Perhaps you have heard of floating dinner parties where a group of friends each prepare a part of the meal, and the group moves from home to home for each course. It's a lot of fun and works particularly well during the winter holidays when everyone has decorated their homes and wants to show off those decorations. (Oh come on, none of us goes to all that trouble just so we can look at our own decorations!)
Anyway, Marc has created a floating story. He began it in his journal, I'm picking it up here, and I hope that one of you creative spirits out there will pick it up and contribute yet another chapter.
I know that there are quite a few creative writers out there. Just leave your first paragraph in a comment and a link to your site. Copy my entry which includes Marc's part one (The Introduction) as well as my part two (The First Skirmish), paste it in your journal and add your part. Please don't neglect to give your chapter a title. I intentionally used two different fonts to distinguish between Marc's part and my own. Have fun and should you accept this little challenge, please don't forget to leave your link in the comments!
The inspiration for this mini-story comes from Hy-Art created by Marc, combining the works of Allston and Boldini.
This mini-story brought to you by the art of Washington Allston and Giovanni Boldini.
The Introduction--by Marc
All eyes were on the Contesse de Vermeil when her former lover, le Baron de Genolhac, arrived at the ball with Mrs. Owen Marston, the widow from the United States known simply as "l'Americaine" ever since she'd taken rooms at the Georges V less than a month ago and rapidly insinuated her way into every lesser salon and drawing room in the 16th arrondissement. Emma Marston's late husband's fortune had been made supplying the Union Army with uniforms during the American Civil War 20 years earlier, which he made with Southern cotton smuggled through the blockade and repurchased from the warehouses of the Baron. It was an exquisite arrangement that meant the Baron had been hosted numerous times over the years in Marston's townhouse on lower Fifth Avenue. When a taste for rich food and a surfeit of cigars eventually felled Owen Marston with an attack of apoplexy as he walked up the stairs of his favorite Chambers Street bordello, what could the Baron do but introduce his dear and now considerably wealthy widowed friend to the lights of Paris?
Mrs. Marston continued to technically acknowledge the convention of mourning by wearing black, even as its positively festive style indicated the true spirit of its wearer. She had married at 19, when her husband was 47, having been governess to his children after the death of his first wife. She was now past 30--how far was a matter of some debate--but they had rather less of an idea in Paris than in New York. Only the Baron knew that her origins were rather more humble than the vaguely Bostonian Brahmin biography floated when necessary at dinner parties. In America, money could buy anything, including a past.
Emma timed her entrance into French society well, as the advent of the Second Empire was creating all sorts of opportunity for reinvention. Money talked rather fluently in France as well as it did transatlantically, but while it could get you in the door, it would not necessarily grant you a second invitation. Unlike their British counterparts, the doyennes of French society considered less the social class to which you were born than the breeding which you exhibited. Style, wit, the ability to make interesting observations about the events of the day--this is what mattered most. At least to the Contesse.
She had no idea that she was about to meet her match in Emma Marston.
The First Skirmish--by Sheria
Two months of preparations had preceded the Contesse's ball, "la danse des étoiles printanières." For nearly ten years, it had provided the start of the spring season of endless balls, intended to introduce the young women of society to young men, if they were lucky, and to gentlemen old enough to be their grandfathers, if they were not. No one used the cumbersome long title any more, and simply referred to it as "les étoiles," or the stars. It was the Contesse's jewel, her shining achievement that secured her place in the bosom of French Society, and as she stared at the woman swathed in black silk whose hand so delicately rested on the Baron's arm, she was not at all pleased.
As the pair crossed the room, moving towards her, the Contesse raised her delicate lace fan, a gift from an admirer, and languidly waved it across her slightly flushed cheeks.
"Good evening, Contesse. You look lovely, as always."
"Thank you, Baron. It's a pleasure to see you here."
The Contesse's words hung in the air, polite but yet somehow suggesting that the pleasure did not extend to the Baron's companion.
"May I present Mrs. Emma Marston, from America. Mrs. Marston, this is our hostess for the evening, the Contesse de Vermeil."
As the Baron made the introductions, both women acknowledged the other with a slight nod of their well coiffed heads.
The Contesse spoke first, "Welcome, Mrs. Emma Marston, I hope that you will enjoy our little party."
"I'm already having a delightful time, Contesse. The Baron is proving to be a most thoughtful host."
"Ah yes, I had planned to return home after my month at the Georges, but the Baron graciously invited me to continue to recuperate from my sorrow as his house guest for the summer. Do you know his summer place? It's just outside of the city and it is, how do you say it, magnifique? Your language is so beautiful."
Adjusting his ascot, the Baron coughed delicately and took Mrs. Marston by her arm. She lifted her heart shaped face to meet his gaze and for a moment he was lost in the dark pools of her eyes. She dropped her lashes and turned back to the Contesse.
"I feel a bit warm. You must tell me where you purchased such a lovely fan, Contesse. While in Paris, I must do as the Parisians do. Baron, could we go out on the veranda and walk in the cool night air? It was a pleasure , Contesse."
To all the watching eyes, the Contesse appeared unperturbed and her guests' disappointment was almost palpable. There had been no fireworks between the Contesse and the American widow, leaving the pursuit of sixteen-year-old Mademoiselle Adele St. Coeur by the Marquis de Tuilleries, 40 years her senior, the only entertainment of the evening.
Bidding her guests a momentary adieu, the Contesse retired to her private salon, closing the door behind her. From a darkened corner, a young man moved into her line of sight. He was tall and handsome, in a coltish sort of way, as if he might break into a canter at a moment's notice. The Contesse spoke quietly.
"How was your journey?"
"It was an excellent passage, Contesse, calm seas all the way from America."
"Good, now tell me all about your stepmother, the widow Marston."