A Most Auspicious Star (continued)

The Carding Chronicles are stories about and from the little town no one can find on a map of Vermont. When you subscribe to the Chronicles, a new story is delivered to your inbox every Friday. If you’re enjoying the Carding Chronicles, please share them with your friends!

Previously on the Carding Chronicles: Carding’s librarian, Jane Twitchell, has uncovered a private stash of material left behind by author Hanson Willis (1875–1952). This material includes sketches and satires about the high-society types that he knew in New York City as well as legends he collected in the hills around Carding, Vermont. This story, A Most Auspicious Star, (the first part is here) is one of the few complete sketches uncovered so far. More will be released as soon as Jane and Edie Wolfe feel they are ready for publication.

Letter U with paper

First, Mr. Carruthers wooed the daily newspapers’ editors with dinners at Delmonico’s and gifts of wine for their mistresses. That ensured Good Publicity.

Then he dropped large dollops of information into the editorial ears about Alvalina’s plans for a grand ball. Soon every Society matron  was giddy with anticipation, and debutantes checked and rechecked the ornate trays set out for visitors cards in expectation of their invitations.

Next Mr. Carruthers spent a great deal of Alvalina’s money to hire French chefs, buy new furniture, and stock the Sutton-Grove wine cellar.

Newspaper editors wore out their adjectival dictionaries searching for words to describe the growing splendor, and Alvalina believed every word she read on their front pages.

When Mr. Carruthers finally sent the invitations by special messenger, he had ensured attendance by even the most reluctant matron because everyone wanted to see what “Alvalina had done with the place.”

After all, no one wants to be left out of the latest swirl of gossip.

On the morning before the ball, Alvalina told Mr. Carruthers, “I need to be dressed better than anyone else. More diamonds than anyone else. More lace than anyone else. More silk than anyone else. Whiter gloves, prettier shoes…” She went on and on.

“You will make sure of that, won’t you?” she asked, flicking her wand up and down with an imperious gesture.

“Oh yes.”

And this is how it was done.

On the morning of the ball, four maids and a hairdresser rushed from one corner of the mansion to the next for hairpins, lace, extra diamonds, rose petals, and whiter gloves. At last, Alvalina Sutton-Grove stood before her great cheval glass corseted, cosseted, buttoned, and buffed. She practiced raising her wand and lowering her wand, imagining the obedience that would be hers in the coming hours.

That night, it was a proud Alvalina who stood at the entrance to the great Sutton-Grove mansion with her chief sycophant by her side. “Money can buy anything, can’t it, Mr. Carruthers?” she asked, marveling. “Even you.”

And she waved her wand with a czarina’s expressive gesture.

But Alvalina’s wand wasn’t working that day.

A hint of the troubles ahead arrived with her first guest, Geraldine Jerome. Dressed in a champagne-colored gown, Geraldine carried a golden wand circled by rubies, diamonds, and moonstones, very much like the one she had seen Alvalina holding in the newspaper’s breathless photographs.

Only better.

Next came Christine Vanderbilt in a gown of palest peach, flaunting a golden wand circled by emeralds, even more diamonds, and topped by the largest pearl Alvalina had ever seen.

And so it continued into the night, each woman dressed in finery to match Alvalina’s, and each carrying a golden wand encrusted with more gems than the last.

“Isn’t it wonderful?” Mr. Carruthers crowed. “Look at the trend you have set in motion. Who would have thought that your wand would become the fashion accessory of the season?”

Alvalina frowned, and raised her wand, its carved pink tourmalines catching the light of the chandeliers above her head.

Nothing happened. No one danced faster or slower. No one flirted. No one bowed. No one even smiled. No one even noticed her.

She switched the wand from one side to the other. The band played on as before. Couples danced. People ate her food, drank her wine, examined her new carpeting, and speculated on the price she’d paid for her new piano.

Over in the corner of the room, ladies compared their wands, and privately confided to their friends how bothersome they were to hold when one danced.

Alvalina turned her wand so she could poke it into Mr. Carruthers’ side. But he was not there. She opened her eyes wide enough to see his retreating back as he made his way toward Mrs. Robert Jones, the richest widow in the city.

They greeted each other warmly, and with affection.

Alvalina sighed. Then she retreated to her favorite sitting room to melt across the surface of her favorite fainting couch. The wand fell from her limp hand—a useless thing—and rolled under a table.

The next day, the newspapers exploded with rapturous praise of the “exquisite Mrs. Sutton-Grove” who had “hosted the most elegant party ever seen in the city,” and of the lofty guests who had paraded through her halls, and of the latest craze for wands.

But Alvalina’s wand hadn’t been working that day.

Please join us next week for the appearance of our annual Christmas story, The Tennyson Free-Range Christmas Tree Farm. If you are enjoying these stories, please tell your friends.

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