Duchess of Richmond’s ball

Imperial Scandal

One of history’s most famous social engagements was two hundred years ago today. 15 June 1815. The ball given by the Duchess of Richmond in Brussels at which Wellington got word that Napoleon’s forces were on the move and Napoleon had “hoodwinked: him by attacking in a different direction from what he had anticipated. Officers rode to battle in ball dress (Waterloo was not the next day but 18 June, with the fighting at Quatre Bras in the interim).

In honor of the anniversary, here is an excerpt of how the scene plays out in Imperial Scandal.

When the meal came to an end, the spell that had held the company under some semblance of illusion that they were at an ordinary ball well and truly broke. Malcolm was claimed by Stuart, Davenport by Colonel Canning. Raoul met Suzanne’s gaze briefly across the supper room. It was, she knew, the only good-bye they would have.

By the time Suzanne and Cordelia stepped back into the hall it was a scene of chaos. Soldiers calling for their horses, girls darting across the floor, tripping over their skirts, shouting the names of their beloveds, parents scanning the crowd for sons. The musicians had begun to play again in the ballroom, but the strains of the waltz vied with the call of bugles and the shrill song of fifes from outside. A broken champagne glass scrunched under Suzanne’s satin slipper. By the dining room door a young captain stood holding the hands of a girl in orange blossom crêpe. A little farther off a girl in pink muslin had sunk to the floor, weeping into her hands. Suzanne felt Cordelia go still beside her.

A man in a rifleman’s uniform brushed past them, a girl in white on his arm. Suzanne suppressed a start at the sight of those finely molded features. Then she forced her gaze away. The ghosts of her past seemed irrelevant in the chaos of the present.

“Suzanne.” Georgiana touched her arm. “I’m going to help March pack up his things.” She glanced toward the ballroom. “I can’t believe people are so heartless as to still be dancing.”

Cordelia drew a harsh breath. “I wouldn’t be too hard on them. It may be their last chance.”


“Malcolm. Glad I found you.” Stuart gripped Malcolm’s arm, his face uncharacteristically grim. He jerked his head toward the Duke of Richmond’s study. Malcolm followed the ambassador into the room to find Wellington and the Duke of Richmond already there, amid the ranks of books and the smell of old leather and dusty paper. Richmond was spreading a map out on the desk.

“Napoleon has humbugged me by God!” Wellington glanced at the door as Malcolm and Stuart stepped into the room. “He has gained twenty-four hours’ march on me. And separated us from the Prussians.”

“What do you intend doing?” the Duke of Richmond asked. He was a soldier himself, in command of the reserves in Brussels. Three of his sons were in the army, and Malcolm knew Richmond himself had been displeased not to receive an appointment on Wellington’s staff.

Wellington moved to the desk and stared down at the map. “I have ordered the army to concentrate at Quatre Bras, but we shan’t stop him there, and if so,” he said, pressing his thumb down on the map, “I must fight him here.”

Malcolm moved to the duke’s side to see what he was pointing at. Wellington’s thumbnail rested on a small village called Waterloo.


“Rannoch.” Davenport fell in beside Malcolm outside the door of the duke’s study. “What did Hookey have to say?”

“That Bonaparte has humbugged him. He’s gained a day’s march on us and separated us from the Prussians.”

Davenport grimaced. “Exile apparently hasn’t dulled Boney’s brilliance. It looks as though I’m back to being a staff officer. I’m off to Fleurus with a message. I don’t know if I’ll get back to Brussels before the fighting starts. Tony Chase–”

“I’ll talk to him.” Malcolm nearly said more, but he wasn’t quite ready to share the suspicions roiling in his head. “You need to find Lady Cordelia and make your farewells.”

Two cavalry officers pushed past them. A girl in blue ran up and seized one by the arm. Davenport glanced at them for a moment, then turned his gaze back to Malcolm. “Look, Rannoch.” His voice was clipped. “I know Cordelia. I’ve no illusions she’ll go home or even to Antwerp.”

“I shouldn’t think so. Suzanne wouldn’t, either.”

A smile of acknowledgment tugged at Davenport’s mouth. “And Wellington wouldn’t thank me for considering defeat. But I have a healthy respect for Napoleon Bonaparte. Should the unthinkable happen–”

Malcolm gripped his friend’s shoulder. He had many acquaintances but few friends. He realized Davenport had become one of them. “I’ll make sure Lady Cordelia and your daughter get to safety. My word on it.”

Davenport met his gaze, for once with no hint of mockery. “Thank you.”

Davenport strode off in search of his wife. Malcolm spared a brief thought for what it would be like to say farewell to Suzanne with such a nightmare of estrangement between them. Then he pushed the thought to where personal thoughts had to go at times like these and glanced round the chaos of the hall for Anthony Chase. Soldiers pushed past, white-gloved fingers clutched scarlet-coated arms, shouts for horses and calls to husbands, wives, sweethearts, children, parents cut the air. Malcolm saw a flash of green and a bright gold head near the front door and pushed his way through the crowd, only to find it was a lieutenant in the 95th rather than Chase.

