Well, here we are…Marissa and Regina are off being serious and writerly as usual and have left me, Penelope Leland, in charge of their blog today. But that doesn't mean I can't have fun and get to know a new friend whom I know you’re all dying to meet as well…so may I introduce Lady Emily Southwell?
Lady Emily, how do you do? For some fortuitous reason we seem to be able to chat even though we live in different times. Can you tell me a little about when you are? England has just been through some interesting times, I believe.
A pleasure to meet you, Miss Leland! I graduated from the Barnsley School for Young Ladies this April 1815, and yes, it is an interesting time. My father, His Grace the Duke of Emerson, has just returned from the Congress of Vienna in rather a hurry. Here England thought they had the madman of the century safely locked away, and what does Napoleon do but escape and rally France into a furor once more! But you don’t have to worry about that in your time. You can focus on the Season. I believe you and your sister Persephone are on your first Season too.
Indeed we are. You and my sister Persy share an quality unusual in most young ladies--dedication to something other than tracking down the perfect (a) hat (b) dance partner or (c) flavor of bon-bon at Gunter’s. In Persy’s case it’s magic…what’s your obsession?
Painting. Truly, I don’t know whether it was the heady tang of turpentine or the feathery touch of a brush that first seduced me, but some of my happiest times have been behind an easel.
Well, all young ladies with any aspirations to culture dabble in water-colors, don’t they? What’s different about your view of art?
My dear Miss Leland, we’ve only just met so I shall forgive the grave insult you just gave me. I do not dabble, and I outgrew water-colors when I was eight. I use oils, bold strokes, dark colors; I bring to life important subjects like the tragic deaths of heroes and glorious, blood-drenched battles. My scenes are so real I fancy I can feel the beat of the drummer calling the march, hear the roar of canons in the distance. When I paint, I quite forget that any other world exists.
Oh, please forgive me--I had no idea! But as a serious artist you must surely aspire to join the Royal Society for the Beaux Arts. That group and its guardian dragon, Lady St. Gregory, sound a bit intimidating. Do you think you’ll be permitted to join?
Well, I quite agree with you that it is intimidating. Artists of the Royal Society are patronized by the Queen and the Royal Princesses, the works admired far and wide. I would be the most fortunate of mortals if I were allowed to join them. I shall have to create the perfect painting, a feast for the eyes, the epitome of beauty and grace, and all before Lady St. Gregory comes to view it at the Ball!
You and your best friends from the Barnsley School for Young Ladies have been given a rather amusing nick-name--won’t you tell us about it and how you earned it? What are your friends like--are they artists as well?
Miss Pritchard, our literature teacher, actually gave it to us. She said we were always together like the little iced cakes the Prince Regent’s French chef Careme created—petit fours. So, Priscilla, Daphne, Ariadne, and I are La Petite Four. And no, sadly, none of my dear friends progressed beyond those insipid water-colors. They have other traits to recommend them. There is nothing Priscilla does not know about Society, including how to deal with young gentlemen. She has only to bat her lashes, toss her golden curls, and they fall at her feet in abject devotion. Ariadne reads everything, from The Times to the handbill on the slave rings of the far east, handed out outside Hatchard’s lending library. She will always have an answer to any question. And Daphne, well, I will only say that I wish I had her seat on a horse and her skill with a fireplace poker.
And what’s this I hear about your social plans for the season? A ball to put all others in the shade--that sounds like quite the event! Tell us about it, please!
It is a wondrous creation, the stuff of dreams. Only Priscilla could have succeeded in such an event. The theme is an enchanted garden, and we’ve rented the Elysium Assembly Rooms and grounds near Kensington Palace. There will be dancing of course, tantalizing treats, and excellent conversation. Priscilla’s already ordered a thousand crimson roses. She was considering having live goldfish in streams meandering down the buffet tables, like the Prince had at the dinner for the Allies last season, but you see his died. I told her that rotting fish, belly up, would do little to set the sophisticated tone we all sought. But she merely said she doubted our fish would be so vulgar as to die before the second set.
Now if you’ll permit me, I should dearly like to ask you about your non-artistic pursuits…more specifically, pursuits of the two-legged variety with elegantly tied cravats and dashing manners. Or maybe “pursuit” is the wrong word…
In my case, pursuit is exactly the right word, as my friends and I have been forced into following Lord Robert Townsend all over London to try to learn his secrets. You see, I was determined to spend the Season securing my place among my fellow artists, and of course I would not forego the ball! But Lord Robert simply could not let matters alone. We’ve had an understanding since we were children, but we haven’t seen each other for ten years. So now he has the audacity to claim undying devotion and demand that we marry at once and rusticate in Devonshire? He must be up to something. He can be charming above all, but I can see through those stunning smiles. I will grant you he is kind on the eyes. He quite puts me in mind of James Cropper, with russet hair the color of the sky at sunset and eyes like the stormy clouds above. Odd how we keep bumping into him. It’s almost as if he were following Lord Robert too.
Or you? Is that a blush I see?
Did you have other questions for me, Miss Leland?
Only one: how can we learn more about your friends, your adventures, the mysterious Mr. Cropper, and the Ball to end all balls?
I do believe Regina Scott has captured our adventures rather well in her book La Petite Four, which is available now from fine booksellers and lending libraries everywhere.
Thank you for chatting with me, Lady Emily. And may I remind readers that all commenters on blog posts this week will be entered in a drawing to win an autographed copy of La Petite Four?