The Dance Before
Thanks, Kim - I always have so much fun RPing Ezekiel.--Andy
The other couples swirled by in a riotous rainbow of color, all the taffeta and silks of the trains of the dresses hissing over the dance floor. It was a moderately small dance; Mr and Mrs. Thackeray did not have the largest of rooms to accomplish the ambitions of their daughter Mary Elizabeth who had made it quite plain that she had wanted to invite a minimum of a hundred. Or so the rumors went. Katherine yielded to the pressure of Richard Claremont's hand upon her back, following his lead. He was a quite talented dancer and was usually one of the first to claim a dance from her. From the corner of her eyes, she could catch the supervising eye of Mrs. Fitzhugh. How her father had charmed the widow into being her chaperon was beyond her ken, but the plump, matronly woman had taken to her duty with a passion, dragging her poor husband along with her to each soiree and dance that Katherine could be sent to. Mr. Fitzhugh, having married off all three of his lovely daughters had probably thought that he was done with the onerous duty. However, his wife had taken Katherine under her wing and stood with all the unmovable strength of a Egyptian obelisk, watching her every move and the ones of the young men who presumed to dance with her.
Somewhere in the crush of dancers, her cousin Bertie was trying to charm a young lady. He had also been invited to this dance. Somehow, Mrs. Thackeray and her daughter were under the misapprehension that Bertie might be a good catch. She smothered a grin, but her eyes twinkled wickedly. Bertie would suffer this merriment for only so long before he was drawn out into the night to much better amusement with the wicked women of London. Oh, he would stay as long as it was polite; he had been raised correctly, but he was not a gallant in all manner of that word. Quite naughty, Bertie could be and not always careful in how he spent and gambled away his money. She dared a glance at Mr Claremont and noted that he was enthralled with her as per usual. He was trying to gain her affection. She was very aware of that and knew that the young man was someone that her father would approve of. He was charming, handsome, polite, and well-bred. And well funded.
Mr. Claremont smiled as their eyes met and she returned it with due mildness. It had been four months since she had met the lovely personage of Mr Ezekiel Drake at the museum Board meeting. That he had presumed to introduce himself to her without proper introduction had caused tongues to wag a little. That she had in no way discouraged it caused even more of the tongue wagging. It had caused her infinite amusement at the time and as per usual, scandalized Neecy. Her little butler had almost refused poor Mr Drake's card when his man had brought it; only the fact that Katherine caught him sliding it into his pocket had saved it. Careful efforts on her part and on the part of Mrs Fitzhugh had calmed the gossip. Mr Drake had done nothing but call on her properly since then and she had endeavored to have more parties and dinners as to have his company at her invite. He was a breath of fresh air in her world and she looked forward to their conversations far more than she wanted to admit. But she had been on the best of behavior since then. Or at least as behaved as she could.
That more dinners and parties pleased her chaperon and her cousin was a by-product that made her life easier. Although she preferred quieter evenings to read, paint,sew or practice her martial arts, she had to admit that opening her home for more socialization was a new and wonderful thing. Her father had also given his tacit approval by increasing her allowance. Either that or Neecy had pleaded the case that the poor man would be the caretaker of a lovely, but horribly unmarried Eldren daughter if he did not come up off the funds help her cause to meet the cream of London's upper class. That and be burdened also by his equally unmarried and usually out of money nephew. Getting both children married off to wealthy spouses would be a happiness that both her father and Neecy would share in with glee. Bertie's charms had always fallen flat on her little butler and listening to their gentle, weaponless jousts were now a part of her daily routine.
She curtsied lightly as the dance ended and let Mr Claremont guide her back to Mrs Fitzhugh. The woman was almost beaming as they approached, her nod almost imperceptible as Mr Claremont asked if Katherine would like some refreshments. Her lips parted to answer to the negative, but Katherine caught the minute glare from her chaperon. "That would be lovely," she stated instead of her preferred answer. There was a net being set for her; she had been suspicious before and now she was very certain.
Unhappily, she let herself be taken to the dining room where the table had been covered in savories and comestibles and let herself be given a cup of punch and a small sweet. She was fairly certain that Mr Claremont would be her partner for at least two more dances as would be proper and more if possible. She had no reason to say no. She glanced about surreptitiously. Mr Drake had mentioned that he too had been drafted as one of the eligible men to attend and give his attention to Mary Elizabeth and the other single women. She had hoped to be his partner for two or more dances so that they might talk a little. Otherwise, the cat and mouse games of marriage and courtship were to be hers to suffer this evening. At least she knew now why without a question why Neecy had begun to insist that Mr Claremont be a regular guest at her dinners and why Bertie had suddenly started to show an interest in befriending the man. She sighed softly as Mr Claremont gathered some more food onto a china plate for her, channelling the bad behavior into her punch cup, and took a sip before scanning the room again.