He turned back toward the ballroom and saw a familiar face. “March. Are you off?”

“When I’ve seen my parents,” Lord March said. “Georgy helped me pack.”

“You haven’t seen Tony Chase by any chance, have you?”

“Not since supper, I think. Probably slipped off to say good-bye to his latest mistress.” March grimaced with distaste. “I’ve always thought Jane Chase deserved better.”

“I won’t argue with you there. Though one can’t deny Chase’s bravery at Truxhillo.”

“No, though if you ask me half of his success was the French being so bloody incompetent.”

“I was in Andalusia at the time,” Malcolm said. “I think the accounts I’ve heard were rather exaggerated.”

March frowned. “It’s odd. Tony Chase asked me about that.”

“About the accounts being exaggerated?”

“Where you were at the time, of all things. Seemed to think you were on a mission near Truxhillo.”

Malcolm felt his pulse quicken. “When was this?”

“Fortnight or so ago. Wellington’s ball for Blücher perhaps? One of the endless round of parties we’ve been attending. The days have a way of running together.”

Malcolm gripped the other man’s arm. “Thank you, March. Look after yourself.”

“Always do, old fellow.”

Malcolm scanned the hall for Tony Chase again. Finding him had suddenly become a matter of pressing urgency.


“Harry.” Cordelia skidded over fallen roses and shards of broken champagne glasses on the hall floor. “Thank God. I was afraid you’d left.”

“Cordy.” He was standing by the base of the stairs, drawing on his gloves. She thought, inconsequentially, that he must have had them off since supper. Absurd the way one’s mind worked at such moments. “You’re staying in Brussels?” he asked.

“Don’t try to argue me out of–”

He gave a faint smile. “I wouldn’t dream of it. This is no time to waste one’s breath. But in the event it becomes necessary, Rannoch can help you get back to England.”

She nodded, swallowing her surprise.

Harry continued pulling on his gloves. “Should I– In the event I don’t see you again, my man of business has all the necessary documents. Alford-Smith in St. Albans Lane. There’s a portion for you and everything else is in trust for Livia with you as trustee. Neither of you should want for anything.”

She stared at him. It was as though she was looking at a stranger, and yet she sensed he had never spoken so genuinely. “Harry– I didn’t expect–”

He tugged the second glove smooth. “What did you think I’d do? Support you and Livia in life and abandon you in death?”

“No, of course not. But I wish you wouldn’t talk about–”

“Merely taking precautions. I’ve lived through a tiresome number of battles, I daresay I shall live through this one.”

Beneath his easy tone and cool gaze something belied his words. She looked at him for a moment, every nerve stretched taut beneath her skin. This could be the last time she would ever see him. She reached up and curled her gloved fingers behind his neck.

He stiffened beneath her touch. “Cordy–”

“I have no right to ask you to come back to me, Harry. But for God’s sake, please come back.” She drew his head down and pressed her mouth to his.

For a moment he went completely still. Then his arms closed about her, as though he would meld her to him. His mouth tasted of wine. His hair was soft beneath her gloved fingers, his hands taut and urgent through the net and silk of her gown, his mouth desperate yet oddly tender against her own.

When he raised his head, his eyes were like dark glass. He stared down at her with the wonder and fear of a man who has stepped into an alien world. “I’m sorry. I didn’t–”

She put her hand against the side of his face. Her fingers trembled. “Thank you. That is, I didn’t mean to–”

He seized her hand and pressed it to his lips with a fervor equal to his kiss. “Tell Livia–”

“You can tell her yourself when you come back.”

He gave a twisted smile. “Look after yourself, Cordy.”

She swallowed. “That’s one thing I’ve always been good at.”


A few couples were still waltzing in the ballroom. Cordelia found Suzanne beside a gilded table that held a porcelain bowl of wilting roses and a brace of candles dripping wax onto the marble tabletop.

“Did you find Harry?” Suzanne asked.

“He’s just left. You’re staying in Brussels?”

“Of course.”

Cordelia smiled, more relieved than she would care to admit to know she would have her friend to rely upon in what was to come. “I knew you could be depended upon. Livia and I will be at the Hôtel d’Angleterre.”

“Lady Caroline’s leaving?”

“Along with half the expatriates in Brussels. I can’t quarrel with her. But I feel compelled to stay.”

“Of course. But not in an hôtel. You and Livia must come to us.”

Cordelia shook her head. “That isn’t why I told you–”

“I know that. But it’s the logical solution.”

“It’s not just Livia and me. I’ve told Johnny I’ll take Robbie and his nurse in.”

“Aline’s coming to us as well. We have plenty of room.” Suzanne touched Cordelia’s arm. “You’ll be doing me a great favor. Malcolm is bound to be off on an errand, and God knows when he’ll be back. I’ll be going mad with worry, and I suspect you will as well.”

Cordelia looked at her for a moment, a dozen polite denials trembling on her lips. Then she said simply, “Thank you.”

“Splendid. I daresay–” Suzanne broke off as a tall, fair-haired man in a colonel’s uniform brushed past them.

The colonel went stock-still, his gaze locked on Suzanne’s. “Suz– Mrs. Rannoch.”

