Music was playing, people were talking, so the air was filled with merry sounds. On a large chair sat Phlebotomous Bosch with the four Mallum sisters around him. The sisters were glaring at each other, even Prudence and Constance. Phlebotomous sat staring ahead of him, oblivious to the girls’ attentions.
“Mr Bosch, have you considered dancing at all?” asked Patience.
“Is this a waltz?” asked Phlebotomous.
“No, Mr Bosch, it is a circle dance, a country dance,” said Patience.
“I can only dance a waltz,” said Phlebotomous. “And I don’t have much experience of that.”
Joy looked smugly at her sisters who glared back at her.
“Was that why you were dancing the waltz with Mrs Jennings yesterday?” said Constance. Her other sisters looked shocked at her.
“Yes,” said Phlebotomous. “That was the total of my experience.”
“Mrs Jennings has rather a strange flower pinned to her gown,” said Constance. “It’s not very becoming.”
“It’s an aconite,” said Phlebotomous. “I picked it for her.”
The girls all looked shocked at this, and a small tear formed in Prudence’s eye.
“I’d better go and speak to Sir John and Mrs Jennings,” said Phlebotomous and got up to leave.
Three of the girls rose and followed, but Prudence stayed behind. After they had gone she stretched out onto the chair and wiped the corner of her eye with a handkerchief. It slipped from her fingers and as she knelt down to pick it up she saw a scrap of paper. She looked at it, puzzled, then her eyes lit up.
“What are you doing?” said Patience, who was returning with a glass of wine.
“Nothing,” said Prudence who quickly folded the paper and hid it in her sleeve. “I had better get some wine, too.”
Prudence left with a skip in her stride and didn’t notice the piece of paper fall out of her sleeve as she left. Patience was staring at her sister leave and then noticed a bit of paper on the chair. She read it and her eyes widened. She hastily tucked it into her sash and smiled behind the wine. Joy came and sat next to her and looked at her sister disapprovingly. A gentleman invited Patience to dance, which she accepted with a flourish, causing the paper to slip, unnoticed, onto the seat.
Joy watched sourly as her sister walked to the dancefloor. She spotted the scrap of paper on the chair with puzzlement. She picked it up and read it, and a slow smile spread across her face. She dropped the paper on the tray of food she had and reclined happily with a religious book, as a servant came and took the tray away.
The servant noticed the paper as he was taking the tray and saw Constance walking back to the seat where the sisters had been sitting.
“Miss, I believe this is yours,” he said to Constance and passed her the paper.
Constance took it and read the paper.
“Dearest M, Meet me at the full moon at the special place. B.”
She beamed with happiness and put the paper in her purse.