The young countess wished to speak to the host of the ball, none other than the famed Sir Percival Blakeney. Her aged husband, however, occupied the man's attention, thus leaving the countess to mingle with other guests and try to find something of interest. The hostess, Lady Marguerite Blakeney, caught her eyes. The countess approached her and struck a conversation in immediate fashion, so as to keep the lady's company.
"Good evening, madam."
"Good evening. It is a beautiful day, is it not?"
"Yes, of course! How could an evening in the presence of your husband be anything short of wonderful?"
"I disagree," Marguerite replied, and sipped her wine, "His occasional silence is pleasant to see, but I am afraid it is his presence that strikes stupidity into drunken men."
"You do not love your husband?"
"Do you love yours?"
"Madam, my husband is well over the age of my father. How can I bring myself to love that which I did not chose to wed?"
"Age is no boundary to love."
"Yet do you, madam?"
"Love my husband?"
"Yes. No, I shall not press the matter. As you have not answered immediately, I shall assume your reply in the negative. To satisfy my inquiry, may I ask of your lover?"
"If you do not love your husband, you surely love another man."
"Ah, yes. Of course."
"Do describe him for me, but do not tell me his name. I take great pleasure in guessing."
"Very well." The countess followed her hostess to a round of cushioned seats about the fireplace. The host was conversing nearby in a group of political activists with great fervor, but his attention sunk to silence as he watched his wife sit with the naïve countess. His eyes followed Marguerite's lips and Percy smiled further at the hidden sarcasm of his wife's situation.
"Is he tall?" inquired the countess, "Is he handsome?"
"Oh, yes. He has a wonderful gaze with which he pierces all wit from one's mind, replacing every thought with his own love."
The countess giggled and Marguerite set down her wine.
"Is he rich or famous?"
"Both, I am afraid. He has a great manor with wonderful décor. His taste in clothing is most… peculiar, though highly fashionable."
"How is he in bed?"
"Please forgive me, madam. I was carried away by the excitement of this conversation. From the clues you have given, I understand that I know this man."
"And he lives in England, no?"
"Is he a born Englishman?"
"I see. Is he in England at this very moment?"
"I should imagine."
"Does he know your husband?"
"Not intimately, but he holds strong his ties."
"Is this lover here, at this ball?"
"What is his name?"
Marguerite looked up and searched for her husband. She saw Percy's gaze on her and nodded. The man was close enough to have heard the entire conversation from his place. He further busied himself in escaping the raging discussion of the revolution's effects, and approached the ladies.
"My dear Margot, will you not dance with me tonight?"
"I am afraid I cannot, for I must finish my conversation."
"Really? May I sit in and listen?"
"Well; but listen is all you shall do. Are we agreed?"
The host sat on another chair and nodded.
Marguerite turned to the countess and smiled.
"Please do repeat your question."
Under the combined gaze of the lord and lady, the countess stood.
"I believe I see my husband calling. Please excuse me."
When the girl was gone, Percy seated himself closer to his wife and leaned back in the chair.
"Well," he said, "What is his name?"
"Ah," Marguerite turned to him and extended her hand to his lips, "You spoke."
"Your conversation with the countess has concluded. Will you not tell me?"
"What shall you do with the man?"
"I shall strangle him if he is unworthy of your love."
"And if he is worthy?"
"If he is worthy, I shall revere him and worship him as the hero who could achieve that which I could not. But he is not worthy."
"No man is worthy of your love."
Marguerite stood and took his hands.
"I know of one."
"What is his name?"
"Will you revere him?"
"If he is worthy, yes."
Percy stood and kissed her hand.
"Dance with me?"
"Dance with my husband? No, it is a deed that society will not tolerate. I would much rather dance with my lover, for he has sense enough to know where to step and where not to."
"Give me three guesses at his name."
They walked to the wide window that looked to the front of the estate. Snowflakes fell in disarray, swirling masses of white over a vast blanket of equal blanche.
"I can't imagine who else it may be. Is it a man of my league?"
"Hmm… yes, I do believe it is."
"I give up. What is his name?"
"Why, it is the most wondrous name in the world! He is a lord, you shall be glad for that."
"Truly, do not keep my patience in suspense. It is not good for one's mental health."
"Very well. His name is Percival Blakeney. Do you know him?"
"As a brief acquaintance, yes. Darling, is that not him?"
"Yes, it is."
Percy stepped back, turned, and stood in front of her again.
"Hello, love. Good to see that wretched husband of yours gone. Let him converse with those dreadful men over there. Shall you dance with me?"
"Gladly." She gave him her hand and Percy led the lady to the other dancers.
"Is your husband not the most wretched creature in the world? Perfectly wretched, I should say."
"Yes," said Marguerite, and a smile traced her husband's face, "Perfectly."