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Posted at April 30, 2020
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Victorian Era Fiction to Get You Through COVID-19 (Chapter 4)

Chapter Four

Ruth had told her brother of the unusual encounter with Mrs. Johnson’s nephew. Randolph has endlessly joked with her for the remainder of the day about ruining their neighbor’s most desired moment. His sister had naturally discouraged this idea but Randolph was soon far too involved in his own affairs to remember any idea of going through with it.
Until a rather serendipitous moment arrived during which Mrs. Johnson had called on Maude and, requesting that her daughters also be summoned, told the ladies of the Kingston family that they would be invited to a luncheon with Mrs. Johnson and her relatives. This invitation, however, spiraled into a more lavish event with each added detail. The next they heard, both William and Randolph were to be invited – and this is where the eldest child of the Kingston family recalled his genius idea to disappoint Mrs. Johnson.

The next stage of the invitation had Mrs. Johnson realizing that the number of people she wished to invite was far too many for a normal luncheon. So, she thought she should push the date back and have a large dinner party once more families had opened their London homes. That way she could balance numbers much more easily. While she passed this information on to the Kingstons, Randolph could not resist taking a jab at his mother’s shared plot with Mrs. Johnson.
“Why, you mean to say that there will be more rivals pitted against Mary for your nephew’s affection?”
Mrs. Johnson, while fond of jokes, had not quite mastered Randolph’s sense of humor. She was flustered by this idea and insisted she had no intention of inviting anyone more lovely than Mary to this dinner. Randolph enjoyed his teasing of their neighbor on his own, while Maude shot him a warning look as she spoke.
“On that subject, who else will be coming to your dinner, Mrs. Johnson?”
Mrs. Johnson began to list the names of her guests which included the Sloan sisters, which made Maude grimace. They were much less attractive than her own daughters, yet they were rather snobbish and Maude and Mrs. Sloan did not get on. It was only when Mrs. Johnson mentioned the Farnsworth family that Mary began to pay attention. Ruth immediately noticed the change in her sister’s manner and paid close attention to her as Mrs. Johnson finished her list.
The next time she visited, however, Mary was made even more nervous when Mrs. Johnson decided that she should elevate the dinner into a ball. Mary knew this would mean the opportunity to dance with Mr. Farnsworth and her heart began to flutter. Ruth did not look forward to this as she was not a great dancer but as long as her brother would be there to make her laugh, she saw no harm in it. Randolph, meanwhile, was glad to hear of Mrs. Johnson’s having invited some of his friends, and rejoiced in the fact that ballrooms were always full of ladies.
Throwing such a large party meant that Mrs. Johnson could host it somewhere outside of her home, thus removing some of the burden of organizing it on her own. She gave the Kingstons the name of the hall at which it was to take place, the date, the time and any other details she could offer. Maude looked forward to Mary meeting Mr. Chamberlain. Mary looked forward to seeing Mr. Farnsworth. Ruth looked forward to speaking with Mr. Chamberlain again and her brother looked forward to the moment he could spoil his youngest sister’s introduction.
At last, the evening came when the season had truly begun and Mrs. Johnson’s well connected and socially elevated friends could all gather in the large ballroom. Mrs. Johnson had practically invited the whole of London society. So many people crowded into the ballroom that it looked more like a public dance than a private one.
“Better ready your dance card, Ruthie,” joked her brother to her in a low voice. “Looks like you might find a beau after all with such a selection.”
Ruth playfully elbowed her brother in return for his jest. Her eyes soon turned toward Mary, whose color had faded and who nearly trembled with nervousness. This was no great wonder to her sister, especially since Mary had been dressed up to an almost extravagant extent by her mother. Mary’s gown had the most expensive fabric, she wore the most expensive jewels and the bold beautiful colors that she wore were a vast deal different to her usual muted clothing. She did look lovelier than usual, however, and Ruth was glad to give way to her younger sister, that she might disappear into a corner and observe the dancing at a distance.
Once Mrs. Johnson’s eye could finally be caught in the crowd, she shuffled over to them in her usual hurried manner. To no surprise of hers, Mr. Kingston was not among the party and she was most sorry to hear that business kept him too busy for balls. For a moment or two she craned her neck, searching about the ballroom.
“Now, where is my nephew?” she asked impatiently. “He was just here a moment ago. I know, I’ll go and collect my family. If you’ll just be so kind as to wait here!”
Randolph nudged Ruth and grinned at her just before Mrs. Johnson scuttled away in search of her relatives. Mary was beginning to tremble and fanned herself rapidly. Maude showed great concern for her daughter’s well being and asked if she would prefer to sit down. Mary politely refused, saying her nerves could not be settled by being still. She fluttered still further when she saw Mrs. Johnson at last approaching with two ladies and a gentleman in tow. In a proud voice she introduced all parties.
“My dear sister, may I present Mrs. Maude Kingston, Mr. Randolph Kingston, Miss Ruth Kingston and Miss Mary Kingston.”
Each person who was named bowed or curtsied at the correct moment. Randolph giddily anticipated Mrs. Johnson’s introduction of her nephew.
“And, this is my sister-in-law Mrs. Henrietta Chamberlain, my nephew Mr. Anthony Chamberlain and my niece Miss Harriet Chamberlain.”
“I say,” declared Randolph at once. “Mr. Chamberlain looks very familiar. Don’t you think so, Ruth?”
Mrs. Johnson’s brow furrowed and she glanced inquisitively between Randolph and her nephew. She no doubt assumed the worst, believing that Anthony had come across Randolph in some unfavorable part of London at a game of cards or worse.
“Well…I…” Ruth stammered, glancing toward Mr. Chamberlain for help.
“Ah!” he cried as if just recalling the event of the park. “Aunt, I had the pleasure of meeting your friend Miss Kingston just a few weeks ago in the park.”
“What?” cried his aunt in disappointed surprise. “You have already met?”
“Indeed, ma’am,” Ruth admitted shyly. “But only for a few moments.”
Anthony explained what had happened and Mrs. Johnson scolded him for not passing these details on to her earlier. Miss Chamberlain could not help but laugh and begged her aunt not to make herself uneasy. As Miss Chamberlain was both beautiful and charming, it was easy for all to agree with her at once. Like her brother, she had black hair, and beautiful dark eyes though hers were a different shape than Mr. Chamberlain’s. She had lovely pink rosebud lips and a petite nose which added to the delicate nature of her face. Randolph was quite pleased by what he saw, and was surprised to learn that Miss Chamberlain was only two years older than his sister Mary. He asked her if she might save him the next dance, and this invitation was accepted.

