December 04, 17--

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Letter XVI [Sent]

04 Dec 17--

Dearest Hannah,

If you were to see me now, I am sure that you would not recognise your beloved friend. I am bedecked in general finery, far above my station, having borrowed a gown from one of the ladies here, who sports only the latest of fashions, and am, furthermore, adorned with the gloves, accessories, trinkets – expensive etcetera – that truly ought to furnish another. Oh! But I should mention that I am in residence in the capital and staying at the Marquis' quarters in the P------ de R------. I expect you to have heard by now however; and will surely have seen the letter I posted to mama and papa not four days ago, with exuberant tales of my wanderings around the city. I am afraid I am not in the spirit to recount them again. You see, my darling Hannah, I have been most foolish and can only think to write to you in the hour of uncertainty, I hopes that you will receive my letter kindly and into your utmost confidence.

Yesterday morning, that is where I shall begin, I received a visit from a one Mr. S--- who I had lately made the acquaintance of, at a tea the Marquis had hosted, and then promptly forgotten about after the occasion. He had called to offer me a ticket to the next H-------- assembly. I thanked him, but desired to be excused accepting it: he would not, however, be denied, nor answered; and, in a manner both vehement and free, pressed and urged his offer, till I was wearied to death: but, when he found me resolute, he seemed thunderstruck with amazement, and thought proper to desire I would tell him my reasons. Obvious as they must surely have been to any other person, they were such as I knew not how to repeat to him; and, when he found I hesitated, he said, "Indeed, Ma'am, you are too modest; I assure you the ticket is quite at your service, and I shall be very happy to dance with you; so pray don't be so coy."

"Indeed, Sir," returned I, "you are mistaken; I never supposed you would offer a ticket without wishing it should be accepted; but it would answer no purpose to mention the reasons which make me decline it, since they cannot possibly be removed."

This speech seemed very much to mortify him; which I could not be concerned at, as I did not choose to be treated by him with so much freedom. When he was, at last, convinced that his application to me was ineffectual, he addressed himself to our Parisienne domestique and begged she would interfere in his favour; offering at the same time to procure another ticket for herself.

"Ma foi, Sir," answered she, angrily, "you might as well have had the complaisance to ask me before; for, I assure you, I don't approve of no such rudeness: however, you may keep your tickets to yourself, for we don't want none of 'em."

This rebuke almost overset him; he made many apologies, and said that he should certainly have first applied to her, but that he had no notion the young lady would have refused him, and, on the contrary, had concluded that she would have assisted him to persuade the Parisienne herself.

This excuse appeased her; and he pleaded his cause so successfully, that, to my great delight, he gained it, and the Parisienne promised that she would go herself.

Mr. S--- then, approaching me with an air of triumph, said, "well, Ma'am, does that also indicate your attendance?"

Before I had a chance to reply, the Master entered. "Attendance?" he asked.

"For the H-------- assembly," the Parisienne said.

"Perhaps I shall join two, if the ladies of the household insist on going."

I had no opportunity to disabuse him of this notion as Mr. S---- stammered out his utter rapture at having the opportunity to invite a Marquis to their humble gathering. This went on for some time until finally I was forced to accept my defeat and quit the room. Later, when I ventured, in the most humble manner, to excuse myself, and represented the impropriety of accepting any present from a man so entirely unknown to me, the Parisienne laughed at my scruples; called me a foolish, ignorant country-girl; and declared that the gentleman had only invited me as a pretence to know more of her. I do not believe she meant this to console me, but I was more than a little mollified and did not want to embarrassment of explaining my absence to the Marquis who appeared to only have deigned to go for our benefit.

Today was the day and, having nothing to wear, I was very kindly offered the aforementioned apparel by a lady of the court who is far too generous in such matters. I had a number of costly baubles, which I had no intention of accepting from my benefactor, but which, I am sorry to admit, I thought that I might don once for the ball before insisting that they be returned. It was quite a sight to see how the Marquis was flocked once people discovered his presence, and he was surrounded by the ring of admirers at least three bodies thick! I was annoyed when Mr. S---- insisted, in his regrettably forward manner, on filling up my dance card and thought it very bad of the Parisienne who had immediately been taken by some other young gentleman and had completely disregarded the first who she was meant to lavish with attention. It was the third dance when the Marquis cut in; he also seemed grated, the novelty of the attention probably having waned after he had finished shaking the hand of every person in attendance. "You have an admirer," he observed. I was distracted by the sudden revelation that I was dancing with the Master. Discomfiture made me awkward and my performance was poor; "perhaps a refreshment?" I said, once the music ceased.

"You will not have another?" he asked.

"Do not tease me," I cried.

"Had I known it was just the one, I would have bribed the conductor for a waltz."

Shortly after, I feigned a headache and he willingly agreed our return whilst the Parisienne, who had moved onto yet a third gentleman, rejected the idea when I approached her. "One day, Madam, you will learn the business of the world," she told me when I took my leave.

What happened next is – but you must, dear Hannah, you must not, I implore you, breathe a word of what I am about to write. I have been – I am - terribly imprudent. And yet I thought it all to be a secret, that I only nursed in the dark of night, too cold and alert to sleep; when my thoughts were not my own and yet, all at once, truly mine own. Dare I say more? I do; I must; I shall write on. There was something about the atmosphere as we left that ball - I cannot tell you whether the night was foul or fair; in descending the drive, I gazed neither on sky nor earth: my heart was with my eyes; and both seemed to migrate to the Master's person. We sat in the carriage, aside one another, and I schooled myself not to speak, least I might somehow reveal myself. And then – I felt warmth cover my palm that was so careless laid flat against the seat. I looked down, bemused to see his hand had been placed, deliberately, upon my own. I know that I should have moved away, or at least looked at its owner in reproach, but I was too overcome with a dangerous feeling, that paralysed my will to move and had me sit in silence, concentrating on nothing but the roughness and heat of that bold appendage. The touch was only broken when we finally arrived at the destination and the footman opened the door, at which point I snatched my hand away guiltily. I could scarcely look at the Marquis when he, with such casualness that I thought I had fabricated the whole incident, bid me goodnight. Fleeing to my room, I have done nothing since but dwell on that hand, that gesture; and speculate and postulate and derive. What shall you say to this Hannah? I believe that I do not know; you may lavish blame upon me, I certainly could not blame you for doing so, but I cannot help the swelling of my heart that sings with a sensation that it should not.

There you have it; did I not forewarn you of my immense folly?

With love, 

C.B. 

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