The Masquerade Ball
Elizabeth skirted the edge of the ballroom, her eyes skimming over the colorful dancers. She had never been to a masquerade before. Indeed, no one back home in Meryton would ever dream of putting on such a display. In London, however—well, it was different here. The music flowed over her as she moved quietly among the wallflowers and dowagers.
Elizabeth adored dancing, and it felt strange not to partake in one of her favorite activities. Yet something kept her here in the shadows tonight. Perhaps it was her unusual attire. Her style of dress was not inelegant; it was, however, completely fanciful. Or perhaps her hesitation had an entirely different cause. Perhaps it was him.
She knew he was out there among the dancers and revelers. Mr. Darcy. In truth, she could not imagine that he would have come to such a gala. Yet she could not deny that she wished to see him here. To see if he, Mr. Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire, would don a costume and attend a masque ball.
Elizabeth paused next to a rather large potted palm. She touched the golden mask on her face, reassuring herself that it was secure. Her gloved fingers brushed over the delicately painted flowers, feeling the paste gems at their centers. She had been particularly proud of her work on the mask. When she had first procured it, it was beautiful in its own right—a shimmery, golden concoction with silk ribbons that tied around her head, securing the mask to her face. It hadn’t quite fit her costume, however, so she had prettied it up with pink flowers around the eyes, each adorned with jewels. Her maid had pinned the ribbons of the mask securely to her hair, adorning each pin with a real flower from the hot house.
The gold ribbon exactly matched the one that wrapped around her waist. Her gown was white in the Greek style, and the ribbon contrasted beautifully. At the base of her hem, pink and golden flowers were embroidered onto the light muslin overlay. The same fabric was used to create the sleeves of the dress—light puffs of sheer gauze that skirted the edge of what was proper. A rosette of real flowers was secured beneath her breast. More flowers were spread throughout her hair, which was piled up rather wildly atop her head. Her natural curls were allowed to spill about, being only loosely pinned.
Satisfied that her mask was secure, she lowered her hands. And she saw him—Mr. Darcy. He was across the room, standing next to a palm that matched her own. And he was staring right at her. She could not say how she knew it was him from such a distance. Yet the certainty of it burned in her center as she watched him watching her.
Her breath caught in her throat. She found herself unable to look away as he roused himself from his relaxed posture and began moving towards her. He was dressed impeccably in a tailored black coat, linen shirt, and perfectly knotted cravat. His silk pantaloons and white stockings were impeccable and would not have been out of place at any event requiring full dress.
Yet he was not without adornment for the masquerade. He wore a strip of blue silk that moved like water as he stalked toward her. It draped from his shoulder around his torso, and over one arm. The blue silk matched his deep blue mask. Thin silver feathers arched out from each corner of the mask, giving him the impression of a bird. Yet his mask lacked a beak or the long nose of a plague doctor. Elizabeth tilted her head to the side, taking in his full appearance and trying to decipher his costume.
He was but a few feet from her now, and she forced herself to breathe. Did he recognize her? He paused a few feet in front of her and offered a low bow.
“Good evening, madam” he said, his deep voice washing over her. Everything was so strange, so different this night.
“Good evening, sir.” Elizabeth dipped a curtsy and looked up into his face, trying to discern whether he recognized her despite her costume. He had certainly spent time staring at her in the past, perhaps he could recognize her form? The thought sent a flush of heat to her skin.
“Are you enjoying the masquerade?”
“I am, sir. The costumes are quite fascinating. I have been making a study of the couples on the floor. There appear to be quite a few kings and queens in residence this evening.”
He turned his head toward the dancers, following her gaze. When he turned back, the slightest of smiles tugged at his lips. “Would not your examination be improved by closer proximity? Shall we join them so you may continue your study?”
He held out his hand to her, and she took it without thinking. As Elizabeth walked toward the dance floor, a sudden thought occurred to her. What if this man was not Mr. Darcy after all? It was a masquerade—perhaps he was just a man of similar build. Her heart gave a little stutter of alarm. His voice had seemed so familiar. But was she just wishing it to be so?
She glanced up at the gentleman’s face as they positioned themselves on the edge of the sea of dancing couples. It was a waltz, and the man across from her put his arm around her waist, clasping her hand and raising their joined arms above their heads. Her eyes connected with his and she knew. This man was without question Mr. Darcy. No one had ever looked at her with the same intensity, and she admitted to herself in that moment that she would know him anywhere by his eyes alone.
