The Dinner Party

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At last, in early June, an invitation had been extended to the Pearce family to attend a dinner at Ellsworth. Their best dresses were tested, added to and embellished. Their bonnets were retrimmed and their gloves, handkerchiefs and reticules cleaned, adorned and ordered for the evening's festivities. At six o'clock the family's modest carriage pulled up, with Vern at the reins, and they happily departed to Burley.

"My dear neighbors!" Lady Ellsworth cried as they entered the drawing room. "Come in!" She welcomed the women with squeezes of the hands and light embraces. Lord Ellsworth clapped Vicar Pearce on the shoulder, then brought him into the circle where all the men were discussing the latest war reports. He introduced the elder Mr. Lloyd, another cousin of his, Mr. Badinage, and they already knew Mr. Dabney and the younger Lloyd. The ladies received bows and returned curtsies and smiled their pleasantries to Mrs. Lloyd, Mrs. Badinage, and the ladies of the house.

Dinner proceeded apace, with great enjoyment on the part of the young people. After the soup, the fowl, the venison and steamed potatoes, the servants provided a light wine and tartes with fresh cream. Then the ladies withdrew to the blue and gold parlor while the men went for a customary glass of port in the library.

"Dear Phoebe," Amanda said as they settled in a cushioned window seat, waiting for the men to finish, "tell me all the delightful things happening here in Burley Park this past week."

"Delightful? Nay, only the men have had the delight of hunting, fishing, and playing cards every night. Mama has kept me indoors except for one tea on the lawn. She believes I'm too attractive to fortune hunters."

"Fortune hunters? But who of the party would fit that description?"

"Sir Lloyd and Mr. Dabney, while both are of the aristocracy, would not shy away from marrying the daughter of an Earl, not when I have five thousand pounds."

Amanda glanced around, then leaned in closer. "I thought Mr. Dabney had a title, and an estate."

"I believe he does, a viscount's eldest son, and a barony somewhere in Lincolnshire. But what gentleman would not want more?"

"I see." Amanda pressed her lips together, thinking it hardly seemed like the young man who had visited their vicarage three times in the past two weeks. He didn't seem to be the fortune-hunting type... but what did she know of those types?

The gentlemen came through the passage, Lord Ellsworth greeting everyone loudly and clearly in full enjoyment of his port. John, Mr. Dabney, and Sir Lloyd followed, taking up spots near the ladies, and finally Vicar Pearce and the elder Mr. Lloyd entered, deep in a continuing discussion of agricultural exports and the difficulties thereof during the hostilities with France.

"I've been longing to tell you of our visit to Newcastle last month," Lady Ellsworth said to Mrs. Pearce. "We visited with the Earl of Feversham's family, who are somewhat important in the area." She went on to tell of a ball, several dinners, and the dreadful state of the roads.

"The roads, dear Vicar," Lord Ellsworth interrupted. "What did your last meeting conclude about the Great North Road?"

As the men launched into discussions of improvements, the ladies turned back to their own conversation. Eventually the air in the room seemed to stifle.

"Phoebe, dear," Lady Ellsworth said, "would you play for us?"

Phoebe nodded and walked languidly to the pianoforte, drawing Amanda with her to turn pages.

"What shall we play?" Phoebe asked, a small pout showing her displeasure with the request.

"Mozart?" Amanda suggested, looking at one waltz. "Or a country tune? 'Come, Ye Fair Ladies' is my favorite."

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