Mixed Signals
by Naomi

Admiral Lord Hornblower finally saw his wife amidst the babbling,
tattling, tittering throng. He'd spotted her several times during the
course of this interminable evening. Once she had been listening
attentively to some tale of woeful health Prinny poured into her ear.
Only the impatient tapping of one elegantly shod foot had betrayed
her boredom. Horatio had seen her later going into supper on the arm
of Lord Desmond. Her fan had flicked open and shut in a shockingly
flirtatious manner but Horatio alone knew that when she used her fan
just so it usually meant she was repressing the urge to break that
delicate creation of ivory and silk over some poor fool's head. And
during the waltz, as she was being spun about the ballroom by the
awkward Adolphus Malmsbury, she had caught Horatio's gaze and
shamelessly rolled and goggled her eyes in a manner signifying the
dizziness such activity engendered. Horatio had sputtered a laugh
into his wine. But now there she was, surrounded by at least a dozen
swains, all of them younger, more handsome, and higher born than her
husband. Her fan flicked open again, this time to stay, and she
stared back at him over its pleats. She was enjoying herself for the
first time this evening, he thought and smiled himself. Bright eyes
dancing, laughing, all but daring him to come and claim her. Well,
well, he thought, might as well. For all the crowd there were not
present as many as three other people who played a decent hand of
whist. The entire evening had been a lamentable waste of time. He
stifled a yawn. If only he could persuade her to go home at a decent
hour this night; perhaps he would finally have time to pen a response
to old Pellew's letter.

Horatio waded through her beaux less like a white knight claiming his
lady than a merchant claiming a parcel from the post. Such a lack of
gallantry had a most quelling effect on the gentlemen and the group
disbanded and melted into the crowd with little more than a whimper.

"Darling!" Barbara enthused. "Thank heaven you are come to my rescue!
Such a promising evening but how dull it has become after all. Wait
until I tell you the latest on dit from Prinny! He was never more
entertaining. And that charming Desmond paid me the most delightful
compliment you will be made quite jealous when I tell you, I
promise you will! Did you see me dancing with little Dolph? Isn't he
the most marvelous dancer? I vow, I'll not dance the waltz again with
any other. No, Horatio, not even you! I am in most deadly earnest.
Stop laughing now, do! But then I became so bored with those wretched
youths and the room seemed so hot and noisy and what should I desire
above all else but to go home and be alone with you? And so you came
to me!" With a satisfied sigh, she allowed her head to sink onto his
shoulder. "Oh, Horatio, you know me so well."