Monday, 10 December 2007

At the ball; part one

In the little green ante-room to which Lady Macauley led Bill and Belle and me at the end of the dinner sat Will Macauley all alone; looking rather charmingly dishevelled in his young man’s version of the dinner jacket and black tie - but also looking distinctly woeful.

“I can see from your face that you have done what you had to do” his grandmother observed – adding, for our benefit, that Will had been required to go and explain himself to the Wilmots, mother and daughter, and that from the look of him, he had not been made any happier by the experience. “But have you convinced them of your change of heart?” she demanded to know next. “And more to the point, have you managed to bring them back here with you?”

Will said that he had; they were waiting downstairs in the library. “But they’re not a bit happy about it. They’re about as unhappy as they can be, in fact. Angelica cried awfully - and her mother was very fierce. She said the whole thing has been a shame and a sham – especially now they know that Mrs Mountjoy has been working against them too! Mrs W. wanted to know how much I had known about all that. Had I been deceiving them too - and what did I think could possibly be achieved by bringing them back here to face the enemy all over again?”

But Lady Macauley was equal to the unhappiness of the Wilmots. She was equal to almost anything in her present exhilarated state. She thought it a pity they had lumped her, too, into the category of the enemy; but that it was not to be wondered at perhaps, and that she would in any case go downstairs herself, in just a moment, to fetch them. It might take her another ten minutes or so to bring them round - but she thought she knew how it was to be done; and if we would only wait there for her another short while all would be well, and we should be able to make our combined entrance to the ball in triumph – and in the face of Rose’s more or less complete mortification.

“Rose will think there is to be an engagement announcement after all!” she almost gleefully cried. “It will do me no end of good to see her face. And that of her secret lover too of course. Though I can’t say it doesn’t sadden me a little, to have to give him up to her – I believe we might have made something of him, had he only stayed with us. Still, it will be amusing to see if they try to keep up their little secret – or whether they’ll have decided to brazen it out in the open at last.”

She seemed to think that on the whole they were likely to brazen it out. What other option was there for them after all, now that the whole thing had been exposed? She sent Will down to the library ahead of her to pave the way with the Wilmots, and when he was safely out of earshot, took another moment to regret with us the fact that her victory over Rose would after all be only partial...

“We are backing the same girl of course, which is a pity. We each mean Imogen to succeed - for very different reasons of course, and I could have wished it might have been almost any other way. But there it is, she’s the right girl in spite of everything. Will himself is convinced of it: he’s almost stupefied with love of her at present, unfortunate boy - and even Alice will be brought to accept her in the end. Will has promised to forswear her company for the duration of the ball however. He is neither to dance, nor talk with, nor even look at her – the Wilmots are to be spared that final ignominy at least. And Rose will fear that in spite of all her mystifications, her most cherished plot has failed!”

It took Lady Macauley rather longer than the promised ten minutes to persuade the Wilmots; but they emerged at last, the mother evidently only partially placated, the daughter somewhat red-eyed still, and avoiding Will with what might in any other girl have been called a flounce, but was with her the merest little flutter of residual indignation. We made a rather awkward party, crossing the lamplit garden in virtual silence – though Bill did his best with Mrs Wilmot, whom he had personally taken under his wing, and whose defensive stance seemed to be crumbling a little, with every step they took.

Our entry to the ballroom coincided with the last moments of a lively Scottish reel, and we were all caught up at once by the brightness of the lights, the almost breathless thrill in the air - and the way in which the ranks of dancers fell away to make a path for us, as we crossed to our table at the far end of the room. Poor Mrs Wilmot can never before have found herself in such a situation. To be a member of what must have seemed to her the presiding, the regal party: to be made way for, and deferred to – and find that all the glittering personages present had turned their heads to stare, as if she were suddenly being perceived as the elect, the chosen companion of Lady Macauley! She was almost rigid with the honour, the sheer publicity it, and required the steadying hand of Bill, just to hold her up.

I turned to glance at her, and believe I caught the moment when the last of her defences fell away. I had seen this sort of thing happen before of course – but never perhaps so swiftly, or to such startling effect. Mrs Wilmot had meant to stand her ground to the end. She had been wronged - oh grievously; and she had intended that everyone there should know it. But she was no match for the smoothness of an operation of this kind: she had been rendered harmless from the moment when, swept into the room in Lady Macauley’s wake, she had suddenly found herself at the centre of a rapt attention. She had become Lady Macauley’s entirely willing votary – and everything that happened afterwards was simply to consolidate, and indeed intensify that effect....


It has not been my intention to prolong matters in this way. I am almost ashamed of myself indeed. But this is the way it has seemed to happen - and I promise a denouement as quickly as possible, in the entirely unpremeditated part two.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fabulous stuff and do not worry, there is clearly no way you could have wrapped up the ball in one piece. I am glad Mrs Wilmot is getting her day in the sun, after all she was only looking out for her daughter's interests! Looking forward to more beautifully machinated comeuppances from Lady M!

I Beatrice said...

So glad you liked it Anon. And profoundly relieved too! I had begun to feel I was letting all my readers down, by rambling and prevaricating so.

I guess I just can't bring myself to let go of these people, who have been with me for such a very long time.

Let go I must however. One, or at most two more must do it.

merry weather said...

Keep prolonging it Bea! It's always a pleasure to read here. I loved Bill's magic crumbling Avril's defences and then her following centre-stage moment. Cleverly done and a nice nod to today's culture of celebrity.

I'm looking forward to the next post but I just don't want this tale to end... :)

Anonymous said...

Well worth the wait! & I for one feel really pleased that all's not yet complete....

As for letting go? No no no !!!
We will need a sequel at the very least.

Rosalind x

aims said...

Take as long as you want Dearest B - we have come to expect and do enjoy the way you prevaricate!

btw - I am there in the drapery - and very much enjoying myself....the scottish reel was so exciting! and the lights are twinkling......

Omega Mum said...

It's a lovely build up. If I had a build up like this, I certainly wouldn't be ashamed of it. On the contrary, I'd be sending it off to to a good school and then launching it in society, as I hope you will.

debio said...

Keep going - keep going....I am all attention!

I Beatrice said...

You have all been very kind - and until I have finally managed to get the next piece out, I can say no more than that.

I never knew that a mere work of fiction could give one so much trouble and angst - but I SHALL do it, I really shall...

Marianne said...

How Mrs Willmott melted under Lady M's influence! I can't stop here - must press on.

I Beatrice said...

A little too rapidly perhaps, Marianne? I was conscious of that myself - but had only a thousand words to do it in, and an end in sight besides.... So I admit I dashed at it a bit.

Shall give the poor little thing more breathing space in the edited version though. Which I now see as a 'proper' novel in the third person - and which I shall perhaps put out in monthly instalments on a closed website...

What do you think?