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Hit Me With Your Best Shot
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7th September, 1889 — Random Garden Party, Irvingly
One had to squeeze every last drop out of summer, particularly when one lived on a wet, windy, grey island. She suspected Irvingly hadn’t looked all that different in the fog everyone had talked of last year; even today was more cloudy than sun. Still, the British would be British, and were resolutely camped outside for their picnic luncheon and after-lunch lawn games - in other words, high society skittering about like schoolchildren now that the actual children had returned to school.

Marina almost didn’t mind that her niece, Miss Vane, seemed to be having a good time. She was across the way in another game of her own, though was spending more time giggling with young friends and flirting with gentlemen than playing. Marina, meanwhile, had engaged one of her friends - someone’s spinster aunt, who lived alone with a parrot and the largest collection of sherry in the world, as well as had a cracking eye for croquet - in a game of croquet, a game she suffered to understand less than tennis or badminton but enjoyed all the same. As one would enjoy anything wherein one wielded a mallet.

As she lined up her shot of the croquet ball through the next metal hoop, out of the corner of her eye she caught Miss Vane unmistakeably enjoying herself a little too much. She was cosying up on a young man’s arm so intently it was a wonder the arm hadn’t dropped off. Not one to neglect her duty, though she would be annoyed if she had to abandon her game, Marina decided she might just manage to nudge Miss Vane discreetly, with a motion rather than a curt word. Easy enough; she would roll the ball across the lawn to Tryphena’s foot, and would have a glare ready when the girl looked up. There, and then Miss Vane would not go wailing to her father that Marina kept embarrassing her.

Easy enough, indeed. Perhaps if Marina hadn’t been a little mallet-happy, the nudge might have been more subtle. As it was, the heavy little ball went hurtling into the air, and the person it hit was not, unfortunately, her niece.
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The timing of the pregnancy had worked out quite well with the social season, all things considered; she would be able to finish out the main course of things before retiring to consignment, and with any luck would be recovered again before anything interesting started to happen next year. Since she would be out of commission for anything during the winter, however, Ophelia was determined to get every last drop out of what remained of the season — even if that meant attending parties she might not usually attend, in Irvingly, of all places. She would rather have been at some country estate somewhere sunny, but — c'est la vie.

She was swanning around the garden, hoping that she had that glowing look that people sometimes ascribed to pregnant women, when out of nowhere a crochet ball came flying towards her, smacking her squarely in the middle of her stomach. Shocked and already morbidly offended at whoever had dared to assault her unborn child, Ophelia's hands flew to her stomach (still a long ways off from properly showing, which may have made the gesture look a little silly) and she turned a fierce glare in the direction the ball had come from, searching out the culprit.
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Marina saw the ill-judged shot hit a bystander almost in slow motion, and although she hurriedly let her mallet drop and inclined her head the other way, the woman had certainly started scouting for someone to blame.

Cursing herself for even bothering these days, Marina turned to look as though surprised, and then - reluctantly, though she would not deign to show it, in company - hastened over to apologise to the little society darling in question.

“Oh madam, I’m so terribly sorry,” Marina said, the words only slightly more dry and perfunctory than they ought to be. “Are you quite well? My dear friend Miss Withers over there would have come to ask after you herself,” she explained candidly, casting a pitying look back at her friend in illustration, “but she has rather weak knees. And, between you and me, rather poor eyesight.” This was a blatant lie, but Marina, though she considered herself by and large an honest person, did not care to always be prostrating herself to people she neither knew or necessarily liked. Besides, Miss Withers was a crotchety soul herself, and wouldn’t mind. (The real tragedy was that Marina couldn’t pin this poor lady’s suffering on her bloody niece.)


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