Light from the grand ballroom flickered in time with the music as the attendants danced past the doors and windows, spinning in time. The melody of a waltz forced me to sway to and fro as though I was within the walls of the grand ballroom; however, I was in the west garden or God’s ballroom as I referred to it. My vantage point provided a spectacular view of the autumn trees rolling across the valley glowing in the warm hues cast by the setting sun. The air was unseasonably warm as it partnered floral scents and youthful giggles.
My duties as the lead governess granted more blessings than any young woman of eighteen years could have imagined possible. I was given privileges despite my social status: opportunities to meet prestigious individuals, residence within His Majesty’s Rosedale Estate, the trust of His Majesty’s inner most thoughts, and the duty of playing with children daily.
The two youngest children, Charles and Joy, repeatedly attempted to step in time to the music. The children were not permitted within the wall of the ballroom; however, we were permitted to practice within the garden for someday they would be presented into society and participate in such galas. It took great control to not correct their efforts. I stifled a smile as I bit my lower lip. Esmeralda, my junior governess, did not have equal restraint. “Charles you must move to your left and meet Joy face to face after the turn.”
I encouraged her to find the proper time to correct the children. My hand rested upon Esmeralda’s shoulder as I leaned in to whisper, “The children are having a splendid time; perfection is not our objective this evening.”
Esmeralda acknowledged with a nod as her shoulders tensed, “Yes, ma’am.” She seemed but a child so often even though she was fourteen years of age, some three years older than I when I began what were now her duties. Her attractive face was an embellishment to her solid physique. She was eager to learn, quick to comply, yet quick to correct those under her. The curly hair which framed her face was a warm brunette matching the bark of the oak tree outside the window of my quarters. She never attempted to brush it for she confessed it would not comply, thus she typically secured it at the nape of her neck.
“Is that a new ribbon, Esmeralda?” I inquired as I moved my hand from her shoulder to examine it closer.
The proud smile confessed before her words, “I saved and bought it last week when I went to town.”
“It complements the blue of your eyes splendidly.” Her shoulders relaxed, and she began tapping her foot.
I leaned against the stone post at the bottom of the terrace staircase and admired my surroundings. Well-manicured hedges distinguished areas of a garden as walls distinguish areas of a house. Between hedges, stone arches clad in white honeysuckle and English ivy invited wanderers to explore further revealing grand, floral seating areas with stone benches and urns filled with snapdragons. Red climbing roses were in full bloom below the balconies which lined the stone walls of the great building of the estate, Rosedale. The garden was as familiar as my own chambers; it was my sanctuary. It was my favorite place to meet and speak with God.
In stark contrast, the grand ballroom was a dungeon for the less fortunate; none were free. From the judgmental women to the attention-seeking men, they were riddled with concerns. I prayed that each child within the garden would find his worth in his Heavenly Father and not within another’s approval. What blessings came from offering prayers for those who did not know they were in need!
I turned, intending to pray for the souls I believed to be in bondage, when two apparent courters caught my attention upon the balcony. The gentleman, tall and broad shouldered, attempted to show interest to the woman within his company. Her flaxen blond hair was elegantly wrapped upon the crown of her head, and the occasional ringlet framed the delicate features of her face. Her gown, the newest of fashions from abroad, was as beautiful as she. It was easy to see why he was in her company.
The ever apparent boredom upon the gentleman’s face created regrettably amusement for me from which I could not tear my attention. There I stood, able to be within the company of freed children, enjoying the sights and aromas of the garden while those poor slaves of nobility had to worry and fret themselves through the night. No one could find any envy within my heart!
“Miss Bea, would you do me the honor of this dance?” The gentleman-child caller was none other than Master Charles.
With a bow, I accepted. Esmeralda in turn accompanied Joy as China, and Mary sat out. The tempo had sped up and we cheerfully danced through the song only to be pressed again to maintain equal energy during the piece which followed.
“Where does this musical number originate, Miss Bea?” Charles posed his question in between numerous pants to regain his breath.
“It hails from Ireland.” Huffing myself, I gathered the fortitude to instruct. “And where is Ireland in relation to our nation of Somnio?”
Charles paused amid the next step, dropped his hands to his knees and squinted one eye. “Is it north?”
“Well done! And which sea lies between Somnio and the surrounding countries of Ireland, England and France?
He stood upright, puffed up his chest and declared, “The Celtic Sea.”
Smiling with pride, I grabbed his hands and spun him into the dance as I affirmed him. “Splendid, Master Charles!”
We laughed as we clapped in appreciation of the great orchestral finale. “Please excuse me. I must catch my breath.”
