Miss Jane Summers had met many elegant people in the months since her debut, but none was more elegant and entertaining than Sir Percy Blakeney. His clothing was always so exquisite, made of fine silk and dripping with Mechlin lace, and topped off by a perfectly-tied cravat. Tonight, he was wearing burgundy, and his wife, the equally elegant Lady Blakeney, was wearing gold. They had walked in fashionably late—Jane wished she could arrive to a ball fashionably late for once, but Mama would never stand for it—and Jane had seen the way the lace at Sir Percy’s cuffs fluttered like a waterfall when he kissed their hostess’s hand.
Young and spotty Sir Edward Hornsby had chosen unluckily to ask her for a dance only two minutes after that, while committing the unspeakable sin of wearing an unstarched cravat that scarcely looped itself into a single knot. Jane couldn’t bear to think of staring at that cravat one moment more than she absolutely must, and had spun him a lie about needing to excuse herself from the next dance to go find refreshment.
She wasn’t actually thirsty, so she was wandering the back hallway instead. She oughtn’t to show her face back on the dance floor until the current dance was well underway, or Sir Edward might realize the depth of her rudeness.
And there was Sir Percy Blakeney! What luck to be able to observe that wonderful man in a quieter setting. He was standing with his back to her, speaking in low earnest tones to Sir Andrew Ffoulkes. Now there was another elegant man, though of course Sir Andrew couldn’t hold a candle to Sir Percy. The lace at his cuffs wasn’t quite as thick, nor was the silk of his breeches quite so perfect; though he certainly knew how to tie his cravat. Jane smiled to see them. It was really too bad that all the real catches were married.
Jane took another step, and both men turned suddenly. How droll, they really seemed startled! She stepped forward with a giggle, readying an apology for her interruption.
“Miss...Summers, was it?” Sir Percy drawled. He stepped towards her and took her hand. “What brings you along this deserted hallway? Not, of course, that a lady as lovely as yourself is not welcome wherever she chooses.” He made a complicated bow, and kissed her hand.
“I was...just getting some air,” Jane said. She certainly needed air right now. She could scarcely breathe with the excitement: Sir Percy Blakeney had kissed her hand! “I can’t dance every dance, you know,” she added with a giggle. Perhaps Sir Percy would understand what she meant; surely a man who attended as many balls as he did would have had an unpleasant dance partner or two in his time. The thought struck her: dance partner! Would he ask her for the next dance? Surely he must be bored here, alone with that dull Sir Andrew, who was handsome enough on the dance floor, but who thought too much. Even now, he was standing quietly against the wall, watching Jane with half-lidded eyes.
“Shall I escort you back to the dance floor?” Sir Percy said after a few moments.
“Please,” Jane said. She gave him her best curtsy.
“Ffoulkes, you’ll excuse me for a minute?” Sir Percy said, and offered her his arm. “I believe the next dance is the minuet,” he continued as he led her along the hall. “I’m sure you will find partners in ready supply for that particular dance.”
So he didn’t plan to dance with her after all. But at least she would be seen with him by all the company. That should snare her a better dance partner than silly Sir Edward.
Sir Percy untangled himself from her as soon as they entered the main ballroom, but he bowed very low and graciously. “Sir Percy!” Jane said before he could excuse himself. “Will you honor us with another of your wonderful poems tonight?” She could still recite by heart the one he’d written about the Scarlet Pimpernel. If she could be the inducement for him to produce another, it would be a moment to treasure for the rest of her life.
“Perhaps, milady,” was all he said. And then he was gone, and Catherine Whitley and Anna Hughes were hurrying up to her to ask what had happened and whether she’d had the chance to touch the lace on Sir Percy’s cuffs. She scarcely had a moment to wonder where Sir Percy had wandered off to again, or why he’d been in that dreary hallway in the first place. And why was he spending time with Sir Andrew Ffoulkes anyway? The two of them must have missed so many dances, standing there talking about something dull. And what was a ball for, but for dancing and enjoying oneself?