Alice, my dear Alice! Let me look at you!
Suppressing a small sigh, I turned around to face my elder sister, just arrived from Scotland. She was attired in a silver blue taffeta gown, with rows of tiny pink silk rosebuds sewn vertically up the front of the bodice in an artistic attempt to draw the eye upward, not out, although there was no way to obscure the obvious; Ina had grown stout. There was no other word for it; my sister had grown stout and matronly after the arrival of her first child.
Her husband, William Skene, was a tall, thin man, kindly, with an air of endless patience. I was fond of my scholarly brother-in-law. He was a man very much like Papaliving in his head most of the time, although he had a certain hard practicality about him, too. My sister was a woman quite like my mother. They were a perfect match; dreamlike men always benefitted from energetic women.
You look wonderful, darling. I embraced my sister. What a lovely frock! Wherever did you find that silvery shade of gray? It almost matches your eyes!
London, of course; we can find nothing up in Edinburgh. I told William I simply had to dart down to London before the ball.
Im sure you did, I said with a quick smile, remembering many, many times when Ina had bossed me about in the same way. It was worth it; the dress is beautiful.
Mrs. Skene, its a pleasure. Leo bowed to her, taking Inas plump hand, lifting it to his lips. She blushed, curtsied, and began to fan herself furiously, one of her teasing smiles upon her lips, although the effect wasnt quite the same as it had been when she was fourteen.
Your Royal Highness, how lovely it is to see you again. Im very happy to observe that youve recovered fully from your illness.
Thank you. Of course, I had a great incentive to do so.
Smiling, Leo took possession of my left hand, tucking it under his arm. Inas eyebrows shot up, her mouth pursed, and I saw her exchange a look with Mamma, who was standing in the doorway to the small anteroom that had been furnished for the Prince s private party.
Catching Inas look, Mamma came rushing forward, practically dragging Rhoda by the arm. Sir, Mamma said with a worried smile. I do hope you wont mind dancing with dear Rhodashe has an unexpected opening on her dance card, and she was so hoping for a polka.
Im afraid Im rather booked, Leo said, glancing at my dance card, dangling from my wrist.
But surely Alice wont mind sitting this out, in order to give her sister the pleasure of just one dance? Mamma continued to smile, more ferociously than before; she looked at me, her eyebrows nearly to her hairline. I felt the blood simmer in my veins, but I would not give way to my anger at her meddling. Of course, I said, through gritted teeth. I dont mind in the least. Do go on.
Poor Rhodawho obviously was not pleased to be used in such a way, as she had remained scowling at the floor through the entire exchangecurtsied as Leo bowed, then they repaired to the dance floor just as the orchestra started back up.
That was very subtle, Mamma, I said, turning to meet her disapproving gaze. Whats next? Are you going to throw Ina at him, to keep us apart?
Alice, of course I cant dance, Ina huffedeven as she looked longingly at the dancers swirling about to the music. Im married now.
Excerpted from Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin Copyright © 2010 by Melanie Benjamin. Excerpted by permission of Random House Audio, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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