Authors: Audrey Harrison
“Are you going to dictate to me about how I need to conduct myself in every respect?” Elizabeth asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Probably.” came the drawled reply.
The following few days were such as Elizabeth had never experienced before. It was all clothes, clothes, accessories, and visiting. Violet was a woman on a mission, determined that Elizabeth was going to be a hit, and that she would find a husband before the season was out. Her romantic notions made Elizabeth laugh.
“But I don’t want a husband just for the sake of it.” She defended herself for the tenth time in two days.
“I’m not saying you should have one for the sake of it, but you must be open and encouraging to potential suitors,” Violet persisted.
“What is the point of encouraging someone when I intend to be living in Yorkshire in a few months? If I decide to marry, my husband will want me to become feminine and ladylike and stay where he lives, all of which I will struggle with. Let me enjoy the parties, and then go to Yorkshire at the end of the season, and save your matchmaking for your brother.” Elizabeth teased.
“Humph, he is another one who seems determined on the single state.” Violet grumbled.
Violet introduced her young guest to a number of ladies who had daughters around the same age. She realised that it would be better to have friends her own age, as relying on Michael and herself would restrict Elizabeth too much. She was surprised to find that the usually confident and outgoing Elizabeth was more reserved when in company, and questioned Elizabeth about it on the third day of visits.
“I’m trying not to frighten them off!” Elizabeth said in her usual candid way.
“Why on earth would you frighten them, my dear?” Violet asked, shocked.
“I don’t think Miss Platt, Miss Fishwick or Miss Brodie would appreciate my interest in farming, animal rearing, and horse racing across the countryside, do you?”
“Oh dear, I suppose not,” Violet said with a smile and a shake of the head. “What are we going to do with you?”
“I’m trying to be good, and lull them into thinking I am a lady. If that fails, I am doomed to go through the season without any friends!” Elizabeth laughed, but she had felt already how different her life was from that of the young girls that she had met. It did concern her a little that her world was so removed from this new one. She wasn’t sure that the new world was for her, as it felt strange and a little uncomfortable.
Elizabeth was determined to give it a chance though; she would repay her guardian’s efforts by trying to enjoy the Season. He was putting in a lot of time and effort on her behalf, and it had created feelings she was not familiar with. It was more than gratitude. No one had ever made any effort purely for her comfort, and she felt a glow of pleasure every time she thought of the trouble Michael was going to, no matter how much he denied that it was any trouble.
They did not see Michael until the Thursday, when he came to collect them to go to the Thornley’s ball. He had received the bills from the shopping that had been carried out, so knew full well how his sister had been keeping his ward entertained. He had decided that his only input into the activity was to keep as far away as possible. He approached Violet’s home with a little trepidation; he hoped that Violet had managed to dress Elizabeth in something appropriate.
Violet was already in the hall waiting for her brother, who greeted her with a smile and a kiss. “Is Edward joining us?” he asked.
“Yes, and Elizabeth is on her way now.”
Elizabeth met Edward at the top of the stairs. He offered her his arm, she took it with a smile and they walked downstairs chatting together. Michael looked up at their voices and almost had to look twice, the difference in Elizabeth was so marked. She had been dressed more appropriately when they had gone for their ride, but she had been wearing a borrowed dress of Violet’s. Tonight she was in her own clothes and the effect was stunning.
Her dress was of the fashionable empire line design, of a pale cream silk that skimmed her frame as she moved. The silk shimmered as it caught the candle light. Her long gloves emphasised the creamy white of the skin of her arms, the small puff sleeves giving a delicate addition to the outfit. Her hair was tied high on her head with tight curls framing her face. Small cream flowers were the only ornament that adorned her hair. She wore no jewellery, which normally he would have thought gauche, but in this instance, it seemed to add to her elegance.
“Well done Vi.” he whispered.
“It wasn’t my doing; I just went along for the entertainment. Believe me, she has exquisite taste and knows which materials and accessories complement each other. All she needed was a little encouragement, and then I stood back and watched,” Violet responded, taking pride in how Elizabeth looked. She was convinced she would have suitors flocking around her, which suited Violet’s romantic notions.
“Her determination does not surprise me, but I am surprised she has such taste. I would never have expected such a comment when I first met her.” Michael smiled as he bowed before Elizabeth. She raised her eyebrow at him, taking in his dark jacket, golden waistcoat and cream short breeches. He looked handsome and confident. They moved to the carriage without the opportunity for more than the usual civilities.
Michael led Elizabeth into the Ballroom. It was already a crush, and Elizabeth’s eyes filled with wonder at the number of people and all the decoration that made the walls of the grand room seemed ready to burst. “People come to these places for entertainment?” she asked in awe.
“Most do not think it has been a successful party if there has not been a terrible squeeze.” Michael explained cynically.
“Oh for a wide open field.” Elizabeth muttered. She felt that she could hardly breathe in such a confined area. She was even more convinced that London life would not be for her.
“You shall become accustomed to these gatherings when the Season is in full swing. Violet wants to introduce you to as many people as possible, so we need to catch her among this crowd. I don’t want to completely lose her, but if you will mark your card, I shall dance the first dance with you and the supper waltz. I will then take you to supper to ensure that you are enjoying your evening,” Michael instructed.
“You can judge whether I have wasted money on the dancing instructor.” Elizabeth smiled as he searched out Violet.
Elizabeth’s first dance was a cotillion. She had attended dances in Lancashire occasionally, so was comfortable and at ease. The only difference was the number of people on the floor. She moved easily through the set, looking at everything around her.