Charles bowed, “I thank you for your company,” and he turned to join the others.
“Please do not ever leave me to dance with Joy again,” begged Esmeralda as she joined me upon the bench where I recuperated. “She has two left feet, and I am to be led, not be the one leading.” I permitted the cool of the marble to refresh despite her complaints. “If I have bruises tomorrow you may have to be the one to catch them as they scurry about.”
Pride welled from within as each child demonstrated great effort to conduct themselves in proper form. The children clapped triumphantly. Charles returned to us seeking our approval once again, “May I please have the pleasure of this dance,” bowing toward Esmeralda.
She immediately stood to her feet and returned the curtsy. “I would be honored.”
“May I join you, Miss Beat-us,” Joy questioned. I must admit, it melted my heart to hear her sweet voice speak to me, though it sounded as though I were something or someone violently fierce from one of our storybooks.
“I would be honored,” patting the space beside me. She draped herself across my lap. My hands instinctively ran through the curls which cascaded across my skirt. Nuzzling closer and sighing deeply, abandonment of duty over took the dear child.
The sun slipped below the horizon as the melody ended. The babbling brook was not visible from where I sat; however, the sound of the moving water over the stones was audible between the score change. Lanterns glowed along the banister of the terrace as well as throughout the gardens as the stars began to sparkle above. The candle light revealed paths which permitted a wanderer to meander through the glorious gardens lined with sweet alyssum and morning glories.
Humming to the music with an angel upon my lap, I was certain that no one had a more grand life at that moment.
A peculiar feeling overtook me as though someone was eavesdropping, but I ignored the notion until I noticed Esmeralda curtsy to someone positioned behind me, perhaps upon the terrace. Formality overtook me as I coaxed Joy to stand with me and acknowledge the individual. To my astonishment, standing beyond the final step of the terrace was the gentleman whom I had witnessed upon the balcony. The same man who tried in vain to be amused by the loveliest of women several moments prior.
I bowed longer than I should, ashamed that I had been amused at his unsuccessful attempts to court the fine lady. However, I realized he was not aware of my spying ways and so quickly stood to attention as he greeted.
“Dear children, you look as though you are having a splendid time. I was wondering if I might join you and breathe in this fresh evening air.” It seemed more of a question than a statement. It may have been due to his accent; it was clearly British, not the usual combination of the Irish-British accent which dominated our region of the country due to the northern proximity to our nation.
All the children except Joy jumped up and down and shouted their approval and welcome to the gentleman. Joy simply nodded and greeted with the mispronunciation of a four-year-old, “We would be honored, Sir.”
He descended the stairs with all the elegance and grace of the noblest of men. Jostling Joy’s curls, he passed between us and tipped his top hat, “Thank you, dear lady.” She was clearly proud of herself, but continued with the formality. Extending his hand to Joy, he asked, “May I?” Instantly the image of those two and her lack of any natural ability to dance forced my eyebrows up and a deep breath of warning escaped, but it was not heeded.
She curtsied and took his gloved hand within hers. He led her a few steps into the grass to join the other children and began the dance. I could not resist the spectacle. He tried desperately to keep her in step, but it was clear that her attempts to dance with him were as hopeless as the dear beautiful lady’s was at keeping his attention during conversation. Amusement was at its peak as I watched the most graceful of men attempting to turn the child of four years that did not know where to place her feet. To his rescue came her admission sprinkled in lisps, “I do not know if I can dance with you. I beg your pardon, but I think your feet are too big.”
Nodding to keep from showing any sign of relief, he questioned, “With whom shall I dance, my lady?”
Joy’s scowling face broke into a smile as she walked over to me. Taking my hand within hers, the tug revealed more strength than one of her age would have been expected to contain. “Come, Miss Beat-us, he needs your feet to dance correctly.” The impropriety of such a request mortified every essence of my being despite the typical splendor her manner of pronunciation brought. I was merely a governess and had not been introduced to society, in comparison to the nobleman who was perhaps fifteen years my senior. His satin double breasted vest and fine suit with tailed coat put my muslin tea-dress to shame. Nonetheless, his gloved hand remained extended, and so, with great reservation, I curtsied and properly addressed him.
I searched for a reason to continue. Our example would certainly be a great opportunity for the children to witness the dances first hand.
So, we danced.
The children were receiving the finest lessons in dance ever.
I desired to witness the pleasure of our excellent example for which he must be aware, so I lifted my eyes but met his gaze instead. His attention was solely upon me. Amid the next step, my feet froze and my mind drew a blank. I was dumbfounded by the depth of my partner’s eyes. His shoulders stiffened, his chiseled jaw clinched, his brown eyes searched, and his brow lifted toward the brunette waves which cascaded to just above his collar. I could not feel my body.
