Lights. Music. And the whispering chit-chat of Scotland´s high society, trying to be decent at all costs, but at the same time trying not to miss the newest gossip, hot and fresh from whatever source it came from.
Alice had been to some balls before, but never to one as big and glamorous as this. Their father had told them that it was a great honour to be invited by the Duke and the Duchess of Edinburgh to one of their famous parties. In fact, Alice had never been to a ball that was held in a castle!
Her hand clutching Cora´s arm with a death grip, she tried to follow her sister trough the mass of people, talking, laughing and dancing all around her. She didn't know where they were going, but she had already followed her elder and braver sister before she could walk, so she didn't give it much thought. Cora in turn was trying to find a nice, quiet spot where they could actually breathe and maybe watch the dancing. Finally she navigated to an empty space in front of a large pillar and Alice was about to heave a relieved sigh, when she saw a young man coming right towards them from across the ballroom floor.
"Oh no," Cora mumbled before she put on her society face, as Alice liked to call it.
"Miss Munro, Miss Alice, what a pleasure to find you here! I was so glad to hear you accepted my parents' invitation. You really don´t know how hard it is to find acceptable society these days, especially in young ladies. Of course there are only very accomplished young ladies here, you may have already noticed."
He talks like a waterfall, Alice thought. She hadn't noticed anything out of the ordinary; in her mind, all young ladies, and all other people for that matter, were always the same at a ball. She realized that the gentleman in front of her was still talking, even faster if that was possible, and that she had already missed half the story of his life, as Cora would later on tell her.
"Isn't that remarkable? You see, my father told me how he had served alongside your father. "George", he says, "George, Colonel Munro is an excellent man, if ever there was one. And his daughters are of the same breeding, an excellent family indeed. It's a pity Mrs Munro died before her time, a real pity."
With that gaucherie, he finally ended his monologue and smiled at them, looking from one sister to another, as if giving them enough time for applauding him and his conversational skills.
While Alice didn't stop staring (Cora always told her not to, but she couldn't help herself), Cora managed to retrieve her faculty of speech and brought out:
"Why, thank you for your, err, warm welcome, Mr Henderson. We really appreciate it."
And after an awkward pause:
"You see, my sister here isn't feeling very well, all the people and stiff air…"
Alice directed her goggling orbs at her sister in surprise but was wise enough not to object.
"If you don´t mind…"
And with a half-hearted excuse and half a curtsey, she took Alice by the hand and once again manoeuvred them out of an uncomfortable situation.
She will always be able to pull that of, Alice thought proudly.
"This time we´re lucky! And no over-enthusiastic hosts in view," Cora exclaimed when they found another more or less quiet place for them; a small table with two seats, which miraculously were empty. By now Alice was so tired, she even forgot to sigh. How long had they been there, half an hour?
It feels more like half a lifetime.
After a while Cora snapped her out of her reverie.
"Looks like they´re having fun."
Alice needed a second or two to understand what she was talking about. Following her gaze, she saw the couples on the dance floor.
"If you want to dance, I can look for Mr Henderson, I'm sure he'd be more than happy to assist!"Alice offered, or more precisely, threatened.
Cora laughed out loud and shook her head frantically.
"Thanks, but no thanks, I'm not that desperate! You shouldn't mention such dreadful scenarios, it might attract some bad luck and…"
Alice never knew what else, but bad luck had already arrived and rendered Cora speechless twice in a day.
"Miss, excuse me for interrupting - would you give me the honour of sharing the next dance with me?"
Cora had a hard time trying to stifle a giggle, when she saw the young officer addressing her little sister.
"Eeerrr," was Alice's reply after looking fruitlessly at Cora for help.
"I'm very flattered, Sir, but, err, I…I've got a bad headache and need some rest to recover…"
The end of her sentence was barely audible, but her wannabe-suitor seemed to comprehend just perfectly. Disappointment was written plainly on his face like a placard, but he retreated gracefully with a mute "Of course, my lady."
"Phew!" Alice got to sigh after all.
"That was close."
Cora couldn't suppress her laughter any longer.
"Alice! You act as if he proposed to cook and serve you for dinner!"
Embarrassment spread over her younger sister's face.
"You also ran from Mr Henderson," she whispered, eyes fixed on her delicate satin gloves.
"Well yes, he was really annoying. But this one seemed quite nice and I thought you rather liked dancing," Cora argued.
"I do. But whenever I share a dance with someone, they also want the next dance, and the next! And before I know it they will propose to me."
"Don´t you want someone to propose to you someday?"
"Sure, someday. But not someone who doesn't even know me and not because I'm a good dancer or worse," she wrinkled her nose, "accomplished."
Cora smiled and put her hand on Alice's shoulder in sisterly affection.
"That´s very wise of you, Alice. I feel the same."
"You've got Duncan already."
Cora's smile faded like a chalk painting in the rain.
"You know we're only friends."
"Sure. I just don't think he knows."
Fidgeting with her yellow skirt and trying to sound completely neutral, Cora decided to change the topic.
"Soon someone will steal your heart and then you won´t be so smug anymore and tease me. In fact, I shall tease you. That would be a nice change, don't you think?"
Cora really found some pleasure in that idea. She wouldn't mind at all if her sister married before her and got some of the attention that she was showered with in public and always had hated. She just wasn't sure whether their father would approve; he was pretty old fashioned in such things.
