The news had filtered through Cambridge with the speed of a rising fog, stealing its way from house to house and shop to shop inexorably and leaving behind it a range of expression unparalleled since the last time Professor Morton’s extraordinary daughter had been the major topic of conversation. Not even during the Great War had there been any sensation to match Harriet’s flight from home, her forced return thither, or her subsequent liberation from her father. And now, as the wounds of the war have begun to heal, the Mistress of Stavely has once again managed to set tongues wagging. A ballet company, here in Cambridge? And not just passing through with a few nights performance, oh no. This company would be spending most of the early summer rehearsing their new repertoire before embarking on a tour of the Americas, both North and South. It was scandalous. It was ridiculous. It was thoroughly delicious, and the local gossip-mongers set upon it with relish.
Harriet hummed as she moved through the once-neglected rooms of the manor house, checking the lighting and the mirrors, ensuring that all the beds had fresh linens and the kitchen was well stocked to meet the needs of the ravening hordes soon to descend. She laughed to herself as she pictured the ghastly Mr. Grunthorpe in charge of such a hullabaloo; how he would have shuddered to think of Stavely as the temporary home to a traveling ballet company. The very idea would have sent him into spasms of horror, she had no doubt. It might almost have been worth it to bring the superannuated servant back into the fold, just to see the results. But no, that was an ill thought, unworthy of the gracious mistress of Stavely, if not of the mischievous girl who still lurked in Harriet’s soul. There was no point in chewing over the insults of the past when the future looked so bright ahead. She and Rom had done their part to see Stavely and England through the Great War, and great rewards were now to be theirs. Not that Rom considering a pack of ballerinas and their accoutrements as a reward for himself, but she knew how happy it made him to please her in this way, to bring dance back into her life.
Hermione Belper, Iron Chancellor of the ladies of the Trumpington Tea Circle, flung her gloves down upon the table in a fit of pique. Her visit to Louisa Morton had not gone as planned, and she fully intended to vent her abuse on the first poor creature to cross her path. The house maid, sensing this mood on the wind, redirected the steps which would have taken her through the parlor back down the small flight of stairs into the kitchen where she warned the cook to batten down the hatches and prepare for stormy weather. Deprived of a human target, Mrs. Belper began viciously pruning the heads from a vase of flowers standing on the round table next to the hurled gloves. She had planned this excursion to Stavely for weeks- WEEKS- and now, to have it circumvented at the last by the arrival of a ballet company, of all things. It was not to be borne. To add insult to injury, Harriet Brandon had offered to allow the excursion to continue as planned. She had actually suggested that having a practicing ballet company on the grounds would add to the thrill for the ladies, as though it were a treat not to be missed. Any fool would know- should know- that never would Hermione Belper countenance such a travesty while she was the ruling hand of the Trumpington Tea Circle. They could carry on this nonsense without her approval, if they dared.
In her ineffably chic Paris flat, Galina Simonova reclined against the cushions and gestured imperiously to Dubrov to read the letter again. She could very well have read it to herself, but really, what was the point of being a celebrated success if one could not compel one’s beloved minions into action? Her dear Sashka obediently began from the top, detailing the successful arrival at Stavely of the ballet company which had been stocked with her own fine dancers. Ah, the pleasure of seeing her handiwork going out into the world. Naturally, it did not compare with life upon the stage, with the crowds and the roar of love and devotion, or with the glittering reception at the Maryinsky which had so crowned her triumphant return to her Motherland. But still, though it was a quieter pleasure, she felt it no less keenly. She had known from the moment Harriet’s wedding announcement had arrived that the girl was finally lost to her, as she might not have been even after being recaptured by her horrible father. Love, Simonova well knew, was the captor of us all in its own way. She triumphed, however, in the knowledge that this much of her own fierce little dancer remained. Within the breast of this respectable Mrs. Brandon still beat the heart of a ballerina, and she would nurture that seed in her own children, and in the young dancers Simonova and others would send to Stavely Hall as the years went by.
As he watched his lovely wife wander through the throng in garden, stopping to bestow a kiss to the cheek here and a fond word there, Rom thought to himself how little he could have anticipated this happiness when he stepped into his box at the Amazonas Opera House. The man who was there could not have conceived of the man who was here- not only returned to Stavely, but returned as Master and savior. More than that, he was returned as a man in love, deep abiding love that put his youthful adoration of Isobel to shame. The abundance of the love he was granted in return also shamed his pride and jealousy which had so nearly driven them apart forever. He knew now he needed no fear of Harriet’s passion for dance. It was a part of who she was, and he could no more fear that portion of her soul than he could fear her sweetly curved neck or her arched foot. They were all a package- Harriet, Stavely, Rom, and dance. Now the package has grown to include others- Henry and Natasha and Paul, of course, but also Simonova and Dubrov, Kirstin and Marie-Claude, even the ridiculous Edward and his belligerent bride. And, of course, this new little one, which his lovely wife carried with grace and ease befitting the lithe dancer’s body she still worked to maintain. Now he thrilled to see her in the mornings, shifting from position to position (those she was still able to manage in her present condition) as the light streamed in through the curtains to illuminate her face, lost in the rapture of her delight. He knew that as he was hers, she was also his, and he would not leave untended any part of what made her his own extraordinary Harriet.