“Do you like dancing, Lady Elizabeth?” Edward asked Elizabeth as they awaited their turn to join the dancing.
“Yes, very much.”
He gave her what she thought was a concerned look. “Are you feeling well tonight, my Lady?”
Her expression turned confused, for she could think of nothing that would have suggested to him that she felt anything other than perfectly well. “Yes, quite well, my Lord.”
His brow smoothed and he smiled. “I am glad to hear it. I suppose you are wondering why I asked. Given your professed fondness for the activity, I wondered why you have not yet danced tonight. Are there so many unpleasant men requesting you as a partner?”
He had noticed that she did not dance. She blushed again. “No, my Lord.”
The dancing reached them, making conversation more difficult. Lord Chelmsford, Elizabeth was relieved to find, was pleased to dance without speaking until the end of the song some fifteen minutes later.
Her relief was moderated when he resumed their previous conversation immediately. “I am intrigued. Do tell me, what reason could a lovely young lady such as yourself, who enjoys dancing and does so with grace and skill, have for sitting down the whole evening?”
She hated her complexion again for being outside of her control. Quietly, so he could barely hear her above the din of the room, she answered, “One cannot dance if one does not have a partner.”
This he took thoughtfully. Before he could ask any more uncomfortable questions, her desperation to not be further embarrassed emboldened her to put forth a remark about the size of the room, in hopes that the conversation might be changed to more impersonal subjects.
To her consternation, Edward laughed aloud, turning the heads of several nearby. “So that is how you would like it. Very well, Lady Elizabeth, I will refrain from questioning you any further. Forgive my impertinence,” he smiled at her.
There was a touch of something genuine in his smile and laugh, so that Elizabeth felt instinctively that she could trust him this night as a friend. It was enough to cause her to relax, and a small portion of her reservation was put away for the night.
When the gentlemen joined the ladies after supper, the Vaughans’ guests gathered around their pianoforte for music. Elizabeth’s performance was immediately requested, and she graciously complied, singing and playing a sweet Italian tune with utmost perfection.
It was around one in the morning when the party broke up and the guests went home. Elizabeth and Charlotte quietly agreed on what a pleasant evening it had been, and then each sister’s thoughts turned to the more particularly enjoyable parts of the evening while their aunt gave a monologue about her observations.
Lord Chelmsford and Lady Margaret’s carriage was the scene of more equal conversation. “So, Brother, what think you of our new neighbors and their parties?” Margaret asked Edward.
“I think them very agreeable people. You were fortunate in your choice for our holiday, Sister,” the Lord replied.
“I noticed you danced every dance,” she teased him.
He smiled. “That is to be expected, when there are more gentlemen than ladies. Are you not glad I am following proper etiquette?”
Margaret returned his smile with great fondness. “Indeed, I am. Already Leicester is improving you, Edward.”
“So it would seem, Maggie.”
“I also noticed that you were my friend Lady Elizabeth’s partner for the only dances she danced,” Margaret said slyly. She had indeed been observing her brother throughout the evening, and had carefully planned her articulation of this particular observation for a moment that would guarantee that Edward would reveal the most of his feelings.
She knew her brother well. He was silent for a moment, turning his gaze to the darkened window of their carriage. She allowed him time to think, and was rewarded for her patience when he said solemnly, “Lady Elizabeth…intrigues me. I desire to know her better.”
Making her tone light, Margaret put a hand on her brother’s arm. “I am glad to hear it. I am so fond of Lady Elizabeth, and would dearly love to see her brought out more. We must set an example for others and make the effort to befriend her.”
“Indeed,” was Edward’s only reply.