Lexie Conyngham's Blog: writing, history and gardening.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Launch Party 1: Welcome to the party!

Welcome - and before we go any further, thanks to Kath and N who very kindly once again read The Tender Herb before it could possibly go any further. I'm extremely grateful. Now, off we go!

The carriage pulls up outside the Queen Street house in Edinburgh's New Town: it’s autumnal twilight, with a nip in the air, and you pull the collar of your cloak up as you step out, but the torches are lit by the front steps, and the door opens on to the honey-warm candlelight of the hallway.

A pale manservant greets you – Robbins, you remember his name is. His odd eyes reflect the candlelight like glass. Beyond him a tall, striking maid awaits, dark curling hair escaping her lace cap. Beside her is a short, tubby man taking the gentlemen’s hats and cloaks with a look of concentration on his ordinary face. In a moment you are ready: there is the soft whisper of silk skirt on the stone floor, the scuff of light evening slippers, and Robbins leads you upstairs to the drawing room.

There some of the guests are already assembled: you greet your host, Mr. Murray, a tall young man who is beginning to grow into his role as master of the ceremonies. The portraits of his late parents, a handsome pair, still adorn the walls of the drawing room, which has been opened out for the occasion, with fires in both hearths. The smell of firewood, so usual you hardly notice it, is fragranced by the pastille burners on the mantelpieces. The long pale blue silk curtains are drawn against the night. Another manservant, this one with his collar crooked and something pulling his pocket shapeless, offers you a glass of negus from a large jug, warming against the quick chill outside. Then you can mingle.

Mr. Blair is there, bundled in a chair by the window, and his daughter, still unmarried, is keeping him company and watching the company with the eye of one who will draw them all later. Mr. Blair’s sister is gossiping whether anyone is listening or not. Mrs. Thomson is already there, of course, charming and sharp, along with her sister Mrs. Armstrong and Mr. Armstrong, all ginger-haired anxiety. Willie Jack Dundas, red-nosed and watery-eyed, is chatting with his brother Harry but with an eye constantly on the door – what unsuitable girl is he pursuing now? Several young ladies are there with their parents or older brothers, warming their hands by the fire in case they are asked to perform on the lovely piano in the room. One has brought a flute in a case: it is well known that Mr. Murray likes music. For a moment, though, it is the colours that take your eye: the ladies in soft oyster, white, pale blue, leaf green, magnolia pink, the gentlemen like shadows in black but winking with gold where their buttons catch the candlelight, the turkey rugs reflecting the ruby red of the negus in your glass.

The conversation is witty and intelligent, of course – this is Edinburgh, after all – and heavily laced with gossip – even Edinburgh’s inhabitants are human. The latest edition of the Edinburgh Review is dissected, and there is a little light rivalry with the Quarterly. Books are talked over, some with passion, others with chilly dismissal. The architecture of the latest Edinburgh suburb is subjected to criticism. The prospects of the theatrical season are considered. The room grows warm with chatter and laughter: shawls slip down from shoulder to elbow, neckcloths grow a little tighter, pale Scottish complexions flush.

At last the man Robbins appears, has a brief word with his master, and announces that dinner is served. In this easy gathering, it is the matter of a moment to find someone to go in with, and soon you are seated and admiring the elaborately symmetrical table arrangement before you. Bon app├ętit!

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