“Colonel Radley.” Suzanne’s voice was as icy as Cordelia had ever heard it. She turned to Cordelia and performed a quick introduction.

Radley inclined his head. He had an elegantly boned face and a self-assured blue gaze that implied he was quite aware of how handsome he was. But that confident gaze shifted over Suzanne as though she was a cipher he could not solve. “I’m off to join my regiment. Are you staying in Brussels?”

“Of course,” Suzanne said. “My husband’s here.”

“Your devotion continues to be remarkable.” Radley regarded Suzanne a moment longer, half- speculative, half-challenging. Then he nodded and moved off.

Cordelia adjusted the folds of her Grecian scarf. Suzanne Rannoch was a surprising woman, but Cordelia had never thought to find her friend playing out the equivalent of her own scene with Peregrine Waterford.

“I knew Frederick Radley in the Peninsula,” Suzanne said. “Before I married I Malcolm.” She gave a faint smile and looked directly into Cordelia’s eyes. “You aren’t the only one with ghosts, Cordy.”


Suzanne studied Malcolm’s face. “You’re not going home to change?”

He shook his head. “There’s no time. Richmond’s lending me a horse. I need to find Anthony Chase or at the very least warn his commanding officer. It’s not precisely a message I can trust to someone else.”

Beside them, a dragoon was pulling a flower from a girl’s gold ringlets, while a fresh-faced young Foot Guard lifted a dark-haired girl’s hand to his lips. Suzanne’s hands closed on her husband’s arms. “Be careful.”

A smile pulled at his mouth, the familiar, maddening smile he employed when going into danger without her. “I’m only delivering a message.”

“You’re looking for a man who means to kill you.”

“He won’t try to do it himself.”

“You don’t know what he’ll attempt if he’s driven to desperation.”

His gripped her shoulders. “I’ll try to be back tomorrow. I think it will be a day or so before anything decisive occurs.”

She leaned into him and put her mouth to his. His arms closed round her with the force of everything he couldn’t put into words. Bugle calls sounded in the distance. The French had gained valuable time. Something sang within her at the knowledge, and yet at the same time her heart twisted at the danger her husband faced.

He drew back and set his hands on her shoulders. “Should the news not be good, you should have plenty of time to get to Antwerp. I’ll find you there. Or back in England if necessary.”

She gave a quick nod. “Cordelia is coming to stay with me. Allie as well.”

“Good.” He hesitated a moment, then added, “There are still papers in the compartment in the bottom of my dispatch box. Where I told you to look when we were in Vienna. Travel documents, letters for Aunt Frances and David. And for you and Colin.”

A chill shot through the gauze and satin of her gown. “Malcolm–”

“In our line of work, it’s always wise to be prepared.”

She had letters for him and Colin as well, but Raoul had them in safekeeping. One in case she died and took her secrets to the grave, one in case she died and Malcolm had already learned the truth of her work. Since she’d married and become a mother she feared death as never before, but even more she feared a future in which she was gone and her husband and son hated her.

She reached up and kissed Malcolm again, branding him with a memory meant to survive whatever was to come.

Excerpted from Imperial Scandal by TERESA GRANT Copyright © 2012 by Tracy Grant. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Monday I blogged on History Hoydens about some of Wellington’s aides-de-camp who appear as characters in Imperial Scandal. I thought it would be fun to repeat the post here as part of the Imperial Scandal back story.

For more on Fitzroy, Gordon, and the others, check out the letter I just added to the Fraser Correspondence, where Aline shares her thoughts on Wellington’s ADCs with Gisèle.

This Friday, 15 June, is the 197th anniversary of the Duchess of Richmond’s ball at which the Duke of Wellington learned that Napoleon was attacking not from the west as Wellington had expected but on the Allied Army’s eastern flank, trying to separate them from their Prussian allies. Poring over a map of Belgium in the Duke of Richmond’s study, Wellington is said to have declared, “Napoleon has humbugged me.” A number of officers joined their regiments straight from the ball and fought the next day at Quatre Bras in their ball dress. Monday, 18 June, is the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo itself.

Both the ball and the battle figure prominently in my latest release, Imperial Scandal. My hero, Malcolm Rannoch, is a diplomat and intelligence agent, but Wellington presses him into servicein the battle delivering messages. I knew early on in the plotting process that I wanted to have Malcolm delivering messages during the battle, and I was very pleased to discover in my research that Wellington is actually said to have pressed civilians into service because so many of his aides-de-camp were wounded. Several of those aides-de-camp are characters in Imperial Scandal and in other fictional accounts of Waterloo, notably Georgette Heyer’s brilliant An Infamous Army. One of the challenges of writing Imperial Scandal was bringing them to life as characters who were at once unique to my story and true to the actual people. Here, in honor of the anniversary of Waterloo, are some brief notes about a few of them.

