Latest News – The Silver Lining, Book 4 in the Silveries series, coming September 2024

Angela Dandy

Novels. Short Stories. Plays


The night is dark, breezy and drizzly, and unseasonably warm. It is October; the most unpredictable month of the year. Resting my head on the headrest and closing my eyes, I hear little but the windscreen wipers flip-flopping back and forth in front of me lulling me into a false sense of security. Had it not been for the rain and my high heeled silver shoes I would have chosen to walk this evening.

There are tail lights ahead of us and headlights behind us as we wait patiently in line to be dropped off at the stone steps that lead up and into The Great Hall. Silhouetted by the lights within I see liveried waiters offering drinks from silver trays as guests step in out of the rain and disappear from sight. Somewhere within I imagine the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough receiving their guests: an almost imperceptible nod from the gentleman and an equally imperceptible curtsy from the ladies. Observing the proper etiquette will not be my undoing this evening.

The taxi fare for the two-minute journey from my hotel is extortionate but it is not an occasion to count the pennies. I am aware of raised eyebrows as I pay the highwayman his due. My eyes meet his and I understand that he is expecting more than I have handed to him. It is on the tip of my tongue to discuss Dick Turpin with him but I restrain myself and rifle through my silver handbag to assuage his thirst and expectation – my silver shoes will need this man’s chariot again later.

We have reached the head of the queue. That I do not open the car door for myself is misunderstood by my driver who unhooks his seatbelt, sighs audibly, marches around the car and ungraciously yanks open the door. I am taking long and deep breaths and seriously considering telling him to point the car back in the direction in which we have just traveled. I am so out of my comfort zone it is untrue.

A glimpse of the skirt of my full-length evening gown fluttering elegantly in the breeze has a strangely calming effect on me; my tanned bare shoulders and arms are embraced by the warm, fine drizzle. I see the reflection of my silver shoes in the puddles as I lift my head up high, put one foot in front of the other and walk slowly towards the steps.

As I step into the grandeur of The Great Hall I hand my copper plate invitation, embossed with the Marlborough ‘s coat of arms, to a smartly dressed woman who nods and smiles at me. I am not formally introduced as I had hoped and expected would happen and neither is there anybody within to receive me. My legs turn to jelly as I fear the worst, and am handed my first and last glass of champagne.

I am standing in the middle of a magnificent colonnaded hall, the domed ceiling so far above me that my head spins as I try to focus on the intricacy of the work. I am surrounded by the sometimes half smiling but mostly austere faces of the past – generations of Marlboroughs.

Beneath my eyebrows and my long lashes, I let my eyes survey the room. It swarms with silver-haired men dressed in black tie and their wives (maybe partners, but I doubt it) wearing long evening dresses. My pale grey chiffon and silver high heeled shoes are not out of place. Only I know that my dress was a knockdown price from Monsoon – no Valentino for me and that my shoes were bought off a sale rack in Debenhams. I have never owned a pair of Jimmy Choos and have no aspiration to do so.

Conversations and laughter bounce off the walls and echo around the room. I am surrounded by laughter and gaiety but I am not part of it. A six foot tall, size 8 woman with an hourglass figure, shoehorned into a black sequinned dress, cut deep at the back, is the centre of attention in the ten-strong party close by me. She tosses her long blond hair over her shoulder, glancing in my direction and looks straight through me.

I move silently around the room resting my champagne glass on one piece of antique furniture after another. I brush past sleeved and bare arms and shoulder bags as I slowly make my way from one look-out post to another, muttering ‘excuse me’ or “I’m so sorry’. Momentarily bodies turn to acknowledge my apology but no-one asks my name or draws me in. Their discomfort at my presence is palpable – I am an enigma – a woman on her own has no place at such a grand event.

I am taken by surprise when someone taps me on the shoulder. I feel that the tide might be turning. Handing me his mobile phone, he asks me politely if I would take a picture of the group. Smiling, I focus the camera on the group of eight and say ‘cheese’. The man thanks me and returns to the group without enquiring after my welfare or inviting me to join them.

Invisible to all, I sip my champagne, listen to the orchestra and wait for the call into dinner. Twenty minutes have passed and no one has acknowledged my presence.

I will be sitting at Table 10 together with four couples. I wonder if they are those that I have captured on camera or those whose arms I have brushed past those who have looked through me.

I introduce myself to the table, ‘my name is Judith’. In exchange, they tender theirs which I forget the moment I sit down. From the familiar banter to the left and right and across the table I soon realise that they are friends of long standing. The gentleman to my left asks if I would like some water and wine. I decline the wine and accept his offer of pouring water for me. His duty done he turns back to his wife and friends and picks up the conversation where it left off. My eyes roam over the balding pate of the ‘gentleman’ to my left and I wonder what he would look like if he deigned to turn his head in my direction. Occasionally the ladies glance in my direction to check that I am tilting my soup bowl away from me and that I have not confused my knife and fork. They do not find me lacking in table manners.

After coffee has been served the auction begins for the prizes listed in the copper plate pamphlet that accompanied the invitation. I stare down at the napkin on my lap as the bids climb higher and higher peaking at astronomical sums that would easily feed ten thousand Yemeni mouths for a year. I remind myself that it is an auction for a well-known charity but I cannot blot the faces of those starving Yemeni children from my mind.

The Master of Ceremonies thanks the auctioneer and waits for the two hundred strong gathering to fall into silence.

‘And now My Lords, Ladies and Gentleman, tonight we have a very special surprise for you. It is my special privilege to introduce you to this year’s Man Booker Prize winner, an accolade afforded to her just two weeks ago,’ he commences, ‘Please welcome Miss Judith Mayers to the stage.’

I am expecting the invitation, my fellow guests at table 10 are not. The gentleman to my left looks enquiringly at me as I place my napkin on the table and pick up my silver handbag. In his haste to get up and hold my chair, he stumbles but steadies himself before any damage is done. Around the table eyes pop, cheeks flush red and mouths gape unflatteringly wide.

Around the room heads swivel as they scan the room to identify the whereabouts of this special guest – me. As I walk head held high, my grey chiffon Monsoon dress falling in soft gentle folds to the floor, and my silver high heeled shoes tip-tapping on the polished oak floor, I am acutely aware of the tension in the room. Finally, I am a person and no longer the woman whom they observed but did not see – the woman they chose to ignore.

They follow the lead of the Master of Ceremonies as he puts his hands together. The noise is tumultuous as I step up on to the stage – the exaggerated applause for someone they have never heard of let alone met – applause that, in their opinion, compensates for their earlier behaviour.

I catch a glimpse of myself in the grandiose ormolu mirror and I smile inwardly. My confidence soars; I have lived with my heroine for the past three years – I know her intimately. She and I are one. I recount the story of my heroine’s battle of acceptance in a world in which she is invisible until the moment that she finds fame – fame that destroys her and leads to her untimely death. I am an excellent orator; the room is silent as I describe her journey. The past three hours that I have passed at Blenheim are but a cameo of her life.

I fold my notes, thank the Master of Ceremonies, lift the skirt of my dress and put one silvered foot in front of the other as I descend from the stage. The applause is once more tumultuous, there are shouts of ‘bravo’, and hands reach out to shake mine. I lift my head high and walk the full length of the orangery looking neither left nor right.

The night is dark, breezy and drizzly. My arms and shoulders are embraced by the gentle rain. My high heeled silver shoes take me home.

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