12. Practicing Impertinence

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My eyes flew open, and I looked up to see an upright, elderly military gentleman with an enormous moustache standing before me. Not Mr Ambrose. Definitely not. It was Colonel Remington, one of the many captains and colonels Sir Philip had introduced me to.

And why the heck had I been thinking of Mr Ambrose? He wasn't even here!

The Colonel cleared his throat. Maybe he thought I hadn't heard him.

"Will you do me the honour of dancing with me, Miss Linton?" he repeated.

"Err... no," I said.

He turned a bit red in the face, and went away, looking rather affronted.

Hm... Perhaps that had not quite been according to etiquette? I racked my brains, trying to remember my aunt's lessons. Hadn't there been something about a lady never being allowed to refuse a dance unless she had already promised it to another gentleman? Well, if there was such a rule, it was complete bollocks. I should have the right to choose not to dance with whomever I bloody well pleased!

Through a gap in the potted plants I could see Colonel Remington joining a few of his military friends – mostly younger officers. He was gesticulating quite energetically. No doubt he was conveying something he considered to be of some importance.

One of the young men laughed. "Maybe she just didn't like the looks of you," he teased the elder gentleman.

My mouth dropped open. They were talking about me. Me! Well, at least that would ensure that I wouldn't be bothered with any more invitations to dance this night. My lapse in courtesy would spread across the room like wildfire, and surely all those chauvinists would be revolted and shocked to the core. None of the men would even bother to give me a second glance after that.

"I must have a look at that wench," the young officer continued with a wink, and my mouth dropped open a little farther. "Was she pretty?"

I couldn't hear the Colonel's more muted reply to this, but the young officer laughed again. "Come on, old boy, she must have been! And known it, too – quite a conceited little madam, to turn down an officer like that."

He winked at the other young men around him and strode off. I could hardly believe that he was going to do what I thought he was going to do.

Nevertheless, when the dance had ended and the next one was approaching, I saw him striding towards me with a gait so pompous you could have identified him as a young military officer even if he had been missing his uniform, medals and underpants. He was accompanied by one of his friends who had already been introduced to me.

Both of them examined me not unlike one would examine a piece of meat on a butcher's counter. I ignored them with magnificent composure and took another piece of solid chocolate from the plate beside me.

"Miss Linton?" Mr Familiar Soldier made an extravagant bow, and Mr Unfamiliar Soldier followed suit.

"I don't know whether you remember me? I'm Major Rushworth. Sir Philip introduced us."

I did not deign to reply immediately – after all, it was considered impolite to talk with your mouth full, wasn't it? Instead, I finished my chocolate, and then plastered a smile on my face.

"Sir Philip introduced me to a great many people," I replied sweetly. "Most of which my unreliable memory has already unintroduced again. You, I'm afraid, are among them."

It was half-true. I had actually forgotten him. Nevertheless, my memory was usually very good – yet only for things I wanted to remember.

Major Rushworth blushed slightly, but didn't let that deter him.

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