I’ve been away from the Ballroom for a week as I’ve been trotting around on book tour, but I really hadn’t expected it to have changed as much as this. The spindly gilt chairs have been pushed to one side of the room, making way for old chests filled with dusty papers. A vast oak table is piled high with scrolls, parchments, and decaying chronicles.
Has Lady B taken up antiquarian scholarship in her spare time?
“Nothing of the kind!” snaps Lady B, making me wonder whether I spoke aloud, or if Lady B had taken up mind-reading among her other hobbies. I wouldn’t be surprised. “I shouldn’t wish to be thought a bluestocking. I am assembling my application for the DNC.”
I stare at her blankly.
“The Daughters of the Norman Conquest,” she elaborates. “In order to join, one must prove one’s Norman ancestry, as well as produce a ticket from the boat upon which one’s ancestor sailed with the Conqueror. Some of those boats,” she continues with asperity, “are becoming suspiciously crowded.”
“If it had gone the other way, do you think they would have called it the Daughters of the Saxon Resistance?” I wonder.
Lady B gives me one of those looks she saves for frivolous authoresses.
“Besides,” she says, as though I hadn’t spoken, “it’s past time Monty learned something of his family heritage. I was just telling—Monty? Where has that boy gone?”
Out the window, if the open shutter is any indication. I think I catch a glimpse of the heel of a well-polished Hessian boot, but I can’t be quite sure.
“Hmph,” says Lady B. “And after I took the time to read all sixty pages of the Chronicle of Sir Guillaume de Beaufeatheringstone aloud to him—in the original Norman French!”
There is the sound of a distinct groan from the vicinity of the window.
“That’s all quite interesting,” I say politely, “but don’t you think Monty would rather hear about his parents? Wasn’t there some sort of story about them?”
Lady B slams the chronicle shut. “Recent history is so uninteresting, don’t you agree?” she says, tight-lipped. “And, really, quite uninspired. There’s no chain mail, no jousting. Just assemblies and routs and—”
“The odd scandal?” I venture, watching Lady B closely. There’s some secret there, I just know it.
“Hmph,” sniffs Lady B, and plunks a heavy volume down in front of me, raising a cloud of dust. As I cough, she says, “If you are so interested in the past, Miss Willig, you might as well make yourself useful. I expect to see that entire chronicle transcribed—and footnoted!—by tonight’s ball.”
I risk a peek at it. This isn’t going to be fun. I haven’t seen handwriting that illegible since the last time I had to get a prescription from the doctor.
“But Monty’s parents….”
“BOTH these chronicles,” says Lady B, and drops another on top of the first. In the resulting dust cloud, she makes her exit.
The top of a man’s fashionable hat bobs briefly up above the sash of the window—and then disappears again.
Sighing, I settle down to transcribing the Chronicle of Sir Guillaume de Beaufeatheringstone, as recorded by his faithful scribe, Patsy—but I can’t help wondering, just what is it that Lady B doesn’t want us to find out? And how much does Monty know?
Maybe there’s really nothing to discover, but thanks to The Ashford Affair, which is all about a Big Family Secret and the ramifications thereof, I’ve had family mysteries on the brain recently.
Have you come across any surprising stories about your family?