The End Of The Rainbow – Episode 69

Constance stared at her reflection in the mirror. It was true, as her mama never tired of telling her, that she was too pale. Absently, she opened a pot of rouge and began to rub a little into her cheeks. She supposed that she must make the effort tonight. It was the last big ball of the season, the occasion when all the efforts of all the fond mamas with marriageable daughters came to fruition.She sighed, and turned to look at the bed. It was a tumble of ball dresses, tried on and rejected, one by one, by a girl who wished she was a thousand miles away from London with all its posturing, its airs and graces and its self-satisfied young men.“Constance, why aren’t you dressed? We leave in less than half an hour!”Louisa had entered the room. Rustling and glittering in royal blue brocade and diamonds, she bore down on her daughter like a ship in full sail. Two spots of red on her cheeks signalled that she was more than usually annoyed. Constance turned, pulling her Chinese silk robe round her.“Do I have to go, Mama? I have the beginnings of a headache.”“Fiddlesticks! Of course you have to go, Constance, this is the biggest event of the season. Nigel, Oliver, oh, and Ralph you know, the son of that landowner in the Cotswolds they’ll all be vying with each other to lay claim to as many dances as possible on your dance card. You simply cannot disappoint them! As for my dearest friend, who has lavished hospitality of the very best on both of us, who has introduced you into London society . . .”She paused for breath and sat down heavily, cheeks flushed.“You cannot throw all that back in her face. I simply will not allow it!”Constance almost felt sympathy for her mother. All of this London parade meant so much to her. Would it not be both cruel and ungrateful to dash her hopes?However, she reflected, it would be just as cruel falsely to raise her hopes by pretending it had all been hugely enjoyable, and that something lasting might come of it.“Don’t fret, Mama. Of course I will go with you. But would you mind terribly if we were to arrive a little late?”Louisa stared at her uncomprehendingly.“We could claim all the advantage, you see. Why not ring for some tea, which would give us a chance to discuss which of the ball dresses I should wear? Then neither of us will be rushed, and at the end of it we can make something of an entrance!” She smiled mischievously. “After all, Mama, you’ve always told me that one’s entrance is most important when making a success of a grand occasion.”Her attempt at distracting her mother seemed to work. Louisa managed a smile.“I was hoping that you’d wear the aquamarine silk. It is perfect for your colouring, and you could add your grandmother’s pearls.”Constance, tugging the bell-pull by the bed, nodded.“The aquamarine silk it is, Mama. Meantime, some tea.”As they drank their tea, Constance turned the conversation to Letty.“We must make preparations to return home after this evening, Mama. There is so much to do, to prepare for Aunt Letty’s wedding to Sir Hugh.”Louisa sniffed.“There was no need for Letty to distract you with news of her wedding and the request that you act as bridesmaid just as you were leaving for London. I think that it was a little selfish of her.”Constance put down her cup.“Oh, Mama, she wanted us to be the first to know and, if she’d waited until we got back from London, the news would have spread. You have been her dearest friend since you married dear Papa all those years ago, and I’m her only god-daughter.”Louisa had the grace to look shamefaced. There was a small silence before she replied. “The ball tonight may well be the last big occasion of the season, but there is every reason to linger longer and savour London. The theatre, opera, innumerable soires! Letty and Hugh are planning a spring wedding. If we were back at the Grange for Christmas, it would be time enough for preparations to be made.”Constance chose diversion as the best course of action.“Mama, dear, if you go downstairs and ask the coachman to wait for just a short while, I will finish dressing and we can be on our way.”Waiting in the hallway, Louisa looked up as her daughter slowly descended the curving staircase, in low-necked aqua silk, pearls glowing at her throat and studding her silver-blond chignon. Louisa’s breath caught in her throat. Her little girl had gone for ever. In her place was a beautiful, poised young woman.


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