Lieutenant- Colonel Sir Alexander Gordon K.C.B. – younger brother of the diplomat Lord Aberdeen (later foreign secretary and prime minister). He was shot while remonstrating with Wellington to remove himself from fire. Gordon had his leg amputated and later died of his wounds in Wellington’s bedchamber at the inn in the village of Waterloo that Wellington had made his Headquarters. Dr. Hume reports that when he informed Wellington of Gordon’s death, Wellington said, “Well, thank God, I don’t know what it is to lose a battle; but certainly nothing can be more painful than to win one with the loss of so many of one’s friends.”

Lord Fitzroy Somerset – youngest son of the 5th Duke of Beaufort. He joined Wellington’s staff in 1807 and became his military secretary in 1811. In August 1814 he married Emily Harriet Wellesley-Pole, Wellington’s niece. She was in Brussels with him and gave birth to a baby daughter just weeks before the battle. Fitzroy was shot in the arm during the battle when he and Wellington were just a hands breadth apart. Fiztroy’s right arm had to be amputated. Before they carried it off, he insisted on removing a ring his wife had given him. He quickly learned to write with his left hand and resumed his duties as Wellington’s secretary. He was created Baron Raglan in 1852 and given command of the British troops sent to the Crimea in 1854. He died there in 1855 from complications brought on by an attack of dysentery.

Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Fox Canning
– Third son of Stratford Canning. Died of a gunshot wound to the stomach in the arms of his friend Lord March late in the battle, a tragic scene which Heyer beautifully dramatizes in An Infamous Army and which I also attempted to recreate in Imperial Scandal.

Charles Gordon-Lennox, Earl of March – eldest son of the Duke and Duchess of Richmond. He was an aide-de-camp to Wellington in the Peninsula and took a musket ball in the chest at Orthez which was never removed. During the Waterloo campaignl he was assigned to the Prince of Orange’s staff. He was present at his mother’s famous ball. After the news about the French, his sister Georgiana slipped off with him to help pack his things. At Waterloo, his friend Curzon died in his arms and then Colonel Canning later in the battle. Shortly after March carried the wounded Prince of Orange from the field. In 1817 he married Lady Caroline Paget, daughter of the Marquess of Anglesey (formerly the Earl of Uxbridge) who commanded the cavalry at Waterloo. March succeeded his father as Duke of Richmond and was active in Tory politics.

Have cameos by real historical figures in historical novels inspired you to research the real people? Writers, what particular challenges have you faced writing about historical figures who have also appeared in other historical novels?

Wishing everyone warm and magical midwinter holidays. It’s been a busy ten days. My daughter Mélanie Cordelia arrived at 11:34 pm on 13 December 2011. There we are above at her first restaurant dinner (more pictures on Facebook). We’ve been having a lot of fun settling in together, and the holiday season is the perfect time to introduce her to lots of friends and family. It still seems miraculous that she’s hear, and yet it’s already hard to imagine there was ever a time she wasn’t part of my life.

Just after Mélanie was born, another of my historical romantic suspense novels, Rightfully His, was released as an ebook on Nook, Kindle, and All Romance Books. Good timing, as Rightfully His begins during the holiday season in 1822.

As my holiday post, here’s another teaser from Imperial Scandal. In honor of Mélanie’s birth, it’s a scene in which Mélanie/Suzanne, Cordelia Davenport, and Aline talk about motherhood. It occurs the day after the Duchess of Richmond’s ball, when the Allied Army has marched off to meet the French. I’ll draw the name of a commenter to receive another ARC at the start of the new year. And I’ll try to post a holiday Fraser Correspondence letter next week.

Warmest wishes for 2012!