My head dropped as much to swallow as to regain a sense of time and space. The music became audible after a moment as the humming within my ears lessened. The breeze within the garden fanned my face. I gasped and held my face within my hands. I had stopped dancing and thusly caused him to become aware of my peril. I could not formulate words or thoughts fast enough. The only utterance that came out of my mouth was, “I… do… not.” Shaking my head, I pleaded, “I beg your pardon.”
“It is quite alright. With all the dancing and this late autumn heat, I could use a pause.”
“As you wish.” I could feel my cheeks more flush than ever. Placing my hand within the bend of his elbow, he guided me back to the bench. Seated, I found refuge within a posture which hid all nervous shaking of my knees and I placed my equally as nervous hands within my lap.
He leaned against stone column at the bottom of the stair but was feeble in the attempt at acting. I knew by his even breathing that he was not in need of a pause; however, a great deal of respect was developed for his attempts to dignify my shambles. Esmeralda commented on the cheer within the garden brought about by the children, and I was reminded of the duty at hand. The aromatic scents swirled through the damp night air and partnered with the melodious orchestra. The trees swayed in the breeze and an emotional calm surfaced.
Esmeralda threw formality aside and addressed the gentleman first, “I did not catch your name?”
The judgment and dishonor of being addressed by one attending the festivities of the king was absent from his response, “I beg your pardon my ladies, I am Paul Wrigley.” I was certain I had heard his name prior to that moment, but I could not place it.
Her brow furrowed, and she proceeded without proper formality. “How is it that you are familiar enough with the king to receive an invitation to this evening’s gala?”
In as much as her question would cure my curiosity, my duty called and I addressed Esmeralda with a whisper, “You must wait until spoken to, Esmeralda.”
He humbled himself again and assured, “Quite fine. I appreciate a good review of my qualifications.” I was mortified and in turn squeezed Esmeralda’s arm in attempts to put her in her place resulting in her whimper. Once again he came to her rescue, “I am Paul Wrigley. To many of his majesty’s estate, I am Lord Paul Wrigley the first born son of the late Duke Vernon and Duchess Margaret Wrigley of London.” London! That explained his pure English accent. “I have recently acquired the manner at Cloverstone.”
I was very aware of Cloverstone. Stories circulated about the grandeur of the estate. I recalled that the lord had only taken up residence at Cloverstone the month previous.
Quenched curiosity returned Esmeralda to formality as she curtsied and ceased from further questions. “Ladies, I conclude that the company I keep is with one Miss Esmeralda,” he nodding in her direction, “And Miss Beat Us,” nodding in my general direction as a smirk formed at the corner of his mouth. Was he attempting to poke fun at the enduring manner in which my dear Joy spoke my name?
“I am Beatrice Kempthorne of Hampshire, My Lord.”
Esmeralda added, “To those of us who know her well, she is our Bea, Miss Bea.”
“What a great pleasure to make your acquaintances.” He removed his top hat and bowed.
“Come children, please greet Lord Paul Wrigley of Cloverstone.” The children were aware of the honor of a nobleman within their presence and approached our guest in proper form. I introduced, “Lord Paul, may I present Joy, Mary and China?” Turning to the boys, “May I also present Charles and Rome?”
“China and Rome? Pray tell, how is it you were granted such fantastic names?” He took a knee to be at their eye level and leaned in towards the children as though it was the most interesting thing he might have ever heard. The dignity he gave to the children was unparalleled. He gently lifted each tiny chin as though they were the most fascinating creatures upon earth.
Rome, true to his character, explained with as few words as possible. “I received mine from Italy and she,” pointing to his sister, “acquired hers from, well, China.”
The lord’s brow furrowed as though he were attempting to process the explanation.
“If you would permit me to expound, Lord Wrigley, they are siblings of the honorable Sir Benjamin of His Majesty’s navy. Their parents, being avid travelers, have used locations of personal significance as they bestowed names upon their children. They met in China and married in Italy hence the origin and uniqueness of their given names.”
Sighing and nodding his head, “How blessed you are to have parents that add meaning to your names with personal experience!” Dropping his chin and wiping an imaginary tear he continued, “My name merely means ‘small’,” he followed with a chuckle of irony to conclude his admission. Ironic indeed!
Desire to view his face gave way to humble duty; I was present to train Esmeralda and tend to the children. “Come children, it is time to begin gathering our things and ready ourselves for bed.”