A Masquerade in the Moonlight - By Kasey Michaels
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice, and everything nice:
That’s what little girls are made of.
Marguerite Balfour sat on the very edge of the unyielding wooden pew, her slippered feet swinging freely some six inches above the wooden floor. Her plump, dimpled fingers twisted the satin sash of her pretty new gown—a lovely blush pink creation fashioned in the exact image of the merveilleux style worn by her dear mother and presented to her just that morning in honor of her fourth birthday.
It didn’t seem fair to Marguerite that her birthday should so inconveniently fall on a Sunday, so that she must spend a substantial part of this most precious of days in church, pressed in on all sides by Grandfather’s guests, people so very much larger than herself—her nose tickled by the overpowering odors of scent, powder, and perspiration.
Because her grandfather was Sir Gilbert Selkirk, and because Sir Gilbert’s great-great-grandfather had commissioned the building of the church, Marguerite sat at a right angle to the pulpit in the second row of the Selkirk family pews, the ones that rose higher than all the other pews. Mama and Papa had impressed upon her the necessity to never fidget, for all the people could see her, and it was her responsibility to set a good example, no matter how boring or overlong the vicar’s sermon.
Or at least Marguerite thought that was what her parents had said, for the child hadn’t paid very strict attention, considering that she was very small and the people around her were enormously tall, so that no one could possibly espy her anyway unless they climbed to the tip-top of the rafters like acrobats and looked down on her, to yell out accusingly, “Look, everyone—that godless little heathen is fidgeting!”
Grandfather had invited so many of his acquaintance to Chertsey for this house party that Marguerite felt she must be exceedingly careful of where she wandered whenever indoors, for fear of being stepped on by one of the odd, exotic creatures as they stumbled about, drinking and eating everything in sight as if they had been starving themselves for a fortnight in anticipation of a few days of feasting. She had been sternly told not to laugh at these people who clung to the old ways, or point her fingers at them for their strange clothing that was so unlike the relaxed country wardrobes she was used to seeing.
But she could not help but stare at them. They were all so thoroughly ancient, both the gentlemen and their ladies, and they wore brightly colored satins and powdered their ridiculously high hair, and patted her cheek while they tsk-tsked over the sad fact that Marguerite’s grandmother and namesake had died even before “the poor, dear infant was more than a gleam in her papa’s eye.”
It was all most bothersome, especially since Marguerite didn’t miss her grandmother in the least, for it was difficult to miss what she’d never had. Besides, she had Mama, and Papa, and even Grandfather, and all the servants at Chertsey as well. What need had she of such a nebulous thing as a grandmother?
Marguerite loved her parents very much, as she did her grandfather, and she always did her utmost to obey them, which was why she had promised to behave in church today. But this was her birthday, and Grandfather had promised her yet another surprise after luncheon, and, besides, the collar of her lovely palest pink merveilleuse gown was digging into the back of her neck in the most fearsome way, and she had grown again so that her best slippers were just that much too snug, and the vicar was talking about eternal damnation for ever so long—whatever eternal damnation meant. It certainly couldn’t have anything to do with birthdays.
She had been good—very, very good—for more than an hour, and the strain was beginning to show.
Marguerite sighed again, audibly this time, as she wriggled her stiff bottom from side to side on the unyielding wooden seat. She would much rather be back at Chertsey, sitting in the kitchens and listening to Cook tell her yet again of last night’s dinner, when Finch, the butler, and Snipe, one of the footmen, had collided in the hallway just outside the dining room—with Snipe laboring along under the weight of an elaborate ice sculpture especially designed for this same party of London ladies and gentlemen, who were already seated at the long mahogany table. Finch had been highly insulted to find himself