Mothers could be so puzzling sometimes. Hoping to impart some wisdom in roundabout, indirect manners, they had the tendency to make sweeping generalizations and toss out endless idioms of what and what not to do. At times they were straightforward, but others, like now, they were simply nonsensical. It also didn't help that his father was saying the complete opposite of what his mother was.
The conversation in the car was like many others—the Viscount Branksome, Charles Napier, was talking about the races again, one of the mainstays of the English Season, and his mother would listen politely until finally changing the subject to more pressing matters.
"Now you know, there will be plenty of debutantes at the ball that will want a dance." she interjected with an apologetic smile, which always seemed to shut his father up.
Or at least, shut up for a moment. "Yes—the first of many seasons. Remember what I'm always telling you, son. You are the future of our house, our name—"
"Charles, it's only his first ball." The viscountess interrupted, with another smile directed at her son. "Let him enjoy himself."
"He can enjoy himself and look after his family's interests. The Earl of Fairfax and his daughter—his only child—will be attending this ball. She's about your age, and of course very eligible. You should look after her."
Evelyn met his father's severe green eyes with a dutiful nod, clasping his hands in his lap and looking out the car window as they approached the townhouse of his parents' friends, the Duke and Duchess of Wesley. Of course he was terribly afraid because he didn't know anyone there. He knew that he was raised to do this, to socialize, to charm other people, but for some reason it didn't seem as if his education had prepared him for this. Finding a wife? He had just read law at Oxford, and now he was expected to find a wife, before he even set foot into an office.
He just wanted to enjoy the fact that he graduated from university, and had come of age—was that too much to ask? He supposed the Season was that for young men, but it still felt so very regimented.
The conversation with Lady Patricia was one such example. They talked about the party, making comments about who was who and where everyone was from and what not—in other words, absolutely nothing until he asked her if she wanted something to drink. He excused himself to find a footman and nearly bumped into someone on the way.
"Terribly sorry, mad—" He opened and closed his mouth a few times, feeling like a fish and probably looking like one, as his eyes met the striking cerulean eyes of the graceful woman standing in front of him.
"It's Lady, actually."
Her voice was like her eyes—piercing, yet still managing to leave him dumbstruck. "I-I sorry." he mumbled, barely coherent, before shaking his head. "My apologies, Lady…?"
"Lady Mae." He shook himself out of his stupor as she offered him her gloved hand.
"Lady Mae," he repeated, finally seeing fit to close his agape mouth, his lips curling upward in a pleasant smile.
There was a bit of an expectant pause, and when Evelyn didn't answer, she prompted, "And might I have the pleasure of knowing your name?"
"N-Napier, Evelyn Napier." he stammered out, letting go of her hand and folding his own restless ones behind his back. "How do you do?"
"Son of the Viscount Branksome?"
"Yes. Yes, son and heir." he answered, clearing his throat to steady his voice, which he had only just managed to find.
She smiled, which only served to frazzle his mind even more. "Is this your first season, then, Mr. Napier?"
"It is, milady."
"How exciting for you—are you nervous?"
"A bit, to be honest." he admitted sheepishly, his eyes sweeping the room. "I only recognize about half the people here—and of those most of them are only by name. I don't think we've actually ever had a conversation about anything that matters."
Lady Mae's eyes followed his until his last statement, her interest obviously piqued. "And what would you say matters?"
Evelyn wasn't expecting the question, and he had to take a moment to formulate an answer. "Well, certainly not the frivolous things—like the races, for instance. My father spent the whole time talking about them on the car ride here. And I love a good horse race just as much as the next man…dreams, and aspirations—those are the things that matter. What we want out of life…" He raised his wineglass to his lips.
"What an original point of view—surely you know that none of us talk about the things that matter, as you say. The aristocracy thrives on gossip and triviality." she remarked with an amused grin.
"But should we? Superficiality isn't a virtue." It certainly wasn't one that he saw as attractive—and all Lady Patricia seemed to want to talk about was the latest gossip. Granted they barely knew each other and had nothing to talk about besides that, he supposed, but even so…
"No, it is not. And it's commendable that you realize that, Mr. Napier. So tell me, what are your aspirations?"
"Well…I've only just finished university, you see, but I'd like to become a diplomat. It'd be fascinating to be Viceroy of India…" He had read countless pieces by Kipling and other writers, and longed to visit the Jewel in the Crown. Achieving something like that would surely bring honor to the House Branksome, and by his deeds and merit, not because he married the daughter of someone important.
"My, that's quite ambitious—and refreshing. Too many men take to the gambling tables straight after school—but you want to do something productive and of use. It's admirable." Her compliment, however flirtatious he was reading it as, seemed genuine, and he had to return her smile, a slight flush spreading over his face at the heavy praise.
"Thank you, Lady Mae. I wonder if you'd like a dance?" he asked, emboldened by both accolade and smile.
"I would love a dance, Mr. Napier." She handed her drink to one of the footmen scattered about the ballroom, and Evelyn followed suit.
He had danced with women before at his parents' dinner parties, but this was a part of his coming of age—his first dance as an eligible society bachelor. There was a Viennese waltz playing, and he took her hand and smiled, resting his other against the small of her back as he led her across the floor. This was a first, in that he didn't recall dancing with a lady as beautiful as she was in his past experience. She had eyes like sapphires, skin like porcelain, and her dark curls were probably like silk. It was clear that he was smitten, and all thoughts of the Earl of Fairfax's daughter were driven from his head.
"Do you have any aspirations?" he asked after a moment, figuring that he should say something instead of looking like a lovestruck schoolboy the entire time.
A cagey grin played across her features, and her answer came in a whisper. "I certainly do, Mr. Napier, but they're a secret."
"That's a bit unfair—I've given you my deep dark secret desire to become the Viceroy of India," he teased, though he genuinely was intrigued by her evasiveness.
"All in good time."
The dance soon ended and another man was lined up to ask for a dance after his. Before Evelyn took his leave, Lady Mae passed him a slip of paper and he looked up in confusion. "My card. Do stop by for some tea, and perhaps I'll share these aspirations." she stated with a grin before starting to dance with the other man.
Evelyn turned over the card as he walked back over to the other side of the room. There was an address for a house in Grosvenor Square, as well as her name—her full name. The card read: Lady Mae Loxley.