Where was he? She had quite come to depend on Mr Drake to save her from the tedium of proper conversation and boring topics.
Ezekiel Drake entered the ballroom and prayed for the Host to give him strength as he watched the swirling colors dancers move through the pattern of the waltz.
1...2...3... 1...2...3... 1...2...3
He, of course, knew how to dance. His mother would not have let that part of his education be neglected. But he rarely enjoyed these types of gatherings. Dancing with vapid young ladies whose only interest in life was to get married was not terribly appealing to the young Chartist. And the conversation with the male suitors was not much better. He was only here because his friend Katherine was attending. It seemed obvious to him that she, like Ezekiel, did not truly enjoy these parties. But *unlike* him, society would end up pushing her into a marriage that would ultimately make her unhappy. He, at least, could choose to live a solitary life devoted to the Host. The fact that someone so interesting and unique would be quashed by society's rules made him even that more certain that his political stances were the correct ones to take.
He looked around for Katherine. He knew it would be more proper to take some dances with some of the other ladies. But he would at least like her to know he had arrived. She would be his safe haven when he had gotten tired of dancing with young women who would pretend interest but be discouraged by his lack of money or social status.
Katherine made a face behind her fan and tried to remember what the intricate language of the fan she was communicating to Mr Claremont. In her mind, anyone with half a mind would see that she was feigning interest in his words. He really was a perfectly wonderful young man and therefore not appealing at all. She smiled politely, nodding, and praying that the music would resume soon. Then she would be able to tell him that her dance card had other partners for her. He could not refuse. She sent a glance at Mrs. Fitzhugh. The woman was engaged in speaking with Mrs. Hornsby. She allowed a tiny frown. Where was he?
A moment later, a familiar figure walked by the doorway and she gave a soft squeak of joy. "Mr. Claremont? I am quite refreshed. Will you escort me back to the ballroom? I'm afraid that I owe others some of my time."
He stammered an apology which she took graciously and took her back. It wasn't a lie. She did have others on her card. But Mrs. Fitzhugh huffed once she caught up with her, her displeasure plain on her face.
Katherine merely smiled. "Mr. Rhys is next, is he not?" she asked charmingly and fluttered her fan. Ezekiel had been swallowed by the crowd, but now she might find him.
He was dancing with Ms...Penn, wasn't it? Pretty enough and a fine dancer, but she had the wide watery eyes of a cow. And the intelligence to match, he thought. Then he immediately apologized to the Host for the thought. Just because these women were bound and used to society's call didn't mean they had no value in the eyes of the Host. All people with respect, Ezekiel, he thought to himself. He had Ms. Penn in a pirouette, a few of her blond hairs flying loose from the tight coiffure in the process when he saw Katherine. Dancing with a young dark haired man, she looked as excited as Ezekiel did. That is to say, not at all. Her elaborate green dress was quite flattering though and it was clear she put the rest of the women to shame.
As the dancers moved across the floor in their spiraling moves to the rhythm of the waltz, he and his partner eventually came close to Katherine and her partner. As their paths crossed, he looked at her, never deviating from the rhythm and subtly rolled his eyes in a clear indicator of exactly what he thought of the whole proceedings. Then they were swept away again as he lead Ms. Penn towards the other side, all the while holding a conversation on how tiresome London's fog was this time of year. It was all he could do to keep from audibly sighing.
When she caught his look, she crinkled her eyes at him and stifled a giggle. Ezekiel was quite a dancer, his slender figure dashing in his formals. Lydia Penn was a lovely girl, lovely with large dewy eyes that were focused on the man who danced with her and they made a fine couple. Lydia should be looking away from him for the waltz, Katherine noted. It was the proper thing to do and besides it would give her the chance to not look as if she were about to swoon in Ezekiel's arms. But the poor girl had the sense of a rock. And Ezekiel by far had been the most handsome man that she had danced with this evening. She smiled bemusedly to herself. Ezekiel was as miserable as she. But at least they would be miserable together, if only for small snatches of time. When the intricate swirls of the dance brought them near again, Katherine mouthed, "Dance soon?" before she was turned away again.
Ezekiel smiled when she asked him to dance while he was in the middle of a dance with another woman. Her chaperone would be horrified had she heard. Ezekiel, of course, had no intention of telling her. Mrs. Fitzhugh was an unfortunate reminder that eventually Katherine would find someone worthy of her...or at least worthy enough and their friendship would be swept away, lost to the relentless rhythm of the waltz of life. But in the meantime, he could enjoy her company.