When the children were settled in the nursery with Livia’s and Robbie’s nurses, examining Colin’s toys, Mélanie took Cordelia down to the salon where she’d had coffee sent in.
“It’s good to see them playing.” Cordelia rubbed her arms. “I keep waiting for it to hit Robbie that Julia’s gone. Then I’m afraid it has, and he didn’t see her enough for it to matter as it should.”
“Your sister was–“
“Restless. She thought she knew what she wanted when we were girls. But once she had it, it didn’t make her happy. Then she wasn’t sure what to do with herself. Sometimes I’m afraid having Robbie was like ticking off one more item on a list of things she was supposed to do. Whereas for me–” Cordelia shook her head. “Motherhood was a distinct surprise.”
“It was for me as well,” Mélanie said and then bit her tongue, her instinct to confide warring with every dictate of a trained agent.
Cordelia looked at her for a moment, the supposedly perfect wife who presumably would have been eager to give her husband children. Mélanie couldn’t be sure what Cordelia saw, but she had a dismaying fear that her carefully constructed defenses had slipped.
But instead of asking questions, Cordelia glanced out the window into the garden. “Livia’s been talking about Harry ever since yesterday.”
“That’s good surely.”
“Yes, but I can’t help worrying she’s met him only to–“
“Cordelia.” Mélanie went to the other woman’s side, biting back the obvious platitudes. “Even if she never sees him again, it’s better for her to have the one good memory.”
Cordelia nodded. The gaze she lifted to Mélanie held unimagined horrors. “I can’t bear the thought that last night was the last time I’ll see him. So commonplace. I’m sure women all over the city are saying that this morning.”
“Which doesn’t make it any less real.”
“Lowering to realize I’m just like everyone else. I’ve always prided myself on being an original.”
“War provides a sad amount of commonality.”
The door opened to admit Aline who came into the room with a determined step. “Valentin took my bags up. I told him there was no need to bother you. The streets were so quiet on the way here. Now the bugles and fifes and marching have stopped I could almost imagine it was a hideous nightmare. If Brussels weren’t so eerily empty.” She dropped down on the sofa and reached for the coffee pot. “I don’t think I slept a wink.”
“Nor did I.” Cordelia moved to the sofa. “Do pour me out a cup as well.”
Aline filled three cups letting loose the rich aroma of the coffee. “The Comtesse de Ribaucourt is organizing ladies to prepare lint this afternoon. I thought it might be good to feel one was doing something useful.”
“I never saw myself as the lint-scraping sort,” Cordelia said, “but I quite agree.”
Aline gulped down a sip of coffee. “People keep saying one can’t admit the possibility of defeat. But whichever way the battle goes, there are going to be wounded.”
Mélanie reached for her own coffee and took a fortifying sip. That was what she had told herself for years. People died in war. Different people might die because of her actions, but people would die regardless.
“Mélanie?” Aline said. “Are you all right?”
“Yes, love. Just a bit-“
“Overwhelmed,” Cordelia concluded for her. “Commonplace or not it’s overwhelming.”
“I wish I’d paid more attention when Geoff was patching people up. At the moment those skills seem infinitely useful than solving quadratic equations.” Aline pushed herself to her feet. “Damn. I did so want to avoid this.”
“War?” Cordelia asked.
“Caring about people.” Aline strode to the window and stood staring out at the garden. “Oh, I’ve always cared about my family in the detached way our family does. But for years I thought I was above personal relationships. Or not worthy of them. Or something. Numbers always seemed so much safer. It wasn’t until last night I realized how very right I was.”
“Would you go back?” Cordelia asked. “Would you change any of it if you could?”
Aline turned round and shook her head at once. “Of course not.” Her hand went to her stomach. “I can’t imagine my life without Geoff. Or the baby, even though the baby still scarcely seems real half the time.”
Cordelia nodded and took a sip of coffee. “If you wouldn’t change anything, then you’re more fortunate than most. How soon can we start scraping lint?”

I received a wonderful present this week – an envelope filled with gorgeous coverflats for Imperial Scandal. To celebrate, I’ll be giving a signed coverflat to one of the commenters on this week’s post, a teaser from Imperial Scandal.

I blogged a while ago about the Duchess of Richmond’s ball, an iconic entertainment at which Wellington received confirmation that Napoleon was on the march. The ball was on 15 June, 1815. The battle of Waterloo followed on 18 June. This month’s teaser picks up on Mélanie/Suzanne at the ball with Aline Blackwell and the Duchess of Richmond’s daughter Georgiana Lennox.


