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The Last Ball at Concord House

fantasy by Erin M. Kinch

Ginny plucked at her gown with nervous fingers.

She barely recognized herself—a curvy woman draped in green silk had replaced the spinster in the brown tweed suit. Part of her wanted to run back upstairs and hide.

“Quit fidgeting!”

Mary Concord—mistress of Concord House by virtue of the fact her brother, Timothy, had yet to marry—batted Ginny’s hands away from her dress.

“Tonight you’re not a woman in a borrowed gown. You’re Virginia Dupree, a debutante from Boston in town to captivate all the beaux. Just don’t mention to anyone that you’re a librarian.”

“No man ever thought me captivating,” Ginny demurred, squinting at her hostess. Mary had forbidden Ginny to wear her glasses, so the ballroom blurred around her, giving the night a dream-like quality.

The whole afternoon, in fact, felt like a dream. Ginny had arrived at Concord House on the recommendation of a rather outdated magazine she’d found at her hotel. The rambling Victorian mansion was reputed to house a collection of rare first editions, and the book lover in Ginny couldn’t leave England without seeing if a tour could be arranged.

She’d waited on the moss-covered stoop for a full five minutes before a surly butler finally opened the door. Before he could say a word, Mary swooped down the stairs, invited Ginny in for tea, and then pressed her into attending the ball.

“Let me have my fun, Ginny dear,” Mary said. “It comes so infrequently. This is my first ball in ages.”

The orchestra chose that moment to strike up the next song—a waltz. Though the waltz was danced as often now as it ever had been, Ginny had not heard this particular melody in years.

“My mother used to play this song on the pianoforte,” Ginny said. “Then my father would dance me around the drawing room.”

“It’s my favorite,” Mary replied.

Guests in crisp suits and gowns dripping with diamonds filled the dance floor. Ginny watched their slightly blurred forms, taking pleasure in the moment.

A tall man paused before them. Ginny peered up at him, missing the barrier of security her glasses provided. He had perfectly styled brown hair and features chiseled from marble.

“Timothy!” Mary cried. “You must dance with Miss Dupree.”

Timothy Concord bowed deeply. “I would be honored.”

Moments later, Ginny found herself whirling around the dance floor in the arms of the best looking man she’d ever seen. Her heart pounded, and she wished she were an actual debutante capable of capturing the attention of a beau. However, her tongue remained firmly tied.

“I’m pleased you called on us today,” Timothy said. Though his pale blue eyes could be called icy, the heat behind his gaze prickled against her bare shoulders.

“It was quite by chance, I assure you,” Ginny managed to reply.

“Then Chance was kind.” Timothy twirled her, stealing her breath. “Mary thrives on diversion, and that’s been sorely lacking of late.”

“Your sister’s quite generous. To think, I only wanted a peek at your first editions.” Ginny blushed.

“They’re in the library.” Urgency colored his voice and his grip on her gloved hand tightened. “It’s the last door at the end of the hall. They should belong to someone who appreciates them, but such a person has proven difficult to find.”

Ginny blinked. “I couldn’t accept such treasures.” On the heels of her statement, a clock chimed.

“Midnight,” Timothy murmured. “Out of time.”

He leaned forward, and her heart thudded in her ears louder than the chimes from the clock. Though she knew what was about to happen, she didn’t believe it. Handsome, single men never kissed bluestockings like Ginny Dupree.

When his lips touched hers, they felt like slivers of ice against her skin. Her eyes fluttered shut, and they stopped dancing. They were making a spectacle of themselves for the gossips, but Ginny didn’t care a whit. His cool fingers caressed her shoulders and brushed the nape of her neck.

At the twelfth chime, his touch vanished and the music stopped mid-note. Bemused, Ginny opened her eyes, expecting to see a gaggle of titillated dancers laughing at them. Instead, the cavernous room was empty. More than that, all the candles, flowers, and decorations had vanished.

She looked down to see her own tweed suit, not an emerald silk gown. Her glasses hung in their customary spot on a chain around her neck. She slid them on with trembling fingers and the room came into focus. Only a single set of footprints marred the dust coating the oak floor, and yet she felt on display, as if someone was watching.

“Hello?” Her voice quavered.

Ginny crept into the hall, unnerved by the silence. The charming, slightly run-down mansion had become a ramshackle ruin filled with shredded wall hangings and broken furniture. Only the thought of those first editions stayed her retreat. Such treasures deserved a place of honor, not oblivion.

The library was as derelict as the rest of Concord House, but under a sheet in a corner she found the box of books semi-protected from the decay around them, waiting. Ginny strained to carry the heavy box to the front door, feeling as if eyes watched her every step. But the sensation wasn’t malevolent.

She paused on the threshold.

“I’ll take good care of them,” Ginny promised. “And people will remember the Concord name.”

She stepped outside, and a gust of wind whooshed through the house, tugging at her hair. It was as if the house itself breathed a sigh of relief. The presence, the eyes, whatever they had been, were gone. Concord House was at peace.

A day earlier, Ginny would have admonished herself for such foolishness; instead, she waved good bye to Mary and Timothy, wherever they were, hoisted the box of books as high as she could manage, and struck off in the direction of her hotel.

Copyright 2009 by Erin Kinch

Erin Kinch lives in Texas. She blogs about writing at Living the Fictional Dream.

[Return to the July 2009 stories]

6 Responses

  1. Beautiful. I got goosebumps reading that.

  2. The spinster in me just loved it!

    I think people that cannot imagine themselves living (dare I say, even living better) in a different time period just obviously haven’t read enough.

    Thoroughly enjoyable!

  3. Really a lovely ghost story. Reminds me of what I used to love as a kid, all those gothic romances by Dorothy Daniels, Mary Stewart, and Victoria Holt.

  4. Oh, this was very good, Erin. Loved it.

    –dj

  5. I really enjoyed this story.

  6. Wonderful! Thank you!

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