Captain Bleck chuckled, his broad chest shaking within the tight confines of his dress uniform.
“That’s what we want you women to believe,” he replied, a teasing edge just audible in his voice. “But don’t you think it for a moment. Why, in Burma, in ‘62…”
The party had overflown the ballroom. Couples strolled along the twilight paths, keeping discrete distances from one another. The night had reached that familiar stage of mild inebriation when the taut edges were beginning to wear off formal manners. Lucy knew this moment well. It was the part she always dreaded - the part her sisters all seemed to like so much - and she wasn’t sure how much longer she would be able to avoid all the depressingly eligible young men.
“Oh, you military men are all the same,” protested Anne, and Lucy stifled a yawn, because she had heard her sister use that phrase at least three times tonight already - to three different (but equally beastly-looking) men. There was so much conceit there it made her want to scream; but the men seemed to like it well enough.
Lucy wanted to leave her discrete little seat in the gazebo - she was quite sure that horrid little man from the Admiralty had spotted her - could feel him looming up behind - but when she got up to go, she saw it was a stranger.
“Oh,” said Lucy, the barbed remark dying on her lips as she realised she has no idea who this man was at all.
He was an odd fellow - thin, and jagged, somehow, though not unpleasant-looking. He looked very out of place amongst the well-to-do of society, and Lucy was suddenly struck by the thought that she would much rather spend time with this stranger than with any of the many people here whom she had known most her life.
“Oh,” replied the man, blinking at her with large , watery eyes, then gazing off into the murk as if there was something far more exciting there than the dimly-visible form of the creeping wisteria.
“Who are you?” Asked Lucy, half-hating herself for being interested enough to ask. She made a point of never, ever, asking anyone anything at one of mother’s dreadful parties.
The angular man waved a hand vaguely in the air.
“No-one important,” he muttered, pleasantly enough, not coming close to meeting her eye...