Welcome to Game of Love I, Regency Ball! This is an interactive text adventure (it is not a Choose Your Own Adventure or Pick A Path game, because those are trademarked phrases. However, this story bears some startling similarities). Here's how it works: read the story below, choose a sister to follow, and start clicking on your choices. When you're done, return here to the Ballroom, or click on the Exit bit, or use the back or forward key. Yes, there is a donation being asked for, but it's certainly not required (ignore the pathetic bleating of the tuition bill left over from our daughter's sojourn in college, or the siren call of our little timeshare habit...). Ahem. Anyway, I hope everybody has fun!
(This effort would not have been possible without my dear friend Cindy, whose gently-applied boot to the head, organizational help, and tolerance of whining during Monday lunches were invaluable to the cause.)
Let us begin--
Lord Carstairs died in the spring of 1810 from a bad cold and despair, after trusting a friend to invest his money properly and discovering his trust was misplaced. His widow and four daughters mourned him deeply. Lady Carstairs and the oldest daughter Josephine rapidly became aware the family was left with a large house, an extensive library, decent stables, and not much else. Elizabeth felt her daughters must be properly launched into the world and good husbands found for them. The three younger girls knew more than their mother believed, but she hoped at least one of her girls could marry well enough to help the rest.
Lady Carstairs was determined to put a brave front on things, though she quietly economized on her own needs. She was unhappy knowing she would likely have to deceive some of the men who would offer for her daughters, and decided to give any prospects a chance to back out after learning the truth. None of her daughters would be happy with fortune hunters, especially disappointed ones.
The oldest daughter Josephine did not want to marry at all, except to a man equal to her in intellect. She was a determined bluestocking and disliked the idea of any man ruling over her. She was well aware what English law allowed a husband to do. However, she was worried about the welfare of her mother and sisters. A governess or companion’s salary would guarantee her own independence, but would do little towards assuring the safety of the others. Since it seemed she would have to sell herself, she was determined to fetch a good price. If only Mr. Dominic seemed inclined to wed—but there was no hope of that. He often disappeared for no reason, and despite the fierce joy she felt arguing with him, he could not be depended upon. She smiled tonight, though she wanted to scream.
Cordelia, the second daughter, was anxious to meet someone who enjoyed the country life as much as she did. She knew something of the family’s circumstances, but put that out of her mind as she whirled around the dance floor this night with various gentlemen from the county. She would have preferred a brisk moonlight gallop—on a horse—but enjoyed the merriment for now. It was summer, her favorite season, and she let her worries go in her love of movement.
Emily cowered behind a plant and hoped no one noticed her. She often wished to be as intelligent as Jo or as brave as Cordelia—or even as pretty as Phyllis, the youngest of them all—but knew it was hopeless. She sometimes thought she had been pieced together from scraps not used by her sisters, with wispy hair that never held a curl longer than five minutes, slender bones, and almost no bosom to speak of. She didn’t realize others were drawn to her kind eyes and gentle voice.
Phyllis was simply excited at attending her first ball, though she knew something was wrong. It wasn’t right for Mama not to have new gloves when she did. The youngest sister was also slightly frightened by the value of the jewelry she wore from her mother’s casket. What if she broke a clasp and lost the necklace, or the brooch on her gown? Her sisters were also more richly attired than Mama was, even if Jo had muttered about the poor needing it more.
Elizabeth Carstairs didn’t mind. Her daughters deserved the best. If wearing her jewels helped them find it, she could go without. She and her husband had loved each other, and knew her girls ought to know that joy as well. They were the finest gems in her box, and she wanted them in safekeeping. Perhaps Alfred could have left them better off, but had lost great sums to someone who had promised to build a canal, only to flee the country instead. There were worse ways of losing money than believing in someone’s dreams. Of course, it was a pity the faithless friend had deprived her of the opportunity of strangling him, but such was life.
She had spared no expense tonight to decorate the ballroom and fill the tables. With this being summer, garlands of flowers came from the gardens rather than a flower shop, while fresh fruits and vegetables were also plentiful. Fortunately their cook had consented to provide one last masterpiece of the culinary arts with local food. The girls themselves had cleaned in the place of now-departed house maids, while temporary servants had been hired for the evening from village families. The house and grounds were as exquisite as ever. Even if this was the last ball the Carstairs family held, it would be remembered as one of the grandest.
Lady Carstairs sighed deeply, as if in farewell. She would accept the loss of her home in exchange for her daughters’ happiness. She surveyed the crowd, and saw several men she hoped would come up to snuff tonight, or soon after.
Two brothers, George and Tom Withers, arrived together. The oldest one was known for a good seat and a firm hand with the reins. He was boldly handsome as well, and in line for a generous competence. Tom was too shy to make much of his own looks, yet he was a kind, gentle boy growing swiftly into a man. Either one possessed enough expectations to care for one of her daughters well.
She turned and greeted two relative strangers. Mr. Joseph Andrews and his nephew Robert had come a long way to her dwelling. Both were extremely rich through speculation and trade in China, though their tenuous relationship to the local clergyman was the only family background they could claim. Elizabeth Carstairs knew trading titles for riches was all the thing these days, but knew she could never sell one of her girls to someone she thought unfit. Robert Meredith, the nephew, was extremely fine-looking with the dark curls and pale complexion made so popular by the infamous Lord Byron. Yet Mr. Andrews, with plain features and dun brown hair shot with gray, as well as the tanned skin of someone exposed to tropical sun, still cut a better figure in her eyes than the younger man.
Lady Carstairs did not see Mr. Edward Dominic in the crowd. He also had dark hair and somewhat pale skin, but could never be called handsome. His sharp features and flashing dark eyes intimidated most, as did his obvious impatience with those unable to keep up with his keen intellect. As the younger son of an earl, he had no title, but did have a modest, well-run estate. Her darling Josephine told her a dozen times a day just how annoying she found the man. Lady Carstairs smiled to herself. For someone so well educated, their neighbor was astoundingly slow in the ways of society. Perhaps if he saw her eldest daughter run after in this company he would leave off writing scathing letters to the local newspaper and make other addresses instead.
She sighed again as she noticed Reverend Butler secretly stuffing his pockets with apples from one of the refreshment tables. The poor man’s wife had recently died, and he had three children to rear by himself. Elizabeth hoped he was not looking for a replacement tonight, and that Mr. Andrews would aid his impoverished relatives. Any of her girls, of course, would manage the situation well enough if they had to, but she wanted to provide her children with more alternatives, hence this ball.
General Willis, one of her husband’s dearest friends, stood about and voiced his disappointment at the lack of a card room tonight. Lady Carstairs hid a smile. He would dance with all of her daughters, as instructed, and make sure shy Emily was not overlooked. The older man was gruff, almost as outspoken as Sir Edward, but surprisingly kind. Granted, he grumbled incessantly about the stupidity of the War Department keeping him on the shelf when he had offered to step out of retirement several times, but he’d already lost an eye in India. Elizabeth usually assured him that it was the turn of younger men to win glory against Bonaparte. She felt sad for a moment as she counted the absent places where others from the county had already left to follow the drum. Who among those seeking her daughters tonight would also fall?
Yet that signified little. She had to make do with the candidates available. Once her daughters were settled, she could retire on her modest widow’s portion and properly grieve her husband. She missed him dearly and always would, but tonight she would take thought for the next generation.
If you wish to follow Emily's adventures, click here.
If you wish to follow Phyllis's adventures, click here.
If you wish to follow Cordelia's adventures, click here.
If you wish to follow Josephine's adventures, click here.
If you wish to return to the main page, click on the back arrow at the top of this page.