Mr Humphries was an amiable man. Handsome too, and all of the London ladies who were lucky enough to see him from across the room, or even luckier still to meet him in person, would never doubt that simple fact. He was also very rich, which always had the girls fanning themselves vigorously, their swoons impossible to alleviate until he was out of the room. He, of course, was unaware of his godly traits. The broadness of his shoulders, the tightness of his calves, and the face that would put angels to shame – these gifts would have women flushing and men searing with jealousy. Yet he was so oblivious to the effect he had that he merely thought the rooms unventilated, and the tankard almost empty.
Mr Humphries now descended the staircase, accompanied by a Miss Kensington, who was latched onto his arm with a certain and understandable fierceness, and entered a rather large, glamorous ballroom. Indeed, the ballroom was filled with a number of pampered, single ladies who were eager to establish husbands, and when they caught eye of the impossible beautiful Mr Humphries, their conversations halted and their eyes seethed with desire.
Miss Kensington had just spotted her friend and relations near the hearth situated on the far right wall of the room, and proceeded to pull Mr Humphries towards them. They passed a waiter with a tray of champagne and Mr Humphries snatched up a glass swiftly, thankful for the refuge he was provided. Miss Kensington's conversations have been known to be a bore, so boring in fact that he had twice seen people fall asleep on their feet. He hadn't wanted to come tonight, preferring to stay at home amongst his books of science and philosophy. He had recently entertained the possibility of atomic orbitals – it was presently the craze in the learned world – but his plans of doing some research were quashed the moment he had received and read his invitation.
"Oh, the weather has been such a gloom recently!" exclaimed Miss Kensington, rather unnecessarily.
Mr Humphries furrowed his brow and swirled the champagne he held. Miss Kensington's conversational skills have deteriorated acutely – the weather indeed a drear, unimaginative topic of discussion. Miss Kensington's persistence must be commended , however. She had unceasingly pleaded with him to come to the ball, and also persuaded her brother to do the same. He had no choice but to go.
He couldn't really focus on what was happening around him, nor did he care to do so. The dancing couples were just a haze in his vision and the music was merely a droning, monotonous sound with occasional inflections.
"Excuse me, Sir."
Mr Humprhies snapped out of his reverie. He discovered a lady in front of him, curtsying, her ample cleavage advantageously exposed. He looked away from her – he wasn't one for conversation right now, and tired of the idea of flirtatious ladies who cared nothing but for finding husbands.
"How are you tonight, Sir?" the lady purred, fluttering her lashes as all women do. Mr Humphries was not surprised by her lack of subtlety. The lady continued with her ontowardness for several minutes but with no success. Alas, Mr Humphries would not even look at her let alone speak more than one syllable. She sulked away in no time at all. The other ladies in the room were relieved, no doubt.
Miss Kensington's conversation with her "friends" was primarily between herself and herself. Mrs Margaret indeed could not get a word in, mustering only a yes or a no whenever Miss Kensington decided to breathe. The others did not bother to take such pains, they all knew that Miss Kensington was not a forced to be reckoned with – to fight the boredom was impossible and would readily result in failure. Some of the more lucky ones were able to detach from the group and were subsequently never seen in the vicinity of the hearth again.
Mr Humphries continued to swirl his champagne, and sighed quietly. It was not that he disliked social occasions, or of conversation, but the present atmosphere had nothing in the way of interest.
"Miss Poppy, how delightful that you should be here! To think it has been so long since I've seen your face – I hardly recognise you!"
Mr Humphries flinched at the high trill of Miss Kensington's voice, and looked up to see what all the commotion was about.
He could never have prepared himself for the sight of Miss Poppy. In all elegance and innocence, her beauty was unfathomable. The red of her lips, the russet curls of hair that bounced merrily about her face as she walked, the soft curve of her jaw and neck, and delight! the deep, soulful black of her eyes as she gazed at Miss Kensington. Miss Kensignton introduced her to the rest of the party, and the beauty greeted each with commendable grace.
When it was his turn to be introduced, he couldn't help but feel torn as she gazed up at him. Something prodded at his mind, this woman was somehow familiar. He was sure that if he had seen her before, but he would have remembered her beauty. Perhaps it was her name that he felt he knew? As it is, he wanted to like her, but he felt an overwhelming aversion.
"Ah, this is my brother's dear friend, Mr Humphries. He is quite the remarkable gentlemen, genteel and quite disposed to my happiness," Miss Kensington beamed, laying claim on him.
"Miss Poppy," he greeted quitely, dipping his head but holding her eyes.
Miss Poppy duly curtsied. Mr Humphries observed her as she proceeded to listen to Miss Kensington. He thought that she might have looked his way on occasion, but her eyes were trained intently elsewhere. It was when Miss Kensignton mentioned her brother, Mr Charles Kensington, his own dearest friend for many years, that the conversation had turned to one of interest.
"We must find Charles! He would be so glad to meet you again," Miss Kensington perked her head up, surveying the ballroom, looking out for her brother.
"Surely, he has better use of his time than to talk to me," Miss Poppy said in a soft voice, her brown eyes shining with alarm.
Mr Humprhies thought this odd – who would object to meeting an old acquaintance? He supposed that the acquaintance may have turned sour, and Miss Poppy wished to avoid the confrontation with Charles. But Mr Humphries had rarely come across any persons who disliked his friend, except, of course, for...
Oh, it dawned on him. His aversion now explained by the simple fact that Miss Poppy was once engaged to Charles, but she had called off the union without warning and without propriety, and a man was lost that day. Charles was left heart-broken, indeed Mr Humprhies had travelled all of the way from London to comfort his poor friend. A man was never seen so devastated, so upset, that Mr Humprhies thought his fiancé might have been a boar, a wretched ghoul, or even a dragon! He had never met her before, never dreamed nor wanted to, until tonight. And what he saw surprised him even more – she was an angel. But what she did was unquestionable – it had taken Charles at least two years to recover, and even then were his courtships short and very few.
"I should not want Charles to meet with her, in any case," Mr Humphries cut in, his tone surprisingly harsh, "Miss Poppy is free to do as she wishes."
"Pish! Charles would be delighted to see her, as I am!" Miss Kensington retorted a little too loudly, grabbing hold of Miss Poppy's gloved hand.
Miss Poppy sounded, "I would leave now, please, you must excuse me."
Mr Humphries saw how her eyes glistened with wetness as she looked to him, but it lasted only an instant. She turned and hastened towards the door, and then disappeared behind the entrance, the room returning to its former ugliness. He felt partly guilty for having sounded so distasteful, and he, only having met her. He felt her absence, maybe even more so than Miss Kensington, as indeed she quickly resumed her monologue of weather dictations and fashionable garb. He wished he could follow Miss Poppy, apologize, but he might have felt a certain disloyalty towards Charles. Who was he to chide others when they have done nothing to him?
He felt tired, and sipped his champagne, readying himself for a long, bore of a night.