By the dancing instructor who arrived on the heels of Madame Froussard’s departure, Whitney was whirled around the room in time to an imaginary waltz and judged, "Not at aO hopeless-with practice."
By the French tutor who appeared at tea time, she was pronounced, "Fit to instruct me, Lady Gilbert"
For some months, Madame Froussard visited for two hours, five times each week, instructing Whitney in the social graces. Under her relentless, exacting tutelage, Whitney worked diligently to learn anything which might eventually help her win favor in Paul’s eyes.
"Exactly what are you teaming from Madame Froussard?" inquired Uncle Edward as they dined one evening.
A sheepish look crept across Whitney’s face. "She is teaching me to stroll not gallop." She waited, half expecting her uncle to say that was a nonsensical waste of time, but instead he smiled approvingly. Whitney smiled back, feeling unaccountably happy. "Do you know," she teased, "I once believed that all one needed to walk properly were two sound limbs!"
From that night on, Whitney’s laughing anecdotes about her day’s endeavors became a delightful ritual at each evening meal. "Did you ever observe, Uncle," she asked him gaily one night, "that there is an art to turning around in a court dress with a train?"
"Mine never gave me any trouble," he joked.
"Done incorrectly," Whitney informed him with mock solemnity, "one is likely to find oneself wrapped in a train that has just become a tourniquet."
A month later she slid into her chair and fluttered a silken fan, eyeing her uncle with a speculative sparkle over the slats. "Are you over-warm, my dear?" Edward asked her, already into the spirit of the inevitable fun.
"A fan is not really for cooling oneself," Whitney advised him, batting her long eyelashes with an exaggerated coquetry that made Anne burst out laughing. "A fan is for flirting. It is also for keeping one’s hands gracefully occupied. And for slapping the arm of a gentleman who is too forward."
The laughter vanished from Edward’s face. "What gentleman has become too forward?" he demanded tersely.
"Why, no one has. I don’t know any gentlemen yet," Whitney replied.
Anne watched the two of them, her smile filled with joy, for Whitney now occupied the place in Edward’s heart, and hers, that would have been their own daughter’s.
One evening the following May, the month before Whitney’s official debut into society, Edward produced three opera tickets. Tossing them with artificial casualness in front of Whitney, he suggested that-if her schedule permitted- she might enjoy accompanying her aunt and himself to the Embassy’s private box.
A year ago, Whitney would have whirled around in a rapturous circle, but she had changed now, so instead she beamed at her uncle and said, "I would like that above anything, Uncle Edward."
In silence she sat while Clarissa, who had been Susan
Stone’s maid before she became companion and maid to Susan’s daughter, brushed her hair and swept it upward, smoothing it into curls at the crown. Her new white bock with ice-blue velvet ribbons at the high waistline and frilled hemline was gently lowered over her head. A matching ice-blue satin cloak completed her ensemble. Whitney stood before her mirror, staring at herself with shining eyes. Tentatively, she dropped into a deep throne room curtsy, her head bowed to the perfect angle. "May I present Miss Whitney Stone," she murmured gravely. "The belle of Paris."
A fine, chilly mist descended, making the Paris streets gleam in the moonlight. Whitney snuggled deeper into the folds of her satin cloak, loving the feel of it against her chin, while she looked out the window at the teaming mass of humanity scurrying along the wide, rain-swept boulevards.
Outside the theatre crowds milled about in gay defiance of the dampness. Handsome gentlemen in satin coats and tight-fitting breeches bowed and nodded to ladies who glittered with jewels. Stepping from the coach, Whitney gazed in wonderment at the unbelievably gorgeous ladies who stood, poised and confident, talking to their escorts. They were, she decided then and there, the most beautiful women in the world, and she instantly dismissed any future hope of ever really being "the belle of Paris. "But she did so with very little regret, for there was a wonderful exhilaration in simply being here among them.
As the trio made their way into the theatre, only Anne observed the younger gentlemen whose idle glances flickered past Whitney, then returned for another, longer look. Whit-ney’s beauty was a blossoming thing, a vividness of features and coloring that promised much more to come. There was a radiance about her that sprang from her lively spirit and zest for life, a regalness and poise in her bearing that came from clashing head-on for so many years with adversity.
In the Consulate’s private box, Whitney settled her beautiful new gown about her and picked up her ivory fan, using it, as Madame Froussard had instructed, to occupy her hands. She could have laughed at how silly she’d been, wasting so much time on lessons in languages and mathematics, when what she’d really needed to learn in order to please Paul and her father was so incredibly simple. Why, the fan in her hand was far more useful than Greek!
All about her a sea of beads bobbed and dipped, feathers fluttering from elaborate headdresses. Whitney could have hugged herself with the joy of it all. She saw a gentleman receive a playful slap with his lady’s fan, and she felt a kinship with all women, as she wondered what impropriety he’d whispered to his lovely lady, who looked more flattered than distressed.
The opera began and Whitney promptly forgot everything else, lost as she was in the haunting music. It was all beyond her wildest dreams. By the time the heavy curtains swept closed to permit a change of scenery on the stage, Whitney had to shake herself back into reality. Behind her, friends of her aunt and uncle had come to the box, lending their voices to the incredible din of talk and laughter in the theatre.
"Whitney," Aunt Anne said, touching her shoulder. "Do turn around so that I may present you to our dear friends."
Obediently, Whitney stood and turned and was introduced to Monsieur and Madame DuVille. Their greeting was warm and open, but their daughter, Therese, a winsome blonde of about Whitney’s years, only eyed her in watchful curiosity. Under the girl’s penetrating gaze, some of Whitney’s confidence slid away. She had never known how to converse with people her own age, and for the fast time since leaving England, she felt gauche and ill at ease. "Are-are you enjoying the opera?" she managed at last.
"No," Therese said, dimpling, "for I cannot understand a word of it."