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Posted at May 1, 2020
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Victorian Era Fiction to Get You Through COVID-19 (Chapter 5)

Chapter Five

Mary had made herself scarce for the next few dances after her turn with Mr. Chamberlain. She took refuge in the cool night air on a balcony and prayed that no one would notice her. For a long time, her prayers were answered and she had only been disturbed once by a couple hoping to speak privately who, embarrassed at seeing another person, quickly fled. Mary, uncomfortable in her finery, removed a few jewels and slipped them into her reticule. She also longed to be at home in her night clothes and out of the stiff fabric and corset which corrected her posture so much that relaxation was impossible.

Glancing over her shoulder through the window she saw a great many people dancing and laughing. She sighed and wished she could approach the Farnsworths herself, but knew it was improper to make herself known to a young man. It still vexed her that he had not spoken to her yet, but she supposed it to be her own fault for hiding outdoors. With a deep breath, Mary made her way back into the hall, but stayed outside of the ballroom, unwilling to return to the hot, stuffy air. She peeked in a few times, hoping to catch Mr. Farnsworth’s eye but to no avail. Instead she was soon discovered by another young man she knew who politely asked her to dance. This she agreed to and took his arm, striding purposefully past the Farnsworths to dance in their line of vision.
Randolph, who had danced nearly every dance with Miss Chamberlain so far, was at last interrupted by another man who wished to cut in. He yielded and Miss Chamberlain seemed sad to see him go. As he turned away, he noticed Mary dancing with a young man and staring over her shoulder without the least bit of discretion at Robert Farnsworth. Randolph sighed and knew exactly what his naive sister’s aim was. In attempt to help, he approached Robert Farnsworth and his younger sister Charlotte. Randolph happened to be in the same circles as Robert’s elder brother Charles. This was an easy subject with which to approach them.
“Robert!” Randolph exclaimed delightedly. Robert stood immediately from his chair and shook hands with his brother’s friend.
“Hello, Mr. Kingston,” he replied nervously.
Randolph made a point of kissing Charlotte’s hand before asking after Charles Farnsworth, who was in the country at their family estate in Kent. Glad to learn that all of his family were well, Randolph had rather hoped this would lead Robert to inquire after his relatives as well.
“I see Miss Mary is here,” he said, avoiding Randolph’s eye.
Randolph commented that indeed she was but that she had not danced as often as he thought she might. Robert merely nodded in reply and Randolph pressed him further, asking if he did not intend to dance. It was here that Miss Farnsworth interrupted and said that her youngest brother was far too shy to dance and that all of her elder brothers remained in the country and could not give him any encouragement. Randolph chuckled at this and said he would dance with Miss Farnsworth and Robert could dance with Mary during the same dance if it would make him comfortable. Robert’s face brightened at this idea and he readily agreed to it.
While her brother and sister as well as Mr. Chamberlain were dancing, Ruth was soon accosted by her mother.
“Oh Ruthie,” she sighed in exasperation. “Look at Mary! Dancing with Robert Farnsworth of all people. The youngest brother of a family! He is even less fortunate than we are!”
To Maude, this meant Robert was practically penniless. In the sense of inheritance, this was true. The youngest of four brothers would have to make his own fortune and someone as unassuming as Robert Farnsworth seemed unlikely to make any clever investments. Ruth did not think the titled Farnsworth parents were necessarily “less fortunate” than themselves, however, and reminded her mother of this.
“Does Mary like him?” Maude asked, peering this way and that to watch them dance.
“Well, it’s the first time I’ve seen her smile all night,” Ruth answered. Maude scoffed and strutted away. Ruth was glad of some peace at least but she was again interrupted, this time by Mrs. Johnson. The latter was enjoying herself to the full, giddy as she watched the full dance floor. Eager to find what her young friend thought of Anthony, she pressed Ruth for her opinion.
“He’s very kind,” Ruth replied.
“Kind? Is that all you think?” Mrs. Johnson cried. She smiled, leaning closer to Ruth. “You may tell me what you really think, dear. Isn’t my nephew handsome?”
“Oh,” Ruth said, caught off guard. “Yes, he’s very handsome.”
“He seemed very well pleased with you, my dear!”
“Wishful thinking, I assure you,” Ruth joked.
“No! Not at all wishful thinking! He told me himself after his dance with Miss Sloan that you were the most agreeable dance partner he’d had all night.”
Ruth was again flattered by him and told Mrs. Johnson she was very complimented. She could see her neighbor was already plotting to have them marry by Christmas. She remained skeptical, however, as Mr. Chamberlain was so pleasant that he seemed to enjoy the company of everyone he spoke with, and she could not objectively see any preference for herself in particular. She passed the remainder of the evening avoiding more dances and receiving the subtle looks of Mr. Chamberlain as he took the hand of each of his less desirable dance partners.
Randolph was glad of having finally set up Mr. Farnsworth to dance with his youngest sister. He remained curious about the elder, and soon asked her about Mr. Chamberlain and did his best impersonation of Mrs. Johnson when questioning her. He included plenty of jokes about them being married and then, again as himself, made a comment of their mother and how she should certainly wish to have no part in it. Ruth felt obligated to laugh but knew her brother had accurately described the truth of it all.

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