Four Years Later
“The Farbridge Manor Ball,” Lady Kensington said as she passed, “is the finest of the Season. An event anticipated by all. This may be your first time attending, Lord Lamont, but you’ll soon learn.”
Ingrid stood with her back turned to the two of them, a smile creeping across her face as she listened. Though she didn’t pride herself on eavesdropping—far from it—it was nice to hear that her guests approved of the festivities.
This year’s was the fourth Farbridge Manor Ball. It had become an annual event, and an occasion for Ingrid at Alastair to celebrate their marriage, as well. Earlier that day, he had given her a gift—a heavy sapphire pendant. It hung nestled against her collarbone now, and she touched it, remembering the joy she had felt when Alastair had given it to her.
“A gem for my gem,” he had said, fastening it around her neck.
Grace had watched admiringly. “Someday I hope a gentleman gives me such a gift,” she had said.
“Why not today?” Her father had produced a small velvet bag from his pocket. Grace had opened it and gasped, pulling out a smaller and less ornate version of the pendant Alastair had given to Ingrid.
He had helped her to put it on. “This ball is for you as well,” he’d reminded her. “You must present yourself well, just as Ingrid and I will.”
Grace nodded. At ten-years-old, she was tall and slender, and her wit was astonishing. “Will I be permitted to dance tonight, Father?”
“If any of our guests asks for a turn with you, I may grant them the privilege,” Alastair said, beaming down at her. “Only mind you return to my side after a single dance. I’ll not have you getting carried away!”
“Yes, Father.” She had looked down at baby Henry, kicking his feet in the air. “Do you have a gift for the baby as well?” she asked.
“Henry won’t be attending the ball,” Ingrid had said fondly, laying a hand on her son’s forehead. “I daresay he wouldn’t like it.”
“And yet, does he not deserve a gift as a member of this family?” Alastair had asked, smiling. And from another pocket he had produced a small silver rattle. Henry had taken the toy in hand and proceeded to bang it against the side of his cradle.
“Best of luck to the nurse,” Alastair said, laughing. “Come along, ladies. We had better get downstairs before our guests start to arrive.”
Now they stood in the foyer, waiting as the guests strolled in from the drive outside. Ingrid was amazed at the sheer number of people who had come to the Ball this year. It seemed to grow larger and more popular with each passing year, and yet it always managed to surprise her.
She edged close to Alastair. “Who are all these people?” she asked. “I’m sure there are some here that I’ve never seen before.”
“They’ve come in from a bit farther away than they did last year,” Alastair agreed. “That’s well for us, because it means that you and I will be invited in return to their balls.”
“Are we really going to attend balls for all these people?”
“Certainly not,” Alastair said. “But the more we are invited to, the more choice we’ll have. We can select the finest events, or else the ones given by the people we most prefer, and omit the rest.”
“Strange to think that as recently as four years ago, we weren’t invited to any social events at all,” Ingrid mused.
Alastair smiled. “Well, you were a commoner,” he pointed out, “and I was…”
“No more,” he smiled at her. “Thanks to you. Everyone wants me at their balls now.”
“They don’t want you,” she teased him. “It’s me they want. I’m the one who’s charming and pleasant to be around. You’re an old grump.”
He took her in his arms. “I can’t disagree with you on that count,” he said, and tilted her chin up to his face so that he could kiss her tenderly.
The supper bell rang and Alastair and Ingrid led all their guests into the dining room. A new table had been purchased for the occasion, and it was a good thing, too—the old dining room table would have been far too small for the current assembly. Everyone found a seat, and the meal was served.
Ingrid found that she could not take her eyes off of Grace as the courses were laid out. Though the girl had fine fare at every meal, the food at a ball was always exemplary, and tonight’s was no exception.
Tureens of soup and brightly colored vegetables swimming in sauces. Beautiful assortments of freshly picked fruits, arranged in fascinating patterns. Platters of fish, each catch as big as a man’s arm. And in the very center of the table, a massive plate of venison.
The guests helped themselves to food and began to eat.
Ingrid had been seated away from the rest of her family, a custom she had grown to accept over years of hosting balls. She could still recall her anxiety on the occasion of the first Farbridge Manor Ball, her worry that she would have nothing to say to her dinner partners and that they would judge her for her unusual eyes.
Today, though, she had hardly given her eyes a moment’s thought. There was far too much else to consider.
She had been seated between Lady Hartford, who had become a special friend of hers over the years, and Lady Kensington, the ton’s most notorious gossip. Ingrid looked forward to a supper of lively conversation with her friend, but almost immediately, Lady Kensington captured her attention.
“The fourth Farbridge Manor Ball,” she gushed. “The Manor is more and more finely appointed each year, Lady Farbridge.”
“I thank you,” Ingrid said politely. “And Lord Farbridge and I are very pleased to see you and your husband in attendance once again, Lady Kensington.”
