Mac Washaw had thought that after all this time as Mike Stearns’ Chief of Staff, that nothing would surprise him.
And then Federico Ballarino, Princess Kristina’s dancing master, came to see him.
Federico took a deep breath. “I wish to make sure that Prime Minister Stearns, and his wife, are fully cognizant with all of the down-time dances which they would be expected to perform at a ball. Specifically, the inaugural ball. For the next Prime Minister.”
“I am not sure that there will be any such dances. There is a war on, you know.”
“But the war is no obstacle to dancing. Your Michael Stearns is the ‘George Washington’ of this United States of Europe, is he not? So I think that he will need to follow in George Washington’s footsteps.” He held up a biography he had borrowed from one of his fellow teachers at the high school. “It says right here that in 1779, while the Revolutionary War was still in progress, Washington and General Greene’s wife Catharine danced ‘upwards of three hours without once sitting down.'”
“I wonder what General Greene thought of that.”
“I am sure that he accepted it as a courtesy to his wife, as a gentleman would. In any event, your George Washington was later honored with the first Inauguration Ball. It was held a week after the actual Inauguration, at the New York City Assembly Rooms. He danced two cotillions and a minuet.”
Mac scratched his chin. “We don’t know yet whether Mike’s party will win the election. Election day is February 22, and a lot can happen ‘tween now and then. If the Fourth of July Party loses the national election, then it can’t pick the Prime Minister.
“And if Mike’s not the Prime Minister, I don’t think he would be invited to the new PM’s inaugural ball. Back in America, the outgoing President and the First Lady went to the inauguration ceremony, and then left town. They let the incoming President dance the night away with his supporters.”
Federico wasn’t impressed. “That may have been so in the late twentieth century. But Thomas Jefferson came to James Madison’s inaugural ball in 1809. Marcus Wendell, the high school band director, told me.”
Mac’s eyes strayed to the wall clock, and then back to Federico. “Marcus knew about the Madison inaugural?”
“It was the debut of the Marine Band as ‘The President’s Own,’ I am told.” Federico snorted. “Even if there is a change of government, I am sure that Herr Wettin would invite all of the newly elected members of the USE Parliament. Not just the Crown Loyalists. And there isn’t much doubt that Mike will be in the legislature. And if he wasn’t, his wife would be; she’s running unopposed.
“Mike would be—what is that quaint American expression—a ‘sore loser’ if he failed to come.”
Mac fidgeted a bit, then said, “Well, I’ll pass your proposal on. But I can’t make any promises.”
“Of course not.”
Federico decided to call upon Senator Rebecca Abrabanel. As a fellow down-timer, she would no doubt have a greater appreciation of the role of court dances in society. She might even know the dances already. Why, the