin shooting his grouse.”
Albert: <squawk> “Not shooting!”
Lady B: “Yes Albert, shooting. And last time, you refused to get into your cage and flew off god only knows where, and nearly had your tail feathers shot off by Lord B! Now do as I say!”
Amazingly, this is enough for Albert to throw back his head and march proudly into his cage.
Lady B: “Finally. Now we can get going.”
Miss Noble: “Oh, but I… I haven’t had time to pack anything. Is there room on the carriages for another trunk or two?”
Lady B shoots me another one of her third-head looks.
Lady B: “Carriages? What on earth would we need carriages for?”
Miss Noble: “… to travel? To the country?”
Lady B: (with a decided smirk) “Miss Noble, when I say we are going to the country, I don’t mean us.”
Miss Noble: “But — ”
Lady B: “I mean the entire ballroom. Now — hold onto something.”
And then Lady B snaps her fingers. And then…
The crystal chandelier overhead begins to make a tinkling noise. I barely have time to grab hold of a banister when the entire room begins to shake, not unlike a mild earthquake. But before I can ask what on earth is going on, it stops.
Lady B: “At last. It is so pleasant to be in the country again, don’t you find, Miss Noble?”
As Lady B rushes to let Albert out of his cage, I peel my fingers loose from the banister and look about me. The ballroom is unchanged, its angles and architecture. The servants begin uncovering and unstrapping the furniture. But beyond the ballroom…
Everything is different. I step out onto the balcony, which normally overlooks Lady’s B small city garden, but now, there is a vast expanse of green – trees, fields, even a few sheep! I hear rifle shots in the distance. Had Lord B already gotten up to grousing? And there are some of the other authoresses, playing bowls on the lawn! They wave to me. All of our guests – how had the guests gotten here? — are milling about, in and out of the grand country estate, in fall walking costumes or hunting garb. Lady B has transported and transformed the ballroom – lock, stock, and barrel – to a country house party!
Miss Noble: “I think I might pass out.”
Lady B appears beside me. Completely unruffled.
Lady B: “Nothing that some good country air cannot cure, I am sure.”
Well, it seems we have quit London for the country! Who should we invite to Lady B’s country house party? And what activities should we have planned? Oh, what sort of trouble can we get up to here…