Welcome to the Masked Ball . . .

Excellencies, Honoured Guests, ladies and gentlemen . . . and charming Others of course,’ the Direttore’s lips gave that curious twist that was a contained smile and so very much his signature.

He threw out his arms, encompassing the glittering chamber.  ‘Such a sight!’  He took a deep breath and smiled.

'He took a deep breath and smiled . . . '

‘I am ever conscious of the efficacy of shortened speeches, especially on a night such as this when we have an orchestra par excellence and feet that are tapping the floor waiting.  I therefore wish only to welcome you and request that you do nothing but enjoy this remarkable evening.’  He smiled again, the black eyes glittering so that he could almost be Other himself and yet we knew him not to be.  The candelabra flame shone on what remained of his exquisitely oiled hair and the large diamond stud in his cravat flashed cold fire.  ‘But just before the festivities begin, and if you will allow, I should like to thank my lady board-members and ask them to say just a word or two.  Sarina?’

Sarina glided to the front of the podium.  She is a tall and elegant woman who is lucky still to have a head of the most glorious nutmeg-coloured hair which was pinned on her head with seductive wisps trailing.  I watched Hugh watch her and was proud.  ‘My friends,’ she said clearly and as ever, lacking in verbosity.  ‘Welcome and enjoy!’

While she spoke, Parthenope took her place at her side and my darling artist friend in her memorable gown with dashing sword, took the audience by the shoulder and shook it, which is really her want in life I suppose.  ‘Oh my dears, do indulge!’  It was an order rather than a comment.  ‘There are things planned for this evening that will surprise the most unsurprisable!’

I took my place by their sides and the Direttore slipped his arm through mine.  I stared straight at Niccolo

'He lounged against a pillar . . .'

who lounged in his leathers against a pillar.

‘Indeed Veniche, dance until you can dance no more.  And to open the Ball may I ask Lady Marie Burton to join the Direttore as they open the ball to the strains of The Etcetera?  Direttore?  Lady Marie?’  I indicated the dance floor and the orchestra began to play, the guests taking their partners. I stepped down toward Ser de Fleury . . .

NB: We suggest you go to the Masked Ball tab, then to Dances and then to The Etcetera link.  All competition entries throughout the programme tonight may be uploaded into Home page comment.