The Richmond Hayes family
Requests the pleasure of your company
at a Ball in honor of the architect
on the evening of Saturday
the sixteenth of September
at nine o'clock at their new residence
no. 670 Fifth Avenue
in the city of New York
Costumes are required
They have all been asking for you," Louisa Holland told Elizabeth, quietly but firmly.
Elizabeth had spent eighteen years being groomed as her mother's prized asset and had become, among other things, an expert interpreter of her tones. This one meant Elizabeth was to return to the main ballroom and dance with a partner of her mother's choosing at once, most likely a young man of enviable, if slightly inbred, lineage. Elizabeth smiled apologetically at the girls she had been sitting with—Annemarie D'Alembert and Eva Barbey, whom she had met that spring in France and who were both dressed as courtesans from the Louis XIV era. Elizabeth had just been telling them how very far away Paris seemed to her now, though she had only stepped off the transatlantic steamer and back onto New York soil early that morning. Her old friend Agnes Jones had been perched on the ivory-and-gold striped damask love seat as well, but Elizabeth's younger sister, Diana, was nowhere to be seen. Most likely because she suspected that her behavior was being monitored, which, of course, it was. Elizabeth's irritation at the persistent childishness of her younger sister flared up, but she quickly banished the feeling.
After all, Diana hadn't enjoyed the formal cotillion debut that Elizabeth had two years ago, just after her sixteenth birthday. For the elder Holland sister there had been a year with a finishing governess—she and Penelope Hayes had shared her, along with various tutors—and lessons in comportment, dance, and the modern languages. Diana had turned sixteen last April with no fanfare during Elizabeth's time abroad. The family had still been in mourning for their father, and a big to-do had not seemed appropriate. She had simply started attending balls with Aunt Edith in Saratoga during their summer stay there, so she could hardly be held responsible for seeming a little rough.
"I'm sure you are sorry to leave your friends," Mrs. Holland said, steering her daughter from the feminine hush of the parlor and into the main ballroom. Elizabeth, in her shepherdess's costume of white brocade, looked especially bright and especially tall next to her mother, who was still wearing her widow's black. Edward Holland had passed away at the beginning of that year, and her mother would be in formal mourning for another year at least. "But you seem to be the young lady most in demand for waltzes tonight."
Elizabeth had a heart-shaped face with delicate features and an alabaster complexion. As a boy who would not enter the Richmond Hayeses' ballroom that evening once told her, she had a mouth the size and shape of a plum. She tried to make that mouth smile appreciatively now, even though she was concerned by her mother's tone. There was a new, unsettling urgency in Mrs. Holland's famously steely presence that Elizabeth had noticed almost as soon as she'd departed from that great ship. She had been gone since her father's burial nine months ago, and had spent all of spring and summer learning wit in the salons and how to dress on the Rue de la Paix and allowing herself to be distracted from her grief.
"I've already danced so many dances tonight," Elizabeth offered her mother.
"Perhaps," she replied. "But you know how very happy it would make me if one of...
Author: Anna Godbersen
Anna Godbersen was born in Berkeley, California, and educated at Barnard College. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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