“You are supposed to at least pretend that you are entertaining your partner,” Michael commented as she failed to engage in conversation when they came together. “You will make the other ladies in the room think I am an utter bore.”
“I doubt that from the looks you are receiving. I take it you are a popular dance partner? It looks like most of the women in this room would like to dance with you.” Elizabeth said with a grin.
Michael blinked. He had been teasing Elizabeth, and again she had managed to surprise him with how much she had observed in such a short time. He would be a popular dance partner if he chose to be, but he tended to avoid dancing most of the time. He had exerted himself for his ward and he knew that there would be speculation as to whether he would dance with others. He inwardly groaned as he realised that he would be forced to do so for the sake of politeness.
“I try not to be a popular dance partner.” he eventually replied.
“Ah, I see.” Elizabeth smiled enigmatically.
“What?” Michael demanded, immediately feeling defensive.
“You don’t like to be chased by the hungry look in some of the eyes I have seen following you.” she teased.
Michael smiled despite himself, “Some of the women in this room could send me running for the hills.”
“And I’ve added to your discomfort.”
“How?” Michael was surprised at the comment. He had just been thinking that having such candour in a ballroom could make the evening very pleasant.
“Everyone will see how well you are treating your ward and your popularity will increase.” came the teasing reply.
“Perhaps if I glower at you the damage will be minimal?” Michael grinned in response.
“I feel it is too late!” Elizabeth whispered as the music came to an end, and they were immediately approached by two ladies. They were able to escape with the excuse of returning Elizabeth to Violet, but Michael had been forced to ask for a dance with the younger lady, about which he muttered darkly in Elizabeth’s ear as he led her through the crowd.
They did not speak to each other again until it was time for the supper waltz. Elizabeth’s time was filled with dancing and chatter. She was flattered that so many people did want to make her acquaintance, but her thoughts were never far from how long she would need to endure the Season before she could escape to her preferred life again. She smiled to herself when she saw Michael looking over as he danced or chatted with some of the people in the room. It was obvious to her that he was as little at home in the ballroom as she was.
He approached her for the waltz and led her onto the dance floor. He experienced a moment of pleasant surprise when he enclosed her in his arms and they started to move. It was obvious she was an active person, but the grace of her movements so close to him took his breath away a little as he enjoyed the feel of her. He managed to shake himself mentally after a moment or two; he was annoyed that he was allowing himself to be distracted by being so close to a woman, (singular) especially one who was his ward. He never usually felt so moved when dancing a waltz. In fact, these last few years had seen him avoid waltzing whenever possible. It was still a dance that those closest to each other danced and he had never wanted to raise any expectation in any of the women he knew.
Elizabeth looked up at him with a smile, “So was my money wasted?”
“I beg your pardon?” he asked, her words disturbing his inner thoughts.
“My ability at dancing, I don’t embarrass you I hope?”
“No, you dance well.” Michael said coolly.
“I expected to have only the two dances with you, what with this being my first real outing, but my card is full.” Elizabeth responded, disregarding Michael’s abrupt tone which had replaced the lighter one that had been evident while they had danced the cotillion.
Michael was not surprised at her popularity, given Violet’s determination to introduce her to every eligible gentleman. Added to that were the talents of her modiste, who had produced a stunning effect. It seemed like the purple and orange outfit had belonged to a different person than the one he held in his arms. She really was a vision in her pale cream silk. She had been surrounded all night by an army of admirers, all delighted that the newest heiress was also a beauty.
“You will find yourself in demand at every party.” he said not wanting to flatter her, but being honest.
“Oh.” came the quiet reply.
Michael was surprised; he had expected a coy smile at the very least. He could not imagine that she did not dislike dancing. “Do you not wish to dance?”
“Oh yes, I love dancing, but will my partners all be similar to the ones I have met tonight?”
“I expect you will see a lot of the same people who are here tonight. There are always small differences in gatherings obviously, but tonight offers a fair representation of the
Elizabeth let out a sigh, “I don’t know how you cope with it, year in and year out. How do you deal with the fawning and the empty compliments? Do you not find it sickening?”
Michael could not help the laugh escaping from his lips. “My dear Elizabeth, you have managed to destroy the hopes of the most eligible men in this room with one sentence. Do they realise they have erred?”
Elizabeth smiled with the impish smile that Michael had been drawn to when he had first met her. “No. I have listened to Violet and done exactly as she has instructed. I have been very well behaved.” She said with mock seriousness.
“And have you found the behaviour easy?”
“Good God no! I thank God for my dances with you, my Lord. At least with you I receive straightforward honesty.” Elizabeth giggled.
Michael smiled in response and held her a little closer. Her outlook was refreshing, reassuring and stirred his feelings, which had never been affected before. He put it down to pride in his ward, anything else was to be pushed to one side.
At the end of the dance, supper was announced and Elizabeth took the arm that Michael offered. It felt reassuring to be escorted by such a capable man leading her through the crowds, always acknowledging acquaintances, but making progress amongst the crush of people. The supper room was filled with tables of various sizes, all filling up with people. The room was full of excited chatter, while servants dodged between the people and tables, delivering drinks and food when required. Many people approached the tables set out around the edges of the room themselves, not taking advantage of the servants, enjoying browsing the tables that were groaning with the weight of delicacies on offer.
Violet and Edward had already secured a table and Michael escorted Elizabeth over to them, before leaving her to gather some food for them both. As they ate a gentleman approached the table and Michael introduced Elizabeth to John Dawson. She smiled at the gentleman bowing before her, observing that he was a pleasant looking man, with medium brown hair and green eyes. His ready smile made his face light up and was very appealing.