"I don't think so."
Alice knitted her brows, trying to imagine Cora's proposition. She never would admit that she became quite jealous of her sister sometimes, because she was popular everywhere and with everyone and seemed to make friends so easily. She, on the contrary, seemed to be somewhat invisible to other people, they didn't greet her on the streets, they overlooked her at diners and usually only Miss Cora Munro was invited to bigger events, which didn't hinder Cora however to drag her little sister along nevertheless. Alice gave up imagining herself being chosen first when her sister was right next to her. No one in their right mind would choose little, timid and mouse-faced Alice over tall, brave and lioness-hearted Cora.
"Alice, are you all right?"
Cora's dark brown eyes looked worried. A pair of hazel eyes grew wide and quickly blinked away unshed tears.
"I'm fine. I was just thinking…well, about some of those silly love stories some people read. They put wrong ideas into girls' heads."
Cora smiled, not fully convinced by her little sister's excuse, but playing along.
"Silly love stories - you mean, like the novel I found on your vanity yesterday?"
Alice gasped, being completely oblivious to the fact that she had left the book there.
"You did? Well, it´s not mine anyway! Lucy wanted me to read it, so I took pity on her and started it - I haven´t finished the second chapter yet!"
"Calm down, Alice. Personally I think it wasn't that bad."
Cora was enjoying this immensely.
Alice couldn't believe that her sister had read the whole book in a day, but decided to be on the safe side and stick to her negative view of the story.
"Maybe not the Prologue. But then this whole affair with the heroine falling in love with a savage Indian - come on! Things like that don't happen in real life. Sometimes I wonder where those writers get their fancy ideas from."
Cora shook her head.
Just read the first two chapters, indeed.
"I remember a time when a certain sister of mine used to tell me that she would marry a prince of a lost world when she grew up and would live in an enchanted forest."
"I was six years old!"
Alice thought of what to reply to that. To tell Cora that she had long since buried her childish wishes and colourful imagination wouldn't have been the whole truth. She did tell herself time and time again that it was foolish to dream of things that would never happen, but apparently that part of her mind had no influence whatsoever when she suddenly found herself in the midst of a beautiful daydream.
„That doesn't matter at all now. I won't let my heart be stolen by anyone before we leave England anyway."
She smiled, pleased with her change of topic. Besides, it was true. They were leaving in less than three weeks after all!
Cora didn't give up so easily.
"There are also men in the colonies, you know."
Alice shot her an oh reeaaaaaally?- look and snorted.
"Astonishing. I thought there would only be beavers and elks and unicorns."
Cora laughed and shook her head in mock indignation over her little sister's sarcasm. She loved it when Alice became frank and spoke her mind with no hesitation, but she also knew that she was the only one who ever witnessed this side of her character.
"Anyway. You don't suppose I will fall for a redcoat? No offence, but I never really liked soldiers. Except Duncan of course," Alice went on.
"There are also a lot of men in America who are not soldiers," Cora put in with a grin.
"Settlers then. You don't want me to be stuck in a little hut in the forest, toiling away and fighting with the soil?" She raised her eyebrows expectantly.
"Alice, also poor people fall in love. And you don't get to choose whom you fall in love with. I am convinced you would gladly live in a little hut in the forest, as you put it so nicely, just to be with your darling."
Never mind that this was just a silly game, Cora had become serious all of a sudden and spoke with sincerity in her voice. Sometimes she feared that her little sister was blinded by her social status and didn't acknowledge less fortunate souls with their due respect.
"I accept the challenge, Monsieur."
Cora blinked in surprise.
"I said, I accept the challenge you just gave me. I bet that I won't fall in love in the colonies with anyone, do you accept the bet?"
Sometimes Cora was nonplussed by her sister's change of mood, but she had never been a coward and relished in the opportunity to leave the role of the responsible and wise, elder sister behind for a moment.
"I accept the bet. What if you lose though?"
"I'll give you my pink dress you like so much."
This time Cora had to gasp.
"Alice, you can't! It was a gift from father!"
"I know, but father said himself that he actually chose it for you. But then you wanted that painting you had fallen in love with for your birthday and he had nothing for me for Christmas. So he wouldn't mind, I think. Besides, I won´t lose anyway."
"You seem to pretty sure of that. And in the improbable case that you really win I shall walk bare feet from our house to the bakery and buy your favourite cake."
Alice laughed heartily at that.
"I can see it already! I shall think of this wonderful scene when I get sick on the ship or bored on the way from Albany to father."
"Enjoy the thought of it as long as you can, because it will never happen."
Before Alice could contradict this, another young man appeared from the depths of the dance floor and bowed down deeply in front of Cora.
Alice's malignant grin froze when she actually heard her sister accept the offer to dance.
"I hope you don´t mind Alice, do you?" She asked nonchalantly, already getting up.
"Of course not," Alice brought out between clenched teeth. She watched with a big frown as her sister floated to the middle of the room and began to glide away with her partner to the sound of a lively waltz.
No matter how smart I think I am, she will always have the last word, she thought with her head rested on her hand. No, Alice could not imagine to ever flutter away so gracefully with anyone. She would always be the second sister, the second choice. Nothing would change that, not even this America.
My favourite cake is called review!:3