Mrs. Johnson appeared rather alarmed that Randolph and Harriet should make a promise to dance while her nephew made no offer to either of the Kingston girls. As the next song was played, Randolph offered his arm to Miss Chamberlain and led her to the waltz.
Mrs. Chamberlain and Mrs. Kingston had fallen into conversation and Mrs. Johnson hoped that her nephew would be so kind as to at least admire one of her neighbors.
“I’m sorry to have disappointed you,” Ruth said, perceiving Mrs. Johnson’s unease. “I should have mentioned our meeting.”
“Not to worry, my dear!” Mrs. Johnson replied happily, though she cast a sour glance at Anthony.
“I am, of course, delighted to be formally introduced to you, Miss Kingston,” he said, directly looking at Ruth. He seemed hardly to notice Mary at all in spite of her bold gown and accessories, and her nervous manners made him wonder if he should not draw attention to her by addressing her directly. Mrs. Johnson was well aware of her dear friend Maude’s wishes, and completely overlooking how nervous Mary was, began to speak about her.
“You know, I believe Miss Mary will have many admirers in the ballroom tonight, Anthony. You’d best get your name onto her dance card while you can!”
Anthony, who had been entirely struck by Ruth’s beauty once more, was brought back to the present moment.
“Of course! Miss Mary, may I?” he asked. She politely assented with barely a syllable uttered.
“And, if I may,” he said, looking at Ruth. “If I may dance with you later, Miss Kingston.”
Ruth almost wished that she could tell him what a poor dancer she was and that he need not feel obligated to pity her with a dance. Still, Mr. Chamberlain was handsome and had such pleasing manners that she could not refuse. The matter was then settled and Mrs. Johnson could be proud to know that at least two dances were to be danced by her nephew and the Kingston girls.
Mary was the first to dance with Mr. Chamberlain but her nerves continued to get the better of her. She had seen Mr. Farnsworth and his sister across the ballroom for several minutes now and neither of them had yet come to say hello. She began to worry that perhaps Mr. Farnsworth was no longer fond of her or that he had forgotten about her completely. However, as he enjoyed the company of his sister and not any other lady, Mary did her best to reassure herself of his still caring for her. As she danced with Mr. Chamberlain, her distracted mind was noticeable and she could barely reply to his questions with complacency and was even less inclined to form her own.

