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But Caroline did seem to know everyone in London, and was constantly calling on the Tricklebank household to spout the gossip she'd gleaned in homes across Mayfair. Here was an industrious young lady—she called on three salons a day if she called on one. The judge supposed her brother scarcely need worry about putting food in their cupboards, for the two of them were dining with this four-and-twenty or that ten-and-six almost every night. It was a wonder Caroline wasn't a plump little peach.

Perhaps she was. In truth, she was merely another shadow to the judge these days.

"And she was at Windsor and dined with the queen," Hollis added with superiority.

"You mean Caro was in the same room but one hundred persons away from the queen," the judge suggested. He knew how these fancy suppers went.

"Well, she was there, Pappa, and she met the Alucians, and she knows a great deal about them now. I am quite determined to discover who the prince intends to offer for and announce it in the gazette before anyone else. Can you imagine? I shall be the talk of London!"

This was precisely what Mr. Tricklebank didn't like about the gazette. He did not want his daughters to be the talk of London.

But it was not the day for him to make this point, for his daughters were restless, moving about the house with an urgency he was not accustomed to. Today was the day of the royal masquerade ball, and the sound of crisp petticoats and silk rustled around him, and the scent of perfume wafted into his nose when they passed. His daughters were waiting impatiently for Lord Hawke's brougham to come round and fetch them. Their masks, he was given to understand, had already arrived at the Hawke house, commissioned, Eliza had breathlessly reported, from "Mrs. Cubison herself."

He did not know who Mrs. Cubison was.

And frankly, he didn't know how Caro had managed to finagle the invitations to a ball at Kensington Palace for his two daughters—for the good Lord knew the Tricklebanks did not have the necessary connections to achieve such a feat.

He could feel their eagerness, their anxiety in the nervous pitch of their giggling when they spoke to each other. Even Poppy seemed nervous. He supposed this was to be the ball by which all other balls in the history of mankind would forever be judged, but he was quite thankful he was too blind to attend.

When the knock at the door came, he was startled by such squealing and furious activity rushing by him that he could only surmise that the brougham had arrived and the time had come to go to the ball.


CHAPTER TWO

Kensington Palace was the site of a masquerade ball held in honor of the Alucian Court, Thursday past, at seven o'clock in the evening. The Duke of Marlborough hosted in Her Majesty's stead. The Alucians wore black masks, indistinguishable from one to the next, so that the identity of the crown prince would not be readily apparent, a ploy that might very well have succeeded had it not been for the long line of young Englishwomen who desired an introduction to the prince.

A certain English Kitty, much admired for her Wednesday salons, was so enthralled with the punch cups that a notable fox was on hand to help in any way he might, and thereby took unfair advantage of her in the King's Cloakroom. When the kitten realized what the fox was about, she demanded satisfaction, and was awarded the assistance of three liveried footmen to escort her out to a waiting carriage, which required such maneuvering around her gown and her ample person as to have knocked the peruke from the unfortunate head of one of the lads. — Honeycutt's Gazette of Fashion and Domesticity for Ladies


When one lived as simply as Eliza Tricklebank, one did not expect to gain an invitation to a ball, much less meet a prince. And yet, she had somehow managed to put herself in the receiving line to be introduced to a prince, without the slightest bit of assistance other than a wee bit of rum punch.

She couldn't even say which prince she was waiting to meet, or how many of them there were in total. She'd heard there were at least two of them presently in England, but for all she knew, there could be scores of them roaming about.

It seemed amusing now to think that this evening, and this moment, and the idea that Eliza might make the acquaintance of an actual prince, had all begun only days ago when Caroline had called at Bedford Square where Eliza lived with her father.
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