The Dance Plays On… Introduction
A dozen candlelit chandeliers gently swayed in the cool sea wind rolling in across the lawn from the cliff’s edge. The wind lazily wafted through half a dozen open double French doors, their pale, gauzy curtains billowing ethereally in the breeze. The distant roar of crashing waves, upon the sandy shore below the cliffs, underlaid the bright waltz playing as exquisitely costumed couples tread their graceful, swirling dance. The mirrored walls of the elegantly appointed grand ballroom reflected the dancers, the candlelight, the ghostly billowing curtains, and all their mirrored images to infinity.
A fair, flame-haired beauty with luminous dark green eyes watched demurely from an alcove beneath the grand staircase. Her name was Elspeth, but everyone called her "Ellie;" she hated the diminutive. Her unwilling guardian, Mrs. McIlroy, was the hostess and, though she’d dressed Elspeth appropriately, was not pleased to have the girl at her daughter, Cora’s ball. Cora’s gown, like most of the debutantes, was a frothy, brightly colored confection in which the girl seemed lost. Cora’s mother doubtless thought the gown she’d provided her ward plain and washed out. Elspeth preferred the simplicity of its flowing and uncluttered lines.
Elspeth caught her lower lip delicately between her teeth, and she leaned out slightly to follow his progress through the throng. He passed near her. The scent of him floated gently in his wake, as he bowed over the hand of an exquisite ingenue Mrs. McIlroy introduced to him. Somehow, though half the men there were also naval officers, his flawless dress-blues and shining epaulets set him apart in the ballroom. Perhaps it was his exotic features, or his fluid grace in so tall a frame; but he and the ingenue dominated the scene, as Elspeth watched from her alcove. He watched the whole room, yet never seemed to let his attention stray from his dance partner.
A small crowd of gallants arrived and obscured Elspeth’s view of the ballroom dance floor. Her guardian passed the alcove again, turned back momentarily and considered her in a lingeringly dismissive glance. Then, she took her daughter, Cora -- always a rather wilted looking girl -- by the elbow and herded her off to a dance partner. With a crestfallen sigh, Elspeth withdrew deeper into the alcove, to a small chaise.
A deep, melodious voice broke her reverie, “May I join your retreat from the crush of the dance?” Elspeth looked with a start and found herself looking up into his handsome face. She felt the moment frozen and endless… felt she was loosing herself in the depths of his ebony eyes. He smiled lightly -- she felt weakened in every limb -- and continued laughingly, “I bring refreshments in exchange for a moment’s repose here.”
Dropping her gaze and clearing her throat lightly, Elspeth found her voice and softly thanked him for the cup of punch he proffered, as she swept aside her pale sea foam green gown to make space on the chaise. He sat elegantly on the edge, one leg thrust out rakishly. “Our hostess neglected to make introductions,” he began, in his light, fluid Near Eastern accent. “Allow me to introduce myself, milady. I am Lieutenant Sarvazad Aryenish.”
She leaned away slightly, and smiled shyly at him. His gaze inquisitive, he smiled at her. Blinking, she mildly stammered, “I - “ she licked her lips, “I’m Elspeth Montrose.”
“Tell me, Miss Elspeth… why is the loveliest flower secreted in this hidey-hole?” He lifted her hand to his lips and shot her a smoldering gaze, one brow rising briefly… enticingly.
Biting her lip again, Elspeth blushingly smiled as she reluctantly withdrew her hand. “You are a flatterer, sir, “ she gently, teasingly admonished.
A warm and shining low chuckle escaped his full lips. “I am, sweet lady, yet an honest one. In my country, a flower called the Shariara Rose is found in hidden places in the wilderness. It is the loveliest of blooms. I compare you to it because you are the loveliest bloom I have seen here in this England’s wild, highland domain.”
Under his meltingly penetrating gaze, she blushed deeply and turned her head, lest he see the tear trailing down her delicate cheek. “Please, sir… “ her voice caught, “please don’t… don’t mock me thus.”
He caught her hand and gently, but firmly drew her little pointed chin back to face him. His expression was all sincerity as he caressed away the tear from upon her cheek. “Truly, Miss Elspeth, I mean no mockery. You are a fair, honest beauty among these sculpted puppets.” He looked her earnestly in the eye, “I am sorry your experience makes you doubt the beauty shining from your soul.”
She raised her eyes to his, her head tilted in an attitude of wonderment. For the breadth of a heartbeat, their eyes locked. It seemed to her, in that pulse-beat moment, the whole of creation existed for them alone.
Jarringly, Mrs. McIlroy loomed before them. “Ellie, please walk out with Cora to chaperon her and young Mr. Jameson,” she commanded, holding her frame in a rigid demeanor.
“Ah, but Madam,” standing, Sarvazad interjected smoothly, “Miss Elspeth has granted me the next dance.” He smiled blindingly at the dowager and her whole demeanor softened as she smiled warmly in return.
“But of course, Lieutenant Aryenish,” she replied, utterly charmed by him and offered her hand. “Please enjoy yourselves. I’ll send a maid to walk out with Cora and her gallant.” He bowed, letting his lips politely brush the back of her gloved hand. She turned and made her way through the partiers with never a glance at Elspeth.
Sarvazad turned back to her and took hold of her fingertips as she rose. “‘Ellie’ is no suitable name for you, Miss Elspeth.” As they walked the edge of the dance floor, waiting for a new piece to begin, he continued, “For that matter, ‘Elspeth’ little suits you.”
She shrugged lightly, “It is the only name I own.”
“I shall christen you a new name. I shall only ever call you ‘Shariara,’” he proclaimed.
“It’s a very musical name… I feel quite unworthy of it,” she replied, coloring charmingly. She peeped up at him, unaccountably pleased with his pleasant humor. “Thank you for asking me to dance. I don’t believe my guardian intended that I should dance tonight. I’m afraid I’m rather a burden to her.”
“She strikes me as a burdensome harridan,” he quipped.
“Oh, no, sir… she might have turned me away when my grandmother passed. I have no fortune and she supplies all my need. My mother was only a half-sister to her late husband.” Her expression turned pensive and earnest. “I’m hopelessly behind in all my lessons. She has made clear it is a burden that weighs upon her.”
She looked up at him in consternation as he laughed outright, and found it only made him laugh all the more. “Shariara, my rose, you are irrepressibly charming!” He gave her no chance to respond further, gliding into the dance with refrains of another, rather haunting waltz beginning.
He led her expertly through the dance, wending gracefully between the pale, billowing curtains, onto the veranda, into the cool, starlit night. They danced and made light conversation. He seemed to make every effort to entertain her. His friends and fellow officers and their elegant ladies joined them. She was introduced and included in their revelry. She timidly accepted offers to dance from his friends. He encouraged her to dance with them when they asked, but always claimed every second or third dance for himself. In this way, an evening she had dreaded passed in delight.
In a last moment together on the veranda, Sarvazad brushed a kiss upon her cheek and whispered, “I shall call upon you tomorrow, my Shariara.”
Mrs. McIlroy called for her and for Cora. Sarvazad led her to Cora, and walked with both young ladies to Mrs. McIlroy’s side. When he had made his goodbyes, her guardian turned to her with a rare, proud smile, “Ellie, my dear girl, you did splendidly. I had despaired of your ever leaving your alcove this evening.”
“Thank you ma’am. I am sorry to have been so recalcitrant to attend,” she replied. “I must thank you for insisting, Mrs. McIlroy.”
The dowager paused in her usually determined stride to peer at her ward, “You surprise me, Ellie. I presume this means you’ll be more determined in your lessons.” With a curt nod, she sailed up the stairs to her apartments, leaving the young ladies together.
Cora, prattled on endlessly, sharing the rumors of mystery and intrigue about Sarvazad. Elspeth… no… she would not be Elspeth any longer… Shariara listened with half an ear, but her attention was arrested when Cora said, “I heard mama saying he was the son of a certain royal personage and an exiled Persian princess…” Shariara was all attention now. “But Lady Truxely intimated he held some dark secret over Lord Montague and that was the reason he’d purchased the lieutenant’s naval commission…”
Shariara let all the prattle wash over her, secreting all the fantastical details in her memory. Cora continued to prattle on as the maids combed out their hair, after taking up their gowns. Shariara meandered off to her own bedroom, and drifted off to sleep, humming the tune of the first waltz they’d danced.
[The story continues here: https://steemit.com/writing/@momzillanc/the-dance-plays-on-a-seaside-picnic]
This is a serialized edition on Steemit of my book, The Dance Plays On… – a paranormal romance novelette ebook: A a delicately sad tale of transcendent love, a perfect kiss, and haunting, beautiful tragedy – published in Amazon KDP 31 March 2016, by D. Denise Dianaty. Cover art created by D. Denise Dianaty. Cover art created by D. Denise Dianaty