“Of course,” Lady Kensington said with a little laugh. “Why, we look forward to this event all year! You must tell me who provides your flowers.”
“We patronize the flower shop in town,” Ingrid said. “And a few of the blooms are from our own garden, of course.”
Lady Kensington shook her head. “I cannot believe it!” she said. “You must be bringing them in from somewhere else. Why, I visit that flower shop almost every day, and I’ve never seen anything so fine.”
Ingrid smiled at Lady Kensington apologetically and made to turn to her other side, to engage Lady Hartford in conversation.
But Lady Kensington stopped her with a hand on her arm. “Do you know what’s said about you?” she asked.
Ingrid felt a chill run down her spine. “What’s said about me?”
Her anxiety must have shown on her face, because Lady Kensington hurried to reassure her. “It’s nothing bad. Only that perhaps you’ve brought good fortune to Farbridge Manor.”
Ingrid could scarcely believe what she was hearing. “Good fortune? Me?”
“Your eyes are so rare,” Lady Kensington said. “Some say they are a charm. I’ve heard talk that you were blessed by a fairy at your birth.”
“My son’s eyes are just the same as mine,” Ingrid said. “It’s not so rare as one might thing.”
“Perhaps your son carries your charm as well, then,” Lady Kensington said. “By all accounts he is a handsome boy.”
“That’s certainly true,” Ingrid admitted, thinking with fondness of Henry’s perfect face.
“And it’s certainly true that Farbridge Manor was a place of gloom and misfortune before your arrival here,” Lady Kensington said. “Lord Farbridge had been absent from the social season for years. No one quite knew what had become of him, and of course we all worried for his daughter.”
“Grace has never given me so much as a moment’s worry,” Ingrid said. She did not appreciate hearing Grace spoken of. “She is a perfect child.”
“Well, yes, precisely!” Lady Kensington said. “Perhaps it’s your influence that has made her so.”
Ingrid was spared having to answer by the servants, who at that moment threw open the double doors that led to the ballroom.
Lord Lamont appeared at her elbow and extended his arm. “Will you indulge me in a dance, Lady Farbridge?”
Ingrid smiled gratefully and took his arm, allowing him to lead her through the doors and onto the dance floor.
“That conversation looked rather onerous,” Lord Lamont said as they took their places and the music began to play. “I always find Lady Kensington something of a trial, myself.”
Ingrid looked back at the door and saw that Lady Kensington was watching them. “The poor woman has very little to talk about,” she said. “I suppose she feels a need to content herself with the affairs of others.”
“And yet you invite her to your ball.”
“She is a welcome guest in our home,” Ingrid said. “She may be a trial at times, but she is never cruel, and we all have our flaws. I believe her to be worthy of my friendship, whatever else she may be.”
“You’re a remarkable woman,” Lord Lamont said, smiling.
The song came to an end, and Ingrid and Lord Lamont parted. Ingrid was making her way toward a servant to claim a glass of wine when her hand was captured in passing, and she turned to see Alastair smiling at her.
“There you are,” he said. “I had hoped to claim the first dance with my wife.”
She turned happily into his arms. “You know that I had to tend to our guests,” she said, allowing him to pull her close. “With whom did you dance?”
“With Grace,” he said, smiling. “But her hand has been claimed by young Mr. Caldwell there, the son of the Viscount.”
Ingrid looked where Alastair was pointing and saw a young man, maybe two or three years older than Grace, dancing with her rather awkwardly. They were both smiling, though, and it was clear to Ingrid that Grace was enjoying herself.
“She’ll have suitors soon enough,” Ingrid said with a smile.
Alastair let out a groan. “Let it never be so.”
Ingrid laughed at his remark. “She’s a beautiful girl. You know she is.”
He nodded. “Every day she looks more and more like her mother.”
He so rarely spoke of his late wife, and when he did, it was almost never with a smile. Yet he was smiling now, looking at his daughter, and Ingrid felt a great swelling of happiness for him.
He looked back at her. “And then there’s Henry, of course,” he said. “He also looks very much like his mother.” And he reached up and tapped her cheek, right by the corner of her eye.
“How unlucky for you that you have yet to produce a child who resembles you,” Ingrid teased him.
Alastair led her through a slow spin, then pulled her into an embrace. “I suppose I’ll just have to keep trying,” he said.
Ingrid felt a happy fluttering of anticipation at the thought of another child. Every day Henry grew older, and every day he was more and more of a marvel. And yet, she missed those early days, those days of having a newborn babe in her arms.
The music came to a stop and partners changed, but Ingrid did not leave her husband’s arms. She gazed up at him adoringly, and he returned her gaze.
And as the band struck up the next song, he bent to kiss her, right there on the dance floor, where everyone could see them.
Ah, before you go...
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