‘Percy! My maid didn’t announce you!’ My heart crashed. I now knew things about Percy Blakeney and I felt shocked, uncomfortable. Even scared until I recalled the numerous kindnesses from he and Marguarite when I first moved to Veniche.
With all this talk of balls and dancing, I (this is me, mesmered, this time) tried to think back to when balls first held a fascination for me. And perhaps it was when television came to our home when I was young. There were wonderful old movies, costume dramas where dashing officers with pristine white regimental jackets would hold beautiful women in their arms and sweep around massive dance-floors, the gowns of silk rippling as the couples spun ever faster.
This most superb backstory for The Masked Ball has been posted on:
I urge everyone to go to vvb32’s blog and see the complete post. Thanks velv, for getting into the spirit.
Rebecca Bingham takes up the flag and continues The Masked Ball:
Bacigalupo watched Sarina step beneath the overhanging branches of the large tree. His hand sketched a quick sign and the shadows deepened, as though a dark curtain had been drawn around the two figures, concealing them from view. Turning away, he unhurriedly walked to the fountain, where Parthenope awaited him. They exchanged a conspiratorial look.
Pat takes a small and well-earned break from writing chapters for The Masked Ball and offers something different instead:
For someone like me, interested in both miniatures and the Eighteenth Century, there is no more wonderful book than T. H. White’s MISTRESS MASHAM’S REPOSE. Like most American girls, I read it at about the age of ten, the same age of the book’s heroine, and it instantly became a defining part of my life.
“Maria was ten years old. She had dark hair in two pigtails, and brown eyes the color of marmite, but more shiny. She wore spectacles for the time being, though she would not have to wear them always, and her nature was a loving one. She was one of those tough and friendly people who do things first and think about them afterward.”
To begin with, what was marmite? Did people still call glasses “spectacles”?
Maria lives in a vast, crumbling, Gormangast-like 18th century house, her parents dead, ruled by the petty tyranny of her governess and the local vicar:
“…built by a friend of the poet Pope, and it was surrounded by Vistas, Obelisks, Pyramids, Columns, Temples, Rotundas, and Palladian Bridges,”
I knew by now that this book wasn’t going to wait for me, and that I would have to scramble to keep up. But how could I put it down, when such tasty crumbs tempted me onward?:
“ Both the Vicar and the governess were so repulsive that it is difficult to write about them fairly.”
This was a long way from Nancy Drew.
Maria wanders the enormous abandoned estate, finding her own entertainment, and one day, playing Pirate on a small island in one of the artificial lakes, leads the story, already strange enough to an American ten year old in the ‘50s, right down the rabbit hole: she finds half of a walnut shell with a live baby in it.
A Professor who lives in a remote part of the estate figures out the baby’s origin: a whole society of Lilliputians, escaped from GULLIVER’S TRAVELS, have secretly colonized the tiny island, and now their secret is at the mercy of a ten year old human girl.
The story has a purpose: Maria struggles to do the right thing by people over whom she has power, as she opposes those who have power over her. But what makes the story so fascinating is the book’s glittering texture, informed by White’s great knowledge of, and affection for, the late 18th century:
The castle’s dungeon: “In one corner stood the Rack: the improved pattern, perfected by the villian Topcliff.”
The castle’s collonade: “where the great poet Pope himself had walked with William Broome, on the night when he was persuading the latter to persuade Tonson to publish a letter from Lintot, signed however by Cleland, and purporting to have been written by Bolingbroke, in which Lady Mary Wortly Montague was accused of having suspected a Mr. Green of persuading Broome to refuse permission to Tonson…”
Some idioms at the end of a Lilliputian-English dictionary: “Pray order me a Dish of Coffee.” “Odd-so! I have broke the Hinge of my Snuffbox.” “Come, Gentlemen, are you for a Party at Quadrille?” “Madam, the Chairs are waiting.”
T. H. White wrote two other small masterpieces of late eighteenth century lore, THE AGE OF SCANDAL and THE SCANDAL MONGERS. Both are out of print, but a search of ABE will turn them up. They are both enchanting, but MISTRESS MASHAM’S REPOSE is enchantment itself.
I wrote to Robin and told him all, finishing with my love to the Lady Marion, his wife. I sent it by secret messenger and demanded the man wait for a reply and thankfully only a few days passed before I received a packet. That’s the advantage of speedy caravels and the best and most fleet Raji horses.
To hell in a hand-basket with everyone. I feel as if I’m in a vice, with Percy on one side and Niccolo on the other. Who can I believe? Niccolo who says his brother is evil? Or Percy who has, with the Lady Marguarite, been my friend since I took up residence in Veniche, but who hasn’t told me that Niccolo is his brother.
Niccolo sighed and lifted the decanter on my writing table to pour a wine, handing me a goblet and beginning to talk. At first all I could do was stare at his magnificent profile, the aquiline nose, the hair that he had cut fractionally but which was clean and touched his shoulders. ‘Lucia, I tell you this in the belief it will go no further than these walls and that if it does, I shall have to mesmer you. Or worse.’
Just a brief bit of housekeeping: The Stumpwork Robe has just secured another five star review on Amazon!
Now, however, The Masked Ball continues:
I, Lucia Brabante, was sitting at my desk, trying to pen more of my novel after Percy left. I was shaken by his vehemence and confused at the almost instantaneous reaction I had, which was to protect Ser de Fleury from one of my dearest friends. I chewed the goose quill. I am known as a writer of what they may call in other places, ‘penny dreadfuls’ and the women of Eirie lust after them and for one strange moment, I felt as if I had fallen into one of my own outrageous plots. Handsome men, dangerous assignations, women with heaving bosoms and so on – ah yes, this very moment in my life had it all and I sighed in confusion.
This is the next Patricia Sweet instalment of The Masked Ball. (Pat, Rebecca and myself are the joint authors of the official Masked Ball story) Pat runs the studio www.bopressminiaturebooks.com
To my most esteemed Friend and Mentor Samuel North or Della Nord as you are known by the Venichese, from one now calling himself Rodolfo West in Veniche: