Today being Memorial Day, I hadn’t originally intended to come into the Ballroom. But I’d left my Netbook (cunningly disguised as a notebook, modern technology being frowned upon within the Ballroom) behind a potted plant after Thursday’s ball. With all the authoresses away, I’d expected to find the Ballroom quiet and empty. Instead, the Ballroom door is ajar, and from within comes a cacophony of imperious voices.
Slipping close to investigate, I discover that a semi-circle of chairs has been drawn together smack in the center of the Ballroom. It’s a rather odd way for Lady B to be entertaining callers—and the collection of callers are even odder. I’d known that Lady B had struck up a friendship with Miss Gwen, the sword-parasol wielding chaperone of the Pink Carnation series, but I had no idea she had any acquaintance with Lady Uppington, matchmaking mother extraordinaire, or the Dowager Duchess of Dovedale, whose favorite pastime is making young fops take precipitous leaps out ballroom windows. (She claims it stiffens the spine; her victims tend to protest that it merely breaks the ankle, and occasionally the leg.)
It’s amazing how the Dowager looks a little more like Dame Maggie every year.
“I have called you together today,” announces Lady B, calling the group to order by banging her lorgnette against a small, marble-topped table, “because the authoresses are not in.”
“Where are they?” demands Miss Gwen, looking suspiciously over her shoulder. I slink back behind a pillar.
“They have gone away for something called ‘Memorial Day’,” says Lady B.
“A memorial of what?” asks Lady Uppington, with interest.
“I should hope,” says Lady B smugly, “that it is the day on which the authoresses give thanks for discovering ME—and remember how terribly dull their lives were before I honored them with my patronage.”
Lady Uppington and Miss Gwen exchange a look, while the Dowager Duchess of Dovedale snaps, “Yes, yes, the world was without form and void and whatnot.” She thumps her cane against the floor. “Was there a purpose to this meeting?”
“It is Lord Beaufeautheringstone’s heir, Monty.” Lady B lowers her voice portentously. “He is in want of a bride.”
“Is this the same Monty who ran away to India?” asks Lady Uppington.
“Well, yes, but—”
“And who appeared at the Ponsonby musicale in a feathered costume driving a wheeled conveyance of an indeterminate variety?” contributes Miss Gwen with relish.
The Dowager Duchess of Dovedale thumps her cane against the ground. “Well? Spit it out, gel!”
You can tell Lady B can’t tell whether to be insulted or vaguely flattered to be called “gel”, as though she were a recalcitrant debutante.
Lady B winces but carries on bravely. “A youthful indiscretion, nothing more. And a wife would do so very much to settle him.”
Miss Gwen sniffs. “Settees settle. Creatures of the male persuasion seldom change their spots.”
The Dowager raises her chin. “And the boy has spots, too? No, no, no and again.”
“No!” says Lady B quickly. “Not a spot in sight!”
Not much of Monty in sight, either, but she doesn’t bring up his propensity for running and hiding. Rather like Dr. Who, Monty has been known to spiral through space and time rather than attend his aunt’s parties.
“If you need a list of eligible ladies,” contributes Lady Uppington kindly, “I should be delighted to be of assistance. My own Henrietta is married now, of course, but there are several young ladies all unwary fresh from Miss Climpson’s Seminary….”
“Not Miss Climpson’s Seminary,” says Lady B, belatedly laying down some ground rules. “The place is a hotbed of–”
“Spies!” announces Miss Gwen.
“– impetuous and unladylike behavior,” finishes Lady B, giving Miss Gwen a look. ”In fact, I already have a list, a perfectly good list. The problem is that Monty says he wants nothing to do with any of them. I can drag him to ratafia,” she adds with despair, “but I cannot make him drink.”
The Dowager Duchess of Dovedale meditatively sharpens the edge of her cane. “Who told the boy he was allowed to have an opinion in the matter? If you wish a marriage arranged, arrange it! And if the arrangements go awry,” she adds briskly, “you’ll just have to get one of the gels to compromise the boy.”
“It wouldn’t be the first wedding at parasol point!” Miss Gwen sketches a thrust in the air with her handy sword parasol. “There is an authoress of my acquaintance who insists that any man of good fortune must be in wants of a wife. We shall simply… remind your Monty of that.”
The Dowager Duchess of Dovedale bats Miss Gwen’s parasol aside with her cane, turning directly to Lady B. “Have you considered having him kidnapped by pirates? It is,” she concedes regally, “a trifle Old School, but a stint in a Turkish harem might do wonders to lower his resistance.”
Lady Uppington takes a sip of tea. “I’m not sure it works quite that way for men,” she murmurs, but then perks up. “However, several afternoons of Smith-Smythe musicales might have an equally spine-weakening effect!”
For a moment, I see Monty’s face pop up behind a potted plant. “Help me,” he mouths.
What other nefarious plans do you think these four might concoct in their dastardly efforts to see Monty to a good spouse?
In the meantime, happy Memorial Day, all! How are you celebrating the holiday?