Friday, October 5, 2007

What delight to discover in the Friday post an invitation from the Dowager Lady Soliel Snook and Commodore Sputnik to take tea with the appointed chaperones of the Caledon Season- and what immediate disappointment when I realized I would not be able to attend. Not even in Caledon, by the time the appointed hour came around, and so there was little point in regretting. I did hurry back for the introductory ball yesterday afternoon, arriving, despite my best efforts, a little worse than halfway through. The anxiety of locating and fitting a suitable dress really did turn out to be wasted, for I stayed no more than half an hour in the hall itself. I could hardly tell you why. After I had bid everyone good evening, and made some halfhearted attempt at conversation with a few similarly unoccupied guests, I found myself gripped by a curious lack of feeling. Like boredom, but without any logical source- more as if I could not engage myself with what was happening around me. Irritated at myself and not a little uncomfortable in my debutante's gown, I curtsied my way through the crowd and slipped out.
Fortunately for me, her Grace of Carntaigh has some very fine trees. I slipped off my shoes and clambered up. The apples were not quite ripe, so I did not disturb them, but I'm not sure I can say the same for the squirrels.

The windows of the hall were partly ajar, I think, to admit fresh air, and through them I kept time with the orchestra and with the conversation of the dancers, the pleasant rumble punctuated frequently with a giggle or an exclamation from one of the girls in response to some inaudible remark. I began to wonder rather seriously whether I were not being foolish to think that I ought to join them, not merely that night, but every night of the Season. Their Graces were, as ladies will be, gracious enough to accept me despite my warning them of my unsuitability. If I do not go forward, what options are there for me? I'm not mature or experienced or accomplished enough to serve as a Caledon hostess, and would rather forgo society altogether than hover anonymously upon the outskirts of it as if I were afraid. That is one thing, thank Heaven, I am not.
And still, this ridiculous hesitation... but I seem to be hesitating in every area just now, not merely this. So many things lie so near at hand that I can almost feel them brushing against my fingertips, but I demur, ready yet reluctant to grasp them. I know nothing waits forever, and still...
My back and other places were growing quite numb against the tree's hard limb by the time the music of the eleventh set began, but I waited, stubborn and unwilling to leave entirely until the other guests had said their goodnights to each other. I stopped to laugh at myself- and memory supplied the echo of another's laughter, which mingled strangely with mine until I remembered... six years old, on that last unclouded summer, and my mother sending my oldest brother to find and fetch me, which he always could better than anyone else. He knew as the others did not that I hid only for the delight of being found, and knowing it, how he teased me, standing beneath my tree and shaking its trunk (he was past sixteen and strong as a young giant) to hear me shriek with terror and delight. For our grandmother had arrived, accompanied by a veritable caravan of gifts- my sister's wedding was mere weeks off- a surprise arrival, and all I knew was that there would be company for dinner and I didn't wish to have my hair curled. "Little idiot," he called- such was his pet name for me because I willfully escaped our tutors and the classroom at every opportunity- "little idiot, come down from there. Don't you know you're only harming yourself?" Of course I didn't know; I seldom do. In the end he carried me down as I had intended. How much for granted did I take his patience, his strong arms, his caring, his very presence! How much I would exchange for the chance to hear his scolding now. Last night I climbed down by myself as the last of the orchestra's music died away, the three days of sleeplessness slamming into me as suddenly as if I'd lost my grip and fallen to the ground. My own reproaches will have to serve, however inadequately; grown up too soon, I believe in some ways I've failed to do so at all.

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