Swags of crimson, gold, and black, the Royal colors of the Netherlands, veiled the rose trellis wallpaper in the Duchess of Richmond’s ballroom. Ribbons and flowers garlanded the pillars. The younger Lennoxes had thrown open the windows that ran along one side of the room, letting in a welcome breeze to stir the hot, heavy air. Cool moonlight blended on the parquet floor with warmer light from the brilliant chandeliers. The flames of dozens of branches of candles shimmered in the dark glass of the French windows and the brightly polished gilt-edged mirrors. The strains of a waltz rose above the clink of glasses and buzz of brittle talk. But Mélanie had the oddest sense the delicate atmosphere could shatter as easily as one could break a champagne glass with a silver spoon.
“There are so many dignitaries present, from so many countries,” Georgiana Lennox said. “It’s quite a chore keeping precedence straight.”
“Just like Vienna,” Aline murmured.
Indeed the profusion of medals, braid, and gold and silver lace glittering in the candlelight called to mind scenes at the Congress, as did the perfume, beeswax, and sweat vying with the sweet of aroma from the banks of roses and lilies that decorated the room. But the two hundred some guests crowding Georgiana’s mother’s ballroom were a small crowd compared to the thousand and more Prince and Princess Metternich had entertained at their villa.
“It looks splendid,” Mélanie said.
Georgiana gave a smile slightly strained about the edges. “You’d never guess my sisters use this room as a schoolroom, would you? Or that we’ve been known to play battledore and shuttlecock in here.” She scanned the crowd. “I do wish Wellington would come.”
“He may have ordered the army ready to march,” Aline said, “but he obviously isn’t in a panic. Half his officers are here.”
“But there’s a distinct dearth of Dutch-Belgians.” Georgiana tugged at a loose thread in her sleeve. “None of General Perponcher’s officers has put in an appearance.”
“Lord Hill is saying everything that is reassuring.” Mélanie scanned the soldiers thronging the floor with ladies in gauzy, ribbon-trimmed gowns in a hothouse of colors—lilac, rose, Pomona green, jonquil, cerulean blue. Her gaze settled on a man in Belgian uniform. Good God. Surely that handsome face with the slanting cheekbones belonged to General de la Bédoyère, who had taken his regiment over to Napoleon and was now one of his aides-de-camp. La Bédoyère met her gaze for the briefest moment, a reckless glint in his eyes, then continued to glance round the room.
Aline pulled her lace shawl closer about her shoulders despite the heat in the room. “Georgy’s right, Perponcher’s officers not being here is worrying.”
Georgiana shot a surprised look at her. “You’re always so calm, Allie.”
“Calm?” Aline’s voice turned unwontedly sharp. “My insides are roiling about, and for once I don’t think it’s anything to do with the baby.”
“My husband’s military doctor, Georgy. That means he’ll be near the front. Which does rather strain one’s savoir-faire.”
Mélanie put an arm round Aline and squeezed her shoulders. With everything else going on these past days, she’d quite failed to think about what her young cousin was going through. “Geoff’s been through countless battles.”
“And he’ll be in much less danger than the soldiers. I know.” Aline’s shoulders were taut beneath Mélanie’s arm. “But somehow it doesn’t help.”
Georgiana flicked her fan open and then closed. “The Prince of Orange gave it to me,” she said, fingering the amber sticks. “So odd to think of him commanding troops. I can’t help–“
“If one ignores the smell of nervousness in the air and half the conversation, it could almost be a normal evening.” Cordelia emerged from the crowd to stand beside them. Though Mélanie knew just how little time her friend had had to tend to her toilette, she was as dramatic as always in jet-beaded gossamer net over cream-colored silk.
“Define normal,” Aline said.
“There’s the rub. If–” Cordelia broke off as a tall, sandy-haired man in a colonel’s uniform came toward them. Colonel Peregrine Waterford. Mélanie had met him in the Peninsula and seen him once or twice in Brussels.
Waterford greeted all the women, but his gaze lingered on Cordelia, warm with memories. “I was hoping I could persuade you to dance.” His voice was a bit slurred, as though he’d been dipping too deep into the Richmonds’ excellent champagne.
Cordelia’s answering smile was as distant as it was polite. “Thank you, Colonel, but I won’t dance tonight. My sister died only two days ago.”
Embarrassment shot through the colonel’s eyes. He murmured an apology and his condolences on her loss, then quickly took himself off.
“How ill-mannered,” Georgiana said. “I’m sorry, Cordelia.”
“I’m the one who should apologize, Georgy. Your mother wouldn’t thank me for letting you so close to one of my scandals.”
“Oh, stuff.” Georgiana gave a quick flick of her fan. A great deal had changed in her attitude toward Cordelia since Stuart’s ball two days ago. “Scandal seems quite irrelevant now.”
“Scandal is sadly never irrelevant. And the past seems to be always with us. Oh, good, here’s someone who should know something. Lord Uxbridge.” Cordelia held out her hand to the cavalry commander, who was walking toward them. “Do tell us you have news.”
“I’m afraid not.” Uxbridge bowed over her hand. “But surely you don’t think all the officers would have leave to be here were the situation really dire?”
“Yes,” Cordelia said, “if Wellington wanted people to believe the situation less dire than it is.”
Uxbridge threw back his head and laughed. “Touché. It’s a pity you couldn’t have joined the cavalry, Cordy. I could have made something of you.”
“It’s just so hard not knowing,” Georgiana said. “Three of my brothers are in the army, as is Mrs. Blackwell’s husband.”
“And my husband,” Cordelia said.
Georgiana cast a quick glance at her. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think–”
“Quite understandable. But Harry is my husband and the father of my daughter, and as it happens his fate is a matter of some concern to me.”
Uxbridge looked at her, brows drawing together. “Cordelia-”
“Lord Uxbridge.” Cordelia put her hands on his shoulders with the familiarity of an old friend. “Tell us the truth.”
Uxbridge smiled down at her. “The truth, my dear Cordelia, is that I know little more than you.”
“But you rather think Wellington should have told you more as second in command you.”
“You never heard me say so, Cordy.”
Cordelia laughed.
Georgiana shivered. “How can you laugh at a time like this?”
Cordelia smiled at the younger woman and put an arm round her. “My dear Georgy. It’s difficult to see what else we can do.”
“Spoken like a soldier’s wife,” Uxbridge said. He smiled as he spoke, but Mélanie caught a flicker in his gaze. She suspected he was thinking of his own wife, home in England with their children, and the chances that she’d find herself a widow.
The waltz on the dance floor had come to an end. A wail cut the air that took Mélanie back to the previous summer. Dunmykel, Charles’s family estate in Perthshire. Granite cliffs, the tang of salt water, clean pine-scented air. and the unmistakable sound of bagpipes. Kilted sergeants and privates from the 92nd Foot and the 42nd Royal Highlanders marched into the room. The candlelight gleamed off their white sporrans and the brilliant tartans that trailed over their shoulders.
The crowd drew back and broke into applause. “Mama wanted to show off Highland dances,” Georgiana murmured. Her mother was a daughter of the Duke of Gordon. “She did so want the evening to be memorable.” Georgiana bit her lip, for the evening was almost bound to be memorable for reasons that had nothing to do with the entertainment.
Yet when crossed swords glinted on the parquet floor and the Highlanders danced over them to the wail of the pipes, it was almost enough to drive out thoughts of the coming battle. Except that those swords looked all too lethal.
Mélanie felt a light touch at her waist as the sword dance gave way to a strathspey. “I could almost imagine I’m home,” Charles murmured.
She twisted her head round to glimpse an ache of longing in her husband’s eyes. She’d seen last summer how much Dunmykel meant to him. Even after their visit she didn’t understand the reasons for his self-imposed exile from his home and family. A homesickness he would never admit to was sharp in his gaze now. With a chill, she realized he was wondering if he’d ever see Dunmykel again.
She caught his hand in her own and squeezed it hard. He smiled at her. “You’re missing the show.”
She turned back to the dancers. Their legs, clad in red-checkered stockings, seemed to move ever faster. The sound of the pipes swirled through the candle-warmed air and bounced off the ballroom ceiling. Incredible to think that these musicians and dancers would soon be marching off to battle. On her husband’s side. And against her own.


