Letters from Armorica: At the Ball (8 July 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

6 June 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

We have had the ball, and now everything has gone wrong. I do not at all know how to account for it—though I know the moment it all went wrong, at least within a quarter hour. I will endeavor to explain, and perhaps you will see something I have not, though surely too late to be of any good.

Mama and Papa arrived from Yorke this past Thursday, and at six of the clock on Friday Tom Coachman dropped the four us, Mama, Papa, Edward, and myself, at the front steps of Stourness. We were greeted by the Squire and his wife, all most warmly, and if I am not mistaken the Squire dropped Brother Edward a wink!

My dear Jane was waiting within, lovely in a green dress that set off her eyes, which she flashed to good effect. Edward for his part was on his best behavior, and in his best looks, and offered to find her some refreshment; and as she took his arm and led him off to find some, Mama and Mrs. Willoughby exchanged such a meaningful and cheery look that I quite began to wonder what other letters have been flying back and forth. I began to look forward with some justifiable complacence to a successful conclusion to the evening.

My enjoyment of the evening was hampered only the arrival of Edward Hargreaves, whose name I am sure you are tired of hearing. Mr. Hargreaves was outwardly everything a young country gentleman should be, I am sure: handsome, polite, well-dressed (albeit in a country mode), and attentive to his occupations, and I suppose I could quite like him if he were not so bent on sharing those occupations with me. Still, one must make the best of things, and as—well, as Lieutenant Archer is still away, it is better to have a handsome gentleman in attendance at a gathering of this nature than not to have. It gives one countenance, and allows one to condescend pleasantly to such as the Grimsby sisters, who are not so attended.

Yes, I know how that sounds, my dearest Armand. Here in the country, one must find one's entertainments where one can.

Oh, dear, I suppose that sounds no better. I shall change the subject, though I may say I am quite out of charity with the Grimsbys, and should be inclined to give them much more than my condescension given the least opportunity. But I run ahead of myself.

All was well until the dancing began, as it did shortly and mercifully; for having no understanding with Edward Hargreaves I was not obliged to stand up with him more than twice, and if that meant having the likes of Wallace Hampton and Thomas Porter on my dance card that was no more to be expected.

I was careful to dance with Mr. Hampton only the once, and that for the second dance, before he had had a chance to spread himself, as I believe the country phrase is; he was quite polite, and informed me that he had recently become engaged to a young lady, a Miss Claverham, from the far side of the county. I of course wished him joy.

All went well until the seventh dance, which was a Gallivant—a dance with which I was not familiar, as it is quite unknown in Yorke, but which dear Papa assures me was all the crack in Wickshire in his youth. As it is likely to be unfamiliar to you as well, I shall take some pains to describe it.

The Gallivant is something like the Sir Roger de Coverley: the sort of dance in which the dancers form in two long lines, facing each other, and move up rank by rank while the pair at the head join hands and go dancing down the middle. It is a fast and sprightly dance, accompanied by much laughing, for there are no set steps; instead, it is expected that the gentleman will preen and show off as he takes his partner down, improvising steps to match, which is the occasion for much of the laughter; but it differs further from the Sir Roger in that the couple do not simply return to the foot at the end of each complete figure. Rather, once every man has danced with his lady there is a complex and extremely confusing exchange in which everyone acquires a new partner. It depends on one's position in the line, and the order in which everyone lines up to start with, which is tolerably random. One might find oneself dancing with just anyone and nothing to do about it, which is the occasion for the rest of the laughter, and there is much broad winking and guffawing. It would never do in Yorke, and yet at a simple country ball it is not unfitting.

Edward was partnered with my dear Jane, for the beginning of the dance, at least, and I with Mr. Hargreaves. Yes, Armand, I will admit to accepting him for this dance all of a purpose.

All went well through the first figure, for Mr. Hargreaves could not be talking of farming at such a time, and though I had not danced the Gallivant before we contrived to make our run up the middle quite creditably—though I must say that Mr. Hargreaves is too serious by nature to do the dance justice. At the exchange I was pleased to find myself partnered with Lieutenant Pertwee, quite dashing in his regimentals; Jane was with Wallace Hampton, and our poor beaus were partnered with Agatha and Matilda Grimsby respectively, much to their chagrin. Agatha Grimsby's face resembled that of the cat who ate the canary; if her younger sister was not so sanguine she was at least pleased not to be dancing with Thomas Porter any longer.

The dance continued briskly until the end of the second figure, just prior to the exchange, when there came a loud shriek and a din and a crashing sound from outside. The fiddle player stopped in confusion, and we all ran to the windows to discover that one of the coachmen had thrown another into one of the trestles that held the servant's repast, knocking it all to pieces and scattering the food across the lawn.

Squire Willoughby put a stop to the altercation in language that the ladies present quite failed to hear, and remained to see things put right; and after the fiddle player had mended his upper string we continued with the next dance. It was shortly after that that I noticed that everything had gone wrong.

I was partnered with Brother Edward, which would have been too lowering if the ball had been larger, but at a small country ball one does what one must. He had no attention to spare for me, of course; but it was not until I caught a look of horror on my dear Jane's face that I realized that his attention was fixed on not on Jane, but on Agatha Grimsby, of all the people in the world!

At the end of the dance I looked about for Mr. Hargreaves, hoping he could find me a glass of punch, for he had the habit of appearing at my elbow between dances, but he was nowhere to be seen. The gallant Lieutenant Pertwee, seeing me at a loss, came to my rescue: "A glass of punch, Miss Montjoy? Back in a jiffy." And as he was returning with it, I saw Matilda Grimsby sipping from a similar glass and simpering in a sickening way at Edward Hargreaves.

I can't quite put a name to what came over me in that moment. To lose Edward Hargreaves as a suitor was a thing greatly to be wished; but to Matilda Grimsby? It was beyond enough! Worse, it was unaccountable! That the Grimsbys might have charms that have escaped me to date is, I suppose, possible, my dear Armand; that they were on display on this particular evening was not, for I had seen them dance, and truly, Armand, their skill was nothing remarkable.

I was not the only one dismayed. Dear Jane vanished after the dance, fighting tears; Mama and Mrs. Willoughby, sitting with the other older ladies by the wall, were sharing worried looks with each other; and when Squire Willoughby returned from chastising the coachmen and saw Brother Edward gazing into Agatha Grimsby's eyes he cast a look at him that I am sure I would not wish have cast upon me.

The ball broke up shortly after that, and we were bundled unceremoniously into our carriage; and I must admit that I sneered—inwardly, at least—at the Grimsby's coach as we passed it, for I noticed that their coachmen was sporting a black eye and that his uniform was much stained with food.

The ride home was silent, Mama and Papa looking stiff-faced and Brother Edward seemingly in another world.

And here it is Tuesday, and nothing has changed. Where once he went cast glances toward Stourness whilst striding about the farm on business for Blightwell, now Edward is taking tea with the Grimsbys and neglecting his work with Blightwell altogether! I tried speaking of it with Papa before he and Mama returned to Yorke yesterday, but he would say nothing more than, "Edward is old enough to know his own mind." I was quite shattered by the disappointment I heard in his voice.

Your distraught cousin,


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photo credit: Noel Feans A Curota via photopin (license)

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