At the end of the dance, both parties quickly excused themselves. Mary rushed away for some fresh air while Mr. Chamberlain made his way calmly toward Ruth. She saw him approach, but he was intercepted by another group of his aunt’s friends and was forced to make their acquaintance. It seemed many young ladies wished to save a dance for Mr. Chamberlain and he politely offered, at what seemed like urging from his aunt, in order not to appear rude. Mr. Chamberlain was wise to put his name toward the end of each lady’s card so that he might speak to Ruth undisturbed. Her clothing and jewels may have paled in comparison to her sister’s, but Mary drowned in all of her finery. Ruth, on the other hand, was able to carry off her gown and accessories with elegance. This seemed not to escape Mr. Chamberlain’s notice, to the surprise of all in the ballroom. Many a young lady of eighteen, nineteen and twenty was in the room, and all sneered at the idea of Mr. Chamberlain preferring an old hopeless spinster to their company.
“Miss Kingston,” he said once he finally made his way toward her uninterrupted. “I believe you owe me a dance.”
“Has the time come already?” she joked.
“I know you must be dreading it. I haven’t seen you take a partner yet.”
Ruth was flattered that he had been looking for her during the other dances.
“I try to avoid dancing as much as I can,” she admitted. “And as I’m sure you have guessed, an unmarried lady of my age is not the first choice for many gentlemen.”
She smiled as she said it, clearly glad not to be an object of prey. Mr. Chamberlain laughed, enjoying her open sense of humor.
“Then you must join me for at least one other dance,” he said.
“I doubt you’ll have time!” cried Ruth. “Every eligible young lady is forcing you to dance with them!”
Mr. Chamberlain let out a hearty laugh but made no reply. Instead, he offered his arm, as well an an encouraging smile, to Ruth which she somewhat reluctantly took. She was relieved to find that the next dance was a slow one and not something she should have to concentrate on. This did mean, however, that her time on the dance floor was elongated. It also meant that Mr. Chamberlain would have to hold her close to him with one arm. Having rarely danced with anyone handsome after the age of twenty-four, Ruth began to feel nervous. Mr. Chamberlain smiled at her and asked her several questions about London, her neighborhood and if she had any friends he should meet. She answered him with composure and made several of her own witty comments at which he laughed. This was a new sensation for Ruth, who was used to gentlemen either being confused or rebuffing her jokes.
“You’re a fine dancer, Miss Kingston,” he told her. “Why did you make me believe you had two left feet?”
“I wouldn’t get your hopes up. It’s only another waltz.” She grinned at him and he laughed again. He continued to look her in the eye but this made her blush and to keep her pride afloat, she looked away.
“So how many gentleman here have you refused to marry?” he whispered. “My aunt has made it sound as though no one was good enough.” He said it lightheartedly and as though he agreed with his aunt’s sentiment.
“Well, no one has ever made any real offer,” she replied, her cheeks coloring again. “But matches were talked of. I didn’t think any of them were well suited to me, to be perfectly honest. And I’m still perfectly happy in my father’s house.”
“Why should you leave a comfortable situation for an uncertainty?” he asked, agreeing with her. This question seemed rather deeper than she expected but its depth was not unappreciated.
“Don’t let it be said of me,” she began in her usual humor. “That I would never venture forward. If I had no doubt of my happiness, I would be glad to marry. But no one has left me free of doubt.”
“Very wise. I suppose many people marry in doubt,” he replied. Then after a sigh and pause, he added, “Or attach themselves too soon for doubt.”
Ruth agreed but without much confidence. No one had replied to her in such a way before. She would have asked Mr. Chamberlain’s own feelings on matrimony but did not for two reasons. First, she did not want him to think her a desperate and forward spinster if she asked. Second, because the waltz had finished. Ruth curtsied and hoped to flee the dance floor as soon as she was able. Mr. Chamberlain also removed himself from the dancing and offered Ruth a glass of something- punch, wine, champagne, anything she liked. She agreed to a glass of punch which he provided. He was about to speak to her further when he was reminded of his obligation to dance with the younger, sillier ladies who he had been introduced to. He bowed his head to Ruth and was on his way.

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