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A Betrothal

"We have been to a ball, of which I must give you a description.
Last Tuesday we had just done dinner at about seven, and stepped out
into the balcony to look at the remains of the sunset behind the
mountains, when we heard very distinctly a band of music, which
rather excited my astonishment, as a solitary organ is the utmost
that toils up here. I went out of the room for a few minutes, and,
on my returning, Emily said, 'Oh! That band is playing at the
farmer's near here. The daughter is fiancee to-day, and they have a
ball.' I said, 'I wish I was going!' 'Well,' replied she, 'the
farmer's wife did call to invite us.' 'Then I shall certainly go,'
I exclaimed. I applied to Madame B., who said she would like it
very much, and we had better go, children and all. Some of the
servants were already gone. We rushed away to put on some shawls,
and put off any shred of black we might have about us (as the people
would have been quite annoyed if we had appeared on such an occasion
with any black), and we started. When we reached the farmer's,
which is a stone's throw above our house, we were received with
great enthusiasm; the only drawback being, that no one spoke French,
and we did not yet speak Piedmontese. We were placed on a bench
against the wall, and the people went on dancing. The room was a
large whitewashed kitchen (I suppose), with several large pictures
in black frames, and very smoky. I distinguished the Martyrdom of
Saint Sebastian, and the others appeared equally lively and
appropriate subjects. Whether they were Old Masters or not, and if
so, by whom, I could not ascertain. The band were seated opposite
us. Five men, with wind instruments, part of the band of the
National Guard, to which the farmer's sons belong. They played
really admirably, and I began to be afraid that some idea of our
dignity would prevent me getting a partner; so, by Madame B.'s
advice, I went up to the bride, and offered to dance with her. Such
a handsome young woman! Like one of Uwins's pictures. Very dark,
with a quantity of black hair, and on an immense scale. The
children were already dancing, as well as the maids. After we came
to an end of our dance, which was what they called a Polka-Mazourka,
I saw the bride trying to screw up the courage of her fiance to ask
me to dance, which after a little hesitation he did. And admirably
he danced, as indeed they all did--in excellent time, and with a
little more spirit than one sees in a ball-room. In fact, they were
very like one's ordinary partners, except that they wore earrings
and were in their shirt-sleeves, and truth compels me to state that
they decidedly smelt of garlic. Some of them had been smoking, but
threw away their cigars when we came in. The only thing that did
not look cheerful was, that the room was only lighted by two or
three oil-lamps, and that there seemed to be no preparation for
refreshments. Madame B., seeing this, whispered to her maid, who
disengaged herself from her partner, and ran off to the house; she
and the kitchenmaid presently returning with a large tray covered
with all kinds of cakes (of which we are great consumers and always
have a stock), and a large hamper full of bottles of wine, with
coffee and sugar. This seemed all very acceptable. The fiancee was
requested to distribute the eatables, and a bucket of water being
produced to wash the glasses in, the wine disappeared very quickly--
as fast as they could open the bottles. But, elated, I suppose, by
this, the floor was sprinkled with water, and the musicians played a
Monferrino, which is a Piedmontese dance. Madame B. danced with the
farmer's son, and Emily with another distinguished member of the
company. It was very fatiguing--something like a Scotch reel. My
partner was a little man, like Perrot, and very proud of his
dancing. He cut in the air and twisted about, until I was out of
breath, though my attempts to imitate him were feeble in the
extreme. At last, after seven or eight dances, I was obliged to sit
down. We stayed till nine, and I was so dead beat with the heat
that I could hardly crawl about the house, and in an agony with the
cramp, it is so long since I have danced."

Charles Dickens

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