Do share your thoughts for a chance to win a coverflat (I’ll draw the name next Saturday). And be sure to check out the new Fraser Correspondence letter I just posted from Charles to Lady Frances about Aline and Geoffrey’s betrothal.

Charles nodded and turned his horse. Men and horses littered the ground, wounded, dying, dead. Bullets sang through the air, shells exploded, cannons rumbled. Beneath his coat, his shirt was plastered to his skin. The smell of blood and powder, the screams of men and horses, the sight of gaping wounds and blown off limbs had become monotonous reality. He steered his horse round two dead dragoons sprawled over the body of a horse with the lower part of its face shot off.

That’s a quote from Imperial Scandal, which I’m currently in the midst of revising. Imperial Scandal begins in a world much like that of Vienna Waltz, at a ball given by the British ambassador (where you met Cordelia Davenport in last week’s excerpt). But that glittering world teeters in the brink of war as the Allied army waits in Brussels for Napoleon to march from Paris. The glamorous world of the British ex-patriates in Brussels is shattered at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball with the confirmation that the French have crossed the frontier. Soldiers march off to fight in ball dress. The last part of the book moves back and forth between the battlefield where Charles/Malcolm is pressed into delivering messages for Wellington and Brussels where Mélanie/Suzanne and Cordelia are nursing the wounded.

I’m currently in the midst of revising the battle scenes, which are some of the most challenging I’ve ever written. On my first draft I was preoccupied with getting down the logistics of the battle, weaving in the plot developments that needed to happen and getting my characters in the right place at the right time for the historical chronology. Not to mention making sure I had details of uniforms and weapons right. I was reasonably happy with how the battle sequence turned out in the preliminary version. But now I’m layering in more texture and emotion. And sheer horror. Waterloo was a particularly bloody battle with some 47,000 soldiers killed or wounded. At the end of the day, the field was strewn with dead or dying men and horses.

Earlier this week I heard a clip on NPR of Kurt Vonnegut talking about how he wanted to write about war in a way that didn’t glamorize it. That really resonated for me with the scenes I’m currently working on. It’s a challenge to capture the bravery and acts of courage and yet not lose sight of the horror and insanity. Which also means not pulling back in describing the violence and brutality.

It’s a grim world to live in as a writer. A couple of days ago I saw a fabulous final dress rehearsal of Götterdämmerung, the last opera in Wagner’s Ring at San Francisco Opera, which with its destruction and tragedy and wasted lives seemed very apropos of the scenes I’ve been writing. I drafted this post outdoors in the café at the California Shakespeare theater waiting for their production of Titus Andronicus to begin. A play rooted in war and definitely about violence, which also seems apropos. And having now seen, the production, which was brilliant and disturbing, these lines seems particularly to resonate with the scenes I’ve been writing, which moves back and forth between the Allies and the French:

But must my sons be slaughter’d in the streets,
For valiant doings in their country’s cause?
O, if to fight for king and commonweal
Were piety in thine, it is in these.

The battle of Waterloo has been dramatized brilliantly by a number of writers. Two of my favorite depictions, both brutal and heart-rending, are Georgette Heyer in An Infamous Army and Bernard Cornwell in Waterloo. I’m only hoping I manage to not disgrace myself in comparison.

Which battle scenes in fiction do you find particularly effective? Writers, if you’ve written battle scenes, what are the particular challenges you faced?

I’ve just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter from Melanie to Raoul, where, among other things, she talks about Frederick Radley. Which brings up another question. What did you think of the revelations about Mel/Suzette’s relationship with Radley in Vienna Waltz, and did you think she was telling the full truth to Charles/Malcolm?

I blogged this week on History Hoydens about the Duchess of Richmond’s ball. The ball, in the midst of which British and Dutch-Belgian soldiers got the news that the French were on the march, is a key set piece in my Waterloo book (which I am currently buried in finishing). It occurs just as the mystery/spy plot and the various emotional dilemmas of the characters are coming to a head. I thought I’d repeat the post here, because I find the topic so interesting (and because I need to get back to revising my book :-).

