This is a story embroidered in freshwater pearls and swansdown, ermine and hoarfrost . . .
Another sweltering day. The listeners came to the cool stones of the Chapel-in-the-Sands as the sun set. The Pilgrim Woman handed out glasses that tinkled with ice.
‘I offer you a cooling story from the other end of the year,’ she said, then began this tale:
For all it was winter, they left the Ballroom. Titania, Merlin, Guinevere; all the fairytale costumed guests abandoned the hot and gilded chambers for the Terrace. The House was so crowded, they overflowed onto the frost-crisped lawns.
Beyond them, Lady Cecilia’s bog garden lay frozen and glittering in the light from the chandeliers. Sead heads of meadowsweet and asphodel, candelabra primulas and Love-in-a-Mist sparkled. They dripped with more diamonds than the ladies by the French windows.
Those in slippers felt it first. Beaded tassels and stitched-on paste jewels shook with the beat. Deep music coming up through the cold-crackled ponds. It rose, unbearably catchy. The feet of the Great and the supposedly Good simply had to tap.
Such wildness. The guests grinned at each other. They took hands, took hold of waists, took hidden kisses. Their circles and gyres swung out and out. They spread in dimpled spirals – like water sucked down an outflow.
Amongst all that swirling satin, those shivering pearls and hot, florid scents, no-one noticed any extra revellers at first. Then came nods of half-recognition and little bows to acknowledge their superior glamour.
Where did they find such luminous make-up? How were those gauzy wings constructed? Who had painted their faces to be so cruelly beautiful?
More of the original landowners arose gorgeous from the soil; wreathed in berries and evergreens, shimmering with frosted webs, hard-eyed and merciless. Every one of the usurpers found a new earth-scented partner that night, one that lasted the rest of their moth-brief life.
Candles flickered on the windowledge of the Chapel-in-the-Sands. The listeners went out into the cooling night in pairs.