Wednesday, 12 December 2007

At the ball; part two

What happened next was that the lull in the dancing continued, to allow us to complete our progress across the hall to the table that had been reserved for us; and that our way took us past Rose, and David Porteous, who had indeed decided to brazen it out in public, and who had managed to get up some kind of a little party of their own, in an effort no doubt, to deflect attention from the fact that they were no longer of that one which contained Lady Macauley. That this was a situation entirely unprecedented for Rose, and that she had been made deeply uncomfortable by it, was evidenced by her unusually high colour, and the fact that there was a little glitter of something like defiance in her eyes, as she did her best to glance nonchalantly at us as we passed.

Lady Macauley had paused a moment beside their table, and seemed on the point of saying something; but had evidently decided against it, and moved on, having vouchsafed nothing more by way of recognition than the smallest, coldest little inclination of her head. Belle did stop however; Belle looked directly at Rose, and her voice it was that rang out with perfect clarity in a moment of silence to say, in what seemed to me an almost perfect replication of what her mother’s tone might have been, “How you must have hated us all these years – to have felt it necessary to go to such lengths to deceive us!”

She said no more than that, and she waited for no reply. But it seemed as if everyone in the room must have heard her – and though it may have been my imagination, I thought I saw Rose flinch, and David Porteous cast a look of sharp annoyance, almost of dislike, in her direction, at what was perhaps, for him, the most audible, and calculated public snub to which he had ever been subjected. Lady Macauley turned to give Belle a smile of approval; she was surprised, but evidently thought that on the whole it had been well said. Mrs Wilmot had heard it too, and uttered a little gasp, more of admiration than alarm. She was in strange company, it seemed to say; but she was sailing high, oh high indeed, and she wouldn’t have missed a minute of it! Bill and I had meantime exchanged the kind of quick glance which said that those two, Rose Mountjoy and David Porteous, had made their bed, and were probably going to have to lie in it together for the rest of their days – but that the pleasure of it was unlikely to be entirely unalloyed, for either of them.

It hardly seemed necessary to think much more about either of those two, after that. Even though their group contained Imogen of course; and Imogen was looking svelte and stunning in a silver gown that Mrs Wilmot let it be known Rose had helped her choose. Imogen was the centre of much attention among the younger contingent whom Will himself had invited along; she laughed, and danced, and shone; she was determined to carry everything before her - and Will Macauley’s despairing glance was constantly being dragged in her direction, in spite of all his grandmother’s strictures.

Will himself danced dutifully with this one and that. With Angelica, uncomfortably, at first; until she too was discovered by the younger group, and his attentions were no longer required; and after that with his grandmother, his aunt, his mother – and with me. Poor Will’s personal penance involved his dancing even with Mrs Wilmot; upon whom however, the music, and the occasion - her daughter’s sudden success among the elegantly turned-out young men, and several glasses of good champagne - had together wrought such an effect that she was evidently prepared to forgive him everything. Lady Macauley’s little strategy was working perfectly. Mrs Wilmot, whom everybody was suddenly, and with some degree of awkwardness, calling Avril – Mrs Wilmot was quite simply having the time of her life. She had been elevated all at once to the ranks of the grand and glorious; she was being danced-with by Bill, and Jack Macauley, and Tomek; she consented even to stand up with Roland Baines, who did his modest best by her - and every last shred of her resistance had fallen away.

We were all having a splendid time of it in fact; Mrs Wilmot was not the only one to be carried away. Ours was the largest, merriest party of all, and we quite gave ourselves up to the joyousness of the occasion. Pamela fairly swooped about the floor in the majesty of her black velvet; somehow carrying Roland with her, in her almost intoxicating sense of their being on this occasion, distinguished guests. Jack and Alice were obviously enjoying themselves heartily too – Alice, relaxed and happy, came as near to being charmingly convivial as I think it could have been possible for her, in her mother-in-law’s company, to do. And Bill and Belle, Frances and Tomek, none of whom had yet received the blessing of a marriage ceremony, yet danced as honeymooning lovers might; with eyes, and ears, and rapt attention, entirely for each other. Lady Macauley herself was in sparkling form; and though after the first few dances – with her son, her grandson, and then with Bill – she pleaded the weariness of age, and said she would happily sit out the rest; still, her pleasure in the occasion remained undimmed, and she vowed to remain until midnight at least.

I too was enjoying myself without reserve, and somehow managing to find a partner for almost every dance. And if there was a low point in the evening for me, it came at supper time when, in a moment at which our table was temporarily deserted, even by Lady Macauley, who had been assisted away to the table in the next room, I found myself being invited to dance by David Porteous. He had come up to me quietly from behind, and he gave what almost amounted to a low bow before me as, solemnly, though in no kind of spirit of compunction, he asked if in spite of everything I would do him the honour of consenting to dance with him.

I agreed in spite of myself. To have done otherwise would have seemed somehow petty, and out of the spirit of the occasion. I was not comfortable about it though: I had never before been in such close proximity to him, and I felt the impact of his presence with all the old unease. Gabble foolishly in his presence again however, I would not; and so we danced in silence, until at last he found the words to express what was obviously weighing heavy on his mind.

“We have reached a most unfortunate impasse”he said. “I fear that relations between ourselves and Lady Macauley have irretrievably broken down – though I’m not without hope that time will somehow find a way of enabling us to be friends again. I have been judged severely for breaking with Frances perhaps – though I think everyone would have to agree that her obvious new happiness with her builder, must be seen as ample justification for that. I'm delighted for her of course, as who would not be? There is however one important matter which remains unresolved - and that is the attachment which has grown up lately between my own Imogen, and Will Macauley. I hope Lady Macauley will find it in her heart to overlook differences, at least in their case. She seemed fond of Imogen at one time - I hope she will not hold her father’s perceived indiscretions against her ... Though I rather fear that even if she does so, true love will find its way, and those two will be together in spite of everything...”