He ended up dancing with two more ladies before his name came up on Katherine's dance card. Neither of them was particularly troublesome, but neither was particularly interesting either. And certainly neither had the joie de vive that Katherine possessed. Were she a man, with her wealth, intelligence, and charm, she would be a force to be reckoned with. Instead, she was forced to be dependent on a man for her future. It saddened him, a little.
Finally, his turn arrived and he stood opposite Katherine in the waltz line. He bowed a deep bow and then stepped forward to grab her hand and to place his hand upon her side. And then they were off and Ezekiel had the first true smile of the evening on his face, even as he looked away from Katherine, as was required. "How are you surviving, Ms. Fleming?"
"Poorly, Mr Drake. I am nigh bored unto madness." She was buoyed by the touch of his hand on her back and delighted by his hand in hers. No pretense, no expectations. She finally breathed a sigh of relief and allowed him to guide her around the floor. "So, any of the lovelies catch your eye, Mr. Drake?"
"Hardly," he said disparagingly. "Most of these ladies are as deep as a shallow puddle. It seems I will be doomed...or blessed, depending on your perspective, to a single life devoted to serving the Host. But thankfully, I do not desire money nor do I have great need for it, so I will continue on with my life as it stands."
Katherine, as he already knew, was an excellent dancer, and he had to put forth almost no effort to glide across the floor with her, unlike some he had danced with earlier. "So I take it none of the devilishly handsome young men on the floor have caught your eye. Perhaps I should ask if any of them have caught your good butler's eye?"
"I am being guided towards Mr. Claremont at present. So, Mr. Drake, were you quite smitten with a lovely woman, what could she do that would make you lose interest? Mind you, there cannot be scandal nor can it be too obvious." She looked him in the eyes briefly to assure him that she was serious before casting her gaze demurely outward again.
"Well," he said calmly, his voice slipping into a teaching cadence, similar to what Father Francis used during his childhood lessons, "you must always know your opponent before you engage. Different opponents require tactics. For example, if you were to try and discourage me, all you need do is act like her." And he made an intricate step that turned them so Katherine was facing his last dance partner, Ms. Delia Bickham. She had an almost empty look on her admittedly gorgeous face and displayed a large, obviously fake (to Ezekiel's mind) smile. When he had danced with her, there had not been a single original comment or thought to emerge from her lips and she had expected him to fawn all over her. She had been disappointed.
"But considering the number of men stumbling all over themselves to flatter Ms. Bickham, acting like her would possibly make your situation worse." The music led them away from Ms. Bickham and her current admirer. "If you had not ruled out scandal, I would suggest offering up an opinion on something. Anything. It might startle the young man so much that you would scare him away."
The smile she flashed was too full, far too full of merriment. Mrs. Fitzhugh would just be beyond unhappy tonight and therefore poor Mr. Fitzhugh would be miserable. But she did not care. "Mr. Drake, I'll tell him that I admire the saucy independence of American women and wish to emulate their outspoken ways." She had followed his steps with a sly smile; he was quite the ballroom dancer, Mr Drake. Her stomach had jumped as he swung her with neat, athletic dexterity but she moved with him easily, graceful in his arms.
"That would most likely achieve your goal," he agreed. "I have not yet been to America myself, but I do hear tales of the brashness of our cousins across the sea. We are many things here in England, but brash we are certainly not. Perhaps for the best." As he said this last, the waltz came to a close, and he dipped Katherine gracefully as a final flourish. He took her hand and brushed it across his lips. "Twas a pleasure and an honor, Ms. Fleming."
His legs were getting a little weary from the dancing and his cane had been left by a chair, as was proper. So he needed to find a way to gracefully step away briefly. He tilted his head subtly towards the dining room. "Are you in need of some refreshments, Katherine," he asked quietly. "I would be happy to retrieve some food or a beverage for you."
Her eyes twinkled as she tilted her head at him disapprovingly. "You mean, of course Mr. Drake, that you mean to take me with you so that we may be refreshed together and chat a moment more." She waited for him to offer his arm and rested her hand lightly on it. "Your legs bother you?" she asked softly. She had noticed that sometimes he relied on the cane for more than decoration and had not found a polite way to inquire as to the reason. It was probably rude on some social level, but her curiosity was more from concern than another callous reason.
Ezekiel nodded. "Of course, that was exactly what I meant to say." He led them in the direction of the dining room.
"My legs do, upon occasion, give me some trouble. But right now, I think that I am just experiencing the natural fatigue that comes from dancing. I hope I am not lessened in your eyes because of this."