He guided them gently into the swirl, and they began to waltz. Their movements practiced and easy, he looked down at her, taking in the flowers in her hair, on her mask, and beneath her bosom.
“Flora, the goddess of flowers.”
It was a statement, not a question. She blushed with pleasure. The care she had taken with her interpretation of the Greek goddess had been worth it. His eyes showed his appreciation of her costume, and she smiled at him, acknowledging his successful guess.
“And you, sir?” she asked, looking again at his mask, which she could see now was decorated with silver swirls that extended to the silver feathers. The feathers themselves had been curved to look like…wind. “Zephyr,” she said, so softly she wasn’t certain he could hear her over the noise of the ballroom.
Zephyr, the Greek god of wind. Flora’s mate and companion in the mythological world of nymphs and magic. The set ended, and he moved them smoothly off the dance floor, not releasing her hand. It was a moment before Elizabeth realized he was leading them to the gardens beyond the ballroom.
As they stepped outside, he quickened his pace, moving swiftly past the other couples in the garden until he reached a secluded alcove surrounded by jasmine vines. They were blooming bright white in the moonlight, and their intoxicating smell surrounded them.
Without a word, he drew her to him, his hands slipping softly over her arms . He caressed her neck, stopping finally as he held her face. For a moment, he simply gazed at her, rubbing his thumb across her cheekbone. Then he bent his head to hers, and she could feel the heat of his breath on her skin before his lips captured her mouth in a kiss of passion. His lips moved with hers for several long, delicious moments before he drew back.
“Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth said, her voice a little breathy. “This is rather shocking behavior.”
“I do not deny it, my love. Shall we go home, Flora? I find I should like to have you all to myself this evening.”
She leaned close to him, reaching up to kiss his lips. “I thought you would never ask, my Zephyr.”
Mr. and Mrs. Darcy entered their carriage a while later, having spent the intermittent time waiting blissfully in the garden. As Elizabeth settled her skirts, her husband moved to sit beside her. He took off his gloves, letting his bare hands move over her collarbone and up her neck.
“You look so beautiful this evening,” he said.
Elizabeth smiled in pleasure. “I was hoping you would recognize me. I took great care with my costume.”
“I can attest to the truth of that,” he said. “Did you know it was I who approached you?”
Elizabeth knew him well enough to detect the hint of uncertainty in his voice. “Do you think I would have allowed you to squire me through a waltz if I did not?”
“I hoped that you knew me as surely as I knew you. I saw you, and I knew.”
“How?” she said in mock indignation. “I took care to cover my face. You have never seen this dress before, and my hair is not in the usual style. You were very sure of yourself, sir. What if I had been some other unsuspecting maiden?”
“I would know you in the dark, my Flora,” he said. His eyes wore the intense expression of a man desperately in love. Elizabeth leaned forward and kissed him, her lips hungry for his touch.
After a moment, she drew back, placing her gloved hand on his chest. “Did you peek in my dressing room? How did you know to dress as Zephyr?”
“I most certainly did not peek, madam. It was an educated guess. It is my hot house, too, you know. Besides, I know you have been reading Greek mythology recently.”
“Bother! I might have known you would have tried to decipher my costume before the ball. That is just the sort of man you are.”
“As well you know,” he said, capturing her lips once more.
“I shall take greater care at the next masquerade.”
He laced his fingers through hers. “I am not sure I enjoyed arriving separately. I had to watch all manner of men as they admired you openly. If you arrived on my arm, they would at least have to conceal their reaction to your beauty.”
“You flatter me, my love.”
He pulled her to him once more, crushing her lips with his. “I think,” he whispered against her mouth, “that you do not know how desirable you are.”
It was several moments before Elizabeth could reply. “Let us always go together then. I disliked being without you. Though it was fun creating the costume and trying to fool you with my disguise.”
“We shall attend as many masked balls as you wish, my love. Your costume this evening has convinced me of the value of such a party.”
He spent the rest of the short drive home expressing his admiration for her inspired disguise. Flora and Zephyr were never so happily matched as they had been that evening.
What do you think of “The Masquerade Ball” and the waltz? It is quite romantic! Thank you, Brigid, for sharing a bit of a different take on the month of mystery vignettes. It was lovely. Readers, be sure to share your thoughts below to be entered in our giveaway at the end of the month. If you have missed any of the other vignettes for October, you may still read and comment to have more chances to win in the giveaway. The previous posts are “The Pemberley Ravens” by Kelly Miller and “All Hallow’s Eve” by Jan Hahn.
The next vignette will post on Monday.
Books by Brigid Huey