Had he put it almost any other way, I might have felt obliged to offer him a word or two of comfort. But since he seemed both to have put his question, and answered it too – and because his inflexion over the word ‘builder’ had been so objectionable to me - I felt no such obligation. I merely replied that I could not answer for Lady Macauley, and nor could I promise to put his case before her – since to have done so would have been to spoil for her what had been the happiest possible evening.

The music stopped at that moment, and the dance was ended. He conducted me back to my seat, and relinquished me, with marked stiffness; and I had the small but considerable satisfaction of seeing him return to his own table, and to Rose, thoroughly displeased and unsatisfied. He had cast a blight over my evening nonetheless, and I was not sorry when, half an hour later, Lady Macauley admitted fatigue at last, and our little party broke up. Will decided to come back to the house with us; he had evidently had enough of watching Imogen go from triumph to triumph - and even Angelica had no need of him any longer. Jack and Alice, and all the others, elected to stay on a while; promising to return in time to drink a last glass of brandy with us, before we retired for the night. Mrs Wilmot thought she would stay right on till the end however, if we didn’t mind - since her darling girl was having such an absolutely splendid time!

14 comments:

aims said...

Ah yes - the builder....

Lovely to see that Mr. P is still keeping to character.....I wouldn't want it any other way.

The ball was glorious - absolutely glorious...and the dancers were divine! You did a marvelous job Dearest B....

(I enjoyed myself immensely from the comfort of the drapery)

Now - don't go making yourself sick over the ending. I know what you mean - agonising over each word - each phrase ...how exactly to end it all...

However - making yourself physically ill....you musn't. We will all wait - no matter how long it takes for you to bring it to a close - or to a suggestion of a continuation.......

I Beatrice said...

Oh but Aims, my dear long-suffering friend - when you see what I have to do next, you may never speak to me again! And nor may anyone else, come to that..

Anonymous said...

fabulous stuff again! I feel real pleasure for Mrs Wilmot at everyone calling her Avril - she will dine out on this evening for many years to come! And I too do not want it to end so take as long as you like!

I Beatrice said...

Thank you too Anon - it has been the greatest pleasure to me too, to make this rather strange journey in company with you all.

But it has to end you know, or there will be no rest for me! Nor shall I ever have the chance to go back over it, and iron out all the imperfections so that it can perhaps become a book...

Anonymous said...

Stunning & as sumptuous as ever.

On the one hand I don't want you to ever stop.

On the other - I am sure we will forgive you - come what may.

Especially as YOU have given us so much to enjoy. Rosalind x

merry weather said...

Ah, what a charming scene: Belle speaking out, Avril letting herself and the past go (perfect!), poor Will dancing with everyone (such a gentleman) and not forgetting dear Pamela sweeping little Roland about. Beautifully done, a very satisfying read!

We can allow you a lengthy ironing out period yes of course, but after that Bea, after that we'll be having withdrawal symptoms from your storytelling! Well, I will anyway :)

Good luck with the next!

aims said...

Oh dear - what are you up to??!!

Knowing how you work - you've got something up your sleeve...I can hardly wait!!

And be assured - we will all let you know what we think about it!!

I Beatrice said...

I publish this myself, on behalf of and with thanks to my good friend AROHA in Auckland, who has been with me on this long journey of mine since we were both little girls in New Zealand long ago:

"WONDERFUL STUFF! What a way with words! -I particularly loved 'Pamela fairly swooped about the floor in the majesty of her black velvet' So capturing the occasion.

But- What will happen with Beatrice when all the activity is over. Bill and Belle married and Lady Macaulay gone back to Italy or somewhere?
Don't see her settling for a quiet life after all this excitement. A builder for her too perhaps or an Italian Count? Guess I'll Just have to wait and see.
AROHA."

I Beatrice said...

And now I am about to post the very bleak penultimate piece, and I hope that some of you at least will be able to forgive me.

It was always going to have to end this way - and I tried every way I could to prepare you for it.

But perhaps after all I failed, and you will be as shocked and saddened as I have been these last several days, as I tried to find the courage to do it at last.

I shall return one more time (in 'real time': perhaps before Christmas, perhaps just after) - and try to restore some little bit of happiness to the scene.

In the meantime, I can only say a heartfelt thank to you all, for supporting me so faithfully and so well. I could never have come all this way without you.

And, if it's not in the very worst possible taste at such a moment, I wish a very Merry Christmas to you all!

It has only been a story after all...

debio said...

Such a divine piece - with some ominous portent, perhaps....

Marianne said...

What a lovely occasion, and everyone having such a wonderful evening, apart, of course, from David and Rose. But I continue with trepidation!

I Beatrice said...

I have only just caught up with your two latest, Debio and Marianne.....

I fear that subsequent developments may have dismayed you - but I hope that you will find consolation in the final instalment, which will appear in 'real time, sometime after Christmas.

Omega Mum said...

Well said. What a terrific villain he is. Beautifully written - of course.

I Beatrice said...

Thank you, OM - and my apologies for not having left you any comments lately. I have been reading, but inspirational replies have been somewhat thin on the ground I fear. I'll keep coming back though - even though I have officially left the blog-scene.

Mr P was never meant to be quite such a villain as a matter of fact. Reader input made him so to a certain extent - which was interesting in itself, this having been most of all an experiment...

But I am now embarked on a re-telling in the third person. What might be called (optimistically) a 'proper' novel - which I shall or shall not publish on another, closed website. Am looking into that possibility now, but not at all sure how to go about it.