Solemned by his words, Katherine squeezed his arm with her hand. "Of course not, Mr. Drake. I was just about to bore you with how much my feet ached and beg you to let us sit for a moment once we have something to drink. You will keep me company for a moment before you return me to finish out my card?"
"Of course, Ms. Fleming, but of course. It would be dreadfully rude to do otherwise." With her hand resting on his arm, he led them into the dining room, where punch was being served, among other options. He procured two glasses from a nearby table and poured each of them a half glass. He then led them over to where he had put his cane, a long line of currently empty chairs. Taking her hand, he guided her into one of the chairs and then slowly descended into his own.
"I do appreciate the understanding, Ms. Fleming." Another tally to mark in the positive side of Katherine's ledger, he thought.
"So Mr. Drake, I enjoyed your little tour of the swords of the museum a few short weeks ago. Would you have it in you to guide myself and a suitable chaperone in another tour someday soon?' She sipped at the punch and pondered his slow descent into the chair. As her mind wandered over that bit of information, she dismissed it as unimportant and trite and mentally shrugged it away. Aware that Mrs. Fitzhugh hovered somewhere near, she kept her eyes on her cup.
He nodded and took a sip of punch. "Indeed, I would enjoy that very much. History is a passion of mine and so few are interested in taking the time to look at the past. If they did, they would realize that looking backwards is just another way of looking forwards. The mistakes we do not learn from..."
"We are doomed to repeat," she continued with mirth. "You know, as our society rapidly gains knowledge through science, I think it very important that we find a way to mature ourselves to handle it. We humans are a headstrong and impetuous people and between magic and science is a very narrow road to wisdom. We find new technologies and new magics every month it seems. In the papers, such wonders appear that I have never dreamed of. And yet I believe that we are no more wise than the cavemen that we supposedly evolved from. We need to understand our past to find the clues of how to go forward and not make mistakes with these new toys we create." Her hand found her mouth in horror a moment later. "I don't even know if you believe in this new evolution theory, Mr. Drake. And I have prattled on entirely too much for polite society. Please forgive me."
He smiled at her. "I am not polite society, Ms. Fleming. And it is wonderful hearing someone else who is familiar with Mr. Darwin's theories. I do not know if I believe them, but he certainly puts forth a compelling argument." As he said it, he reached over and started moving the handle of his cane between the fingers of his right hand. Not really a nervous habit, but more of an unconscious one. Whenever he gave serious thought to something, he found himself with cane in hand, the smooth polished wooden handle sliding between his fingers.
"That narrow road to wisdom between science and magic to which you refer? I am very familiar with it. I call it faith. With the Host's guidance and the willingness to be humble, mortalkind can follow that path to true greatness. But these days, fewer and fewer tread upon that path, I am afraid."
She nodded, aware that Mrs. Fitzhugh had begun to hover nearby. "It is hard to find faith in a world where science and magic can heal and perform miracles for a price, Mr. Drake. Faith demands and the price can be hard, but science and magic give with the price far too easy. But the Devil is easy too." She leaned close, closer than she knew she should, and smiled. "I am having a small dinner party next Friday of some people of the more scientific and mystical bent. May I invite you, Mr. Drake? This party will be a bit more intimate than the ones I have invited you before, but I believe that there will not be much talk if you come. And as you ponder, may I ask that you return me before Mrs. Fitzhugh has her husband retrieve me? I'm so terribly sorry, but there is a steep price to be paid here also."
He nodded. "There is always a price to be paid." He stood up and walked her back in the direction of her chaperone. "What is required of us is being knowledgeable about what that price is and whether it is worth paying."
As they got closer, he said, "And I would find it a great pleasure to attend your party. Let us hope it is more exciting than the majority of this affair has been." He smiled and then bowed to her as he eft her by her chaperone's side. "The pleasure of your company excluded, of course."
"Good night, Mr. Drake," she answered gaily and gave her attention to Mrs. Fitzhugh.
"Mr. Claremont would like another dance, Katherine," the older woman announced and Katherine nodded as the music swelled in readiness for another song. Angling her head, she could just see Mr. Drake being swallowed by the crowd as Mr. Claremont emerged to claim her again. If only she could have excluded her company from Mr. Claremont's pleasure, she thought with irritation as she was swept away. Casting her eyes to the clock, she gave an inner groan. There had to be something beyond this weary world she was born into. Her gaze again sought for Mr. Drake. If only she were a man like he. They would have been capital friends and gone on many an adventure.
And none of them would have been dances.
She wrinkled her nose, the only outward sign of her irritation and began to plan how to tell Mr. Claremont about her admiration of the American woman.