I love parties. The picture above is from New Years Eve this year, when I spent a lovely evening drinking champagne and watching fireworks with some of my closest friends. But in my writing lately, I’ve been consumed with a much more more lavish party nearly two hundred years in the past. On 15 June 1815 the Duchess of Richmond gave a ball at the house in the Rue de Blanchisserie that she had her husband had taken in Brussels. Among the guests were many officers in the Allied Army, gathered in Belgium preparing for battle against Napoleon Bonaparte, recently escaped from exile on Elba and restored to power in France. A number of the aristocratic British ex-patriates who had taken up residence in Brussels that spring were present as well. So were a gilded assortment of diplomats, along with Belgian royals and dignitaries. Of course the Duke of Wellington, commander of the Allied Army, was on the guest list for the ball. He was an old friend of the Duke and Duchess of Richmond, looked on as a sort of indulgent uncle by their large family of children. Three of the Richmonds’ sons were in the army.

The ballroom was a converted carriage house, where the Lennox children played battledore-and-shuttlecock and the youngest members of the family did their lessons. The duchess draped the rose trellis wallpaper with swags of crimson, gold, and black, the Royal colors of the Netherlands. Ribbons, wreaths, and flowers garlanded the pillars. It was a warm evening ,but the younger Lennoxes threw open the French windows that ran along one side of the room, letting in a welcome breeze. The duchess, a daughter of the Duke of Gordon, had engaged kilted sergeants and privates from the 92nd Foot and the 42nd Royal Highlanders to entertain the company with sword dances.

Rumors that the French were on the move swirled throughout the ballroom. Wellington was late, adding to the talk. By the time he arrived with a group of his aides-de-camp, as skilled at waltzing as they were at war, the duke had known for some hours that Napoleon has crossed the frontier from France. But he believed the reported attacks to the east were a feint. He thought the real attack would come from the west, to separate them from the sea and their supply lines. He needed confirmation before he could order the army to march. Meanwhile, he needed to forestall panic and also to confer with a number of his officers, who were conveniently gathered together at the ball.

Wellington confessed to the duchess’s daughter, Georgiana Lennox, that the army was off tomorrow, but he gave every appearance of sang-froid. As the company moved into the hall on the way to supper, a mud-spattered officer, Harry Webster, pushed his way through the crowd. He had a message for the Prince of Orange. The twenty-three-year-old prince, commander of the Dutch-Belgian army based on his birth not his experience, tucked the message away unread, but Wellington asked to see it. Wellington read the message and at once ordered Webster to summon four horses for the Prince of Orange’s carriage. The message, from Constant de Rebecque, whom the prince had left in charge at his headquarters, revealed that Bonaparte had crossed the Sambre river at Charleroi. He was attacking not from the west but on the Allies’ eastern flank, trying to separate them from their Prussian allies.

Wellington maintained a cheerful demeanor through supper, laughing with young Georgiana Lennox and his Brussels flirt, Lady Frances Webster. But after supper, he asked the Duke of Richmond if he had a map of Belgium in the house. In the duke’s study, Wellington stared down at the map spread on the desk and declared that Bonaparte had humbugged him. He had ordered the army to concentrate at the crossroads of Quatre Bras, but he feared he would not be able to hold the French there. He pressed his thumb against the small village near which he would then have to fight Napoleon. Waterloo.

Meanwhile in the hall and ballroom, the illusion that they were at an ordinary ball had well and truly broken. The front door banged open and shut. Soldiers called for their horses, girls darted across the floor shouting the names of their beloveds, parents scanned the crowd for sons. The musicians had begun to play again in the ballroom, but the strains of the waltz vied with the call of bugles from outside. Georgiana Lennox slipped off to help her eldest brother, Lord March, pack up his things. She thought the young ladies still waltzing were “heartless,” but for many of them it would be the last chance to dance with husbands, sweethearts, and brothers.

The Duchess of Richmond’s ball has been dramatized by many novelists, including Thackeray in Vanity Fair, Georgette Heyer in An Infamous Army, and Bernard Cornwell, in Waterloo, part of the Richard Sharpe series. I wrote about the ball myself in one of my historical romances, Shores of Desire, and as I said above, it’s a key event in my current WIP. Even though this is the second time I’ve approached the ball, I was a bit intimidated by such an iconic historical event. I’m currently on my third draft, and I’m starting to be fairly happy with how the scenes are shaping up. I had to write them in layers. The historical details, the physical setting–from the glitter of the ball to the chaos it dissolved into–the more intimate emotional landscape of my characters, real and fictional, saying farewell to loved ones. It was particularly interesting to have both Mélanie and Raoul there, with the complex emotions both are feeling. Charles surprised me by turning into something more of an action hero in this book that he’s been before. He ended up being at the battlefield much of the time.

Have you read fictional accounts of the Duchess of Richmond’s ball or seen it dramatized on film? What party scenes stand out in your memory from historical fiction? Writers, is there an historical entertainment you both want to dramatize and find yourself intimidated by?

I’ve just posted a new letter from Raoul to Lady Frances in the Fraser Correspondence, inspired by JMM’s suggestion that Raoul would entrust to Frances any letters he left for Charles.