Dearest Mama

Ballroom — 1815

Dearest Mama,

It snowed again last night, and this morning I awoke to gardens dusted with a fine white powder. Hopefully the snow will not impede the travel of any of the party guests. Aunt Millie has assured me that it will not. I do wish that little Lizzie was in better spirits. I should dearly have liked to have you here for my first ball.

My first ball, Mama, can you imagine that? It seems just yesterday I was dashing about in pinafores with my hair in plaits sticking out from under my bonnet. My aunt promises me that I shall look every inch the lady tonight. I do so hope the evening goes well.

Has papa returned from France? I had hoped that, by now, all the soldiers would have returned home. Surely with Bonaparte’s defeat this past summer, they can have no reason to keep papa abroad. I am sure his return home would be just what Lizzie needs to cure her cough. My aunt agrees with my statement, though assures me that by the time you receive my letter, Lizzie’s health will be much improved.

I shall return to my letter momentarily, my aunt is calling me away.

Oh, Mama, it is wondrous! The ballroom is decorated with white and red roses, grown in my aunt’s very own conservatory. There are green wreaths sprigged with holly on every door and there is even a sprig of mistletoe above the grand ballroom doors. Mistletoe! I cannot believe my aunt would be so forward. As I left the ballroom, maids were lowering the glass chandeliers and putting in fresh candles. Tonight, the ballroom will be lit by thousands of tiny candles that will flicker above us like the stars while we dance the night away. I must go again, there is a knock on the door, and I am sure it is my aunt’s lady’s maid here to curl my hair.

Merry Christmas, Mama! It has been nearly a full day since last I had time to write. My feet ache ever so much, and I feared when I crawled into bed early this morning that I should never awaken again. But last night was magical. All eyes were on me when I descended the stairs. My aunt assured me that I looked like the spirit of Christmas in my crimson ball gown. I know, Mama, crimson is not the color for young ladies to wear, but my aunt assured me that its festiveness would be appropriate. Besides, it is not as if anyone in attendance at Straeon Manor will be in attendance when I am presented next season.

My uncle escorted me into the ballroom, pausing under the mistletoe to press a chaste kiss to my cheek. Then he released my arm and I walked the few steps to the first step. Oh, Mama, I swear, it felt like I floated down the steps, but I know I feared my foot would tangle in my dress and I would fall to the ground in front of everyone. Though you need not fear, I did not lose my footing. At the base of the stairs, my cousin offered his arm to me and I gratefully accepted it. I have not always been fond of my cousin, but it was good of him to escort me.

We danced the first set and then he brought me to my aunt who introduced me to many of her friends and their sons. I swear I did not sit out a single dance.

It was improper of me, Mama, but I did not dance the dinner set with my cousin. Instead, I danced it with Colonel Marsden, a young officer fresh returned from France. I asked him, but he does not know of Papa’s whereabouts. He seemed to find it strange that Papa had yet to return home, though as he could think of nothing that would keep him. Perhaps he has returned, and the letter you sent informing me of his return has been delayed by the snows. I am sure that must be it. Oh, Mama, you cannot know how relieved I am to think that you are enjoying Christmas day with Papa at your side.

After dinner, Colonel Marsden engaged me for the next dance. He has promised to call later this week if my aunt allows. I do hope she does, for his stories of the war are fascinating and I would not mind hearing more of them. Do not worry, Mama, I have given him no reason to think I have formed an attachment, nor is there room for any tongues to wag. After the dance was over, I politely excused myself to return to my aunt’s side. She did not disappoint, and procured me another young gentleman to pass the next dance with.

The sun was beginning to rise on Christmas morning when the dancing finally wound to a halt. Many of the guests had retired earlier throughout the night, some leaving by their coach and four, others to guest chambers. My aunt gaily bid farewell to the last of the guests departing and assured me that I had been a success.

She sent me up to bed and her lady’s maid undid my gown and let down my hair. I am certain that was the last I remember of the day until I awoke.

Give Papa and Lizzie my love, Mama, and assure them that I shall return home once the roads become comfortably passable.

There is a knock at the door, I shall return to my letter, hopefully with more good news to share.

There is news, Mama, but I cannot see how it is good. Why did you not tell me Lizzie suffered from consumption? Why did you not tell me that Papa had died in the war? My aunt thought I should know. She said you had written her and asked that I stay here until Lizzie recovers or…

Oh, Mama! How can I send this letter to you with all my hopes of Papa’s being with you? There is no help for it but to rewrite the letter. Though now whenever I think of my red dress and oh, how proud of it I was, I shall only think that it was the color of Papa’s blood as he lay dying in France or the blood that I know must be staining Lizzie’s handkerchiefs.

When I rewrite the letter, I shall only write of happy things, in hopes that they will cheer your spirits. I shall preserve this letter though, so that I, too, can remind myself of happier times.

Oh, Mama, why must the world be such a cruel place?

Merry Christmas, Mama, though I do not see how it can be so.

Your dutiful daughter,

Eleanor

At the age of six, Eliza was certain of two things. The first was that she had stories to tell. The second was that she had no talent for illustrating them herself. Talent or no, she still wrote and illustrated her first book, one that should be located and locked away if only to prevent her parents from embarrassing her terribly by showing it off alongside baby pictures. Now she spends her days writing stories that she isn't embarrassed to show off after a little bit of polishing.

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