At the risk of giving away too much of the story plot of An Eternity of Four Years, here is a short scene at a grand ball in Washington when Rachel meets her rival, Aimee de Beauchamp, for the first time. If you have read The Last Day of Forever, you will know Aimee was chasing Ethan while Rachel was “exiled.” Enjoy.
The ball was in one of the hotels near the capitol. Its ballroom was elaborately decorated with gas crystal chandeliers, gilded moldings, and fine draperies. The room was a sea of soldiers in dress blue uniforms, politicians in formal wear and white ties, and lovely women in fancy ball gowns. Miles took me around the room and introduced me to so many generals and politicians that I lost track of their names. Several asked me to dance and questioned me about my portraits.
“Captain Herndon tells me you are the finest portraitist in Washington. I must see your work. My wife wants a portrait of me now that I have been promoted to brigadier. Do you think you can fit me into your schedule?”
“I do have a waiting list, sir, but we can work something out.” After the dance I gave him my calling card.
“I shall be calling upon you, Miss Rachel.”
“And I shall look forward to it, sir.”
Miles intervened and took my arm. “Don’t I get to dance with the girl I brought?”
“Of course, Miles.” And he swept me out onto the floor and spun me around until I was dizzy. I was having a marvelous time. Washington is nothing like Gettysburg!
We retired to the punchbowl for refreshments. As Miles was reminding me of the names of those I had met and needed to remember, a woman called out in French-accented English, “Miles, is that you? It is you!”
Miles turned to the voice, and a shocked expression swept over his face. “Aimee?”
“Aimee?” I said softly to myself as my Analee eyebrow went up. I turned to see a beautiful young woman making her way to us, a broad smile on her face.
Aimee swept into the conversation with a flourish worthy of the finest stage actor. Miles was speechless. “Aren’t you going to introduce me to your lovely, new lady-friend?” she asked, nodding to me.
Miles looked to me anxiously before beginning the introductions. “Mademoiselle Aimee de Beauchamp, may I present Mademoiselle Rachel Whitcomb. Rachel, Miss Aimee de Beauchamp.”
That broad smile of hers fell from her face such that I would almost swear I heard a thud when it hit the floor. She glared at me for a moment and seemed unable to speak, but she soon recovered. “You are Rachel? And may I call you Rachel? I feel as if I already know you…”
“Of course…” but she did not allow me to finish, and frankly, I am glad she did not, for what I was thinking of saying was not flattering.
“And you must call me Aimee. We are almost old friends, aren’t we?” Getting no immediate response from me, she turned to Miles. “Miles, aren’t we like old friends?”
Miles could barely get in a nod before she continued, “I must say, Rachel, you are as lovely as Ethan said you were. That’s a beautiful gown; it shows off your trim figure so nicely.”
I did not have a chance to respond before Miles attempted to regain control of the conversation. “Aimee, I thought you were in France?”