As they sat in the large armchairs, facing each other in the drawing room of their Berkeley Square home, Victoria felt determined to keep pursuing her most vital request. In her purple dress, with her red hair scraped up high, she sat forward, and with a purposeful look said “You can’t treat me like Cinderella father. Deborah was only seventeen when she had her Coming Out Ball, which was followed by a fabulous Season. If mother were still alive, she wouldn’t make such a fuss” Sitting back, with the blackness of his attire matching his mood, he sighed and shook his head.
“The annual Debutante Ball! Debutante. It’s French. It means a female beginner. It signifies entry to the marriage market” he stated sardonically. She sat further forward, with her hands clasped.
“It’s entry to the London Season, which I really can’t miss. I’m already eighteen. I’d have to wait another year. I’ll be left on the shelf and become a spinster, if I don’t come out this year. Grandmama was a titled lady, so I belong” she said, trying to sound assertive.
He sat forward and gave her a look of incredulity. “Belong!” he replied with a scowl.
“You need to wake up to reality. This is 1926. I’m not an earl, duke or a baron.”
“But you’re high up in the civil service and very highly valued. It’s bound to be your turn soon for a knighthood” He sighed and once more shook his head.
“I’m the Under Secretary to the Minister of Labour; essentially his right – hand man and currently trying to offer best advice regarding how to avoid the horrendous possibility of a national strike, rooted in the miner’s dispute” He gave her a cold stare.
“But I know you don’t always have to be successful. I remember three years ago when you and mother were talking about one of your contemporaries. He’d failed badly in advising his minister and was therefore moved to another department. He was given a knighthood as well” Once more, he sighed and nodded.
“Yes, well. At the moment there’s the strong possibility of a large group of workers based up at Jarrow, marching on Downing Street. They’re already setting up stalls along the route to serve soup and sandwiches of steak and sausages. Other groups are planning to join them to swell their ranks as they march south. There could be thousands by the time they reach the city.”
“I know where Jarrow is. It’s way, way up north. They’ll also need cobblers on the route.”
He chuckled and she beamed.
“Yes, you could be right there. Anyway, I’ve got a lot on my plate at the moment. Making a decision about this Ball, I could do without.”
“Mother would have made the decision easily. Why don’t you tell me what’s on your plate and then we can talk about the Ball?” He smiled weakly.
“Well, there’s the conflict between my department and the Home Office regarding the strike, with rumours about Churchill, who’s now at the Exchequer, trying to influence the Home Secretary in taking military action, like he did sixteen years ago when he was in the role, and sent troops into a mining dispute in South Wales.”
“Well I don’t understand what it’s all about, but I think the miners should just get back down into their pits and dig the coal that we all need. They’ve got jobs. They should be grateful” He gave her a disbelieving look.
“You were right when you said you don’t understand. Anyway, you want to go to a Ball to meet some worthless, chinless wonder to provide you with a life of luxury.” She leaned even further forward and tried to look assertive.
“But Deborah, she’s well settled. Not on your hands anymore. She met George at her Coming Out Ball and now lives in a mansion with servants at her beck and call. George supports her lifestyle, in his being high up in International Investments” He sighed again and she continued.
“Unfortunately, he’s away a lot and has what she described as a massive portfolio, which he needs to service regularly across several countries in the Empire” He gave her a suspicious look.
“He’s also developed a massive corporation over the last two years. He’s even fatter than Churchill.”
“So, can I go to the Ball father please?” She gave him a pleading look.
“I’m not sure any more about the matching up with someone of suitable, social standing. I’d be far happier for you to meet someone who believes in something; wants to make a contribution of value to our country and who has some expertise and knowledge, which can be widely valued” He shook his head once more, looking somewhat despondent.
“I’ve already identified an escort for you to introduce me to. And he’s tasked with looking after me throughout the Ball, as well as presenting me to Queen Mary, just like mother did with an escort for Deborah” She gave him a childlike, appealing look.
“Well, who is he then, this escort?” he replied, as if partly in resignation.
“His name’s Henry Todd-Hunter. He’s one of the Warwickshire Todd-Hunters.”
“Really. Not one of the Northumberland Todd-Hunters, who hold great sway across the whole of society” he replied, with a flourishing gesture of his hand, followed by a mischievous look.
“Father! You’re making fun of me.”
“Yes, I’m sorry. This whole marriage market system just leaves me cold. I’m sure it’ll be abolished someday, but I doubt if I’ll live long enough to see it.”
‘I do hope not, I mean, not abolished. I want to be at the Coming Out Balls for all my daughters and grand-daughters” she said with a big smile.
“Yes, I can just imagine it” He gave a downcast look.
“I have some accomplishments which can impress possible suitors. I can play piano; not quite as well as Deborah. But I’m a far better singer. So, I’ll be able to excel at the country – house party weekends, which take place throughout the Season. I’m also quite well read. I’ve read all seven of Jane Austen’s books, which I’m sure people of our class can so easily relate to.”
“You’re right there; all based around middle and upper classes in the Home Counties. Hardly representative of what’s happening in the country. You should broaden your reading by including some of today’s up and coming women authors, such as Virginia Woolf, Rebecca West and Katherine Mansfield. She’s from New Zealand and has written a story you might just enjoy, called Her First Ball.”
“Really. That sounds timely. I’ll go and get it from the library.”
“There’s also a very good up – and – coming male author, E M Forster. He attended Kings at Cambridge, my Alma Mater. He’s written four excellent novels: Where Angels Fear to Tread; A Passage to India; A Room with a View; and Howards End” She tried, but failed to feign a look of interest.
“You probably know about the new development in films, where there will soon be what’s being called ‘Talkies’. I could envisage in the future, Forster’s books being produced as films.” She gave an excited look, which initially surprised and impressed him.
“And Jane Austen’s books. That would be absolutely wonderful.”
“Yes” He gave another downcast look.
“You could do worse than read more of Dickens. Could help you better appreciate the nitty – gritty issues, which aren’t a mile away from today’s realities.”
“Would you like to see my curtsy?” she asked, determined to rigidly stick to her agenda.
“See your what?”
“My curtsy, for when my escort presents me to Queen Mary at the Ball. I’ve been practicing. Indeed, I helped Deborah to get hers right. She wasn’t very good at it. In fact, mine is so good I could add it to my accomplishments. Throughout the season and afterwards, it will be important on the many occasions when I meet any of the Royals.”
“Really. How exciting” he replied, with a hint of sarcasm.
“During the season, there’ll be Ascot, cocktail parties, polo matches and various dances, as well as the country – house weekend parties.” Again, she gave him an appealing look.
“Well daughter dear, I suppose you’d better go to the Ball” he said, shaking his head.
“Thank you, father,” she replied excitedly, as she leapt up, giving him a quick cuddle, before rapidly running upstairs.
“So much to do” she said. Then entering her bedroom, she started to fantasize about the Season. Smiling through the dressing table mirror, she said to herself I’m sure I’ll find my Deb’s Delight. But I may need to try out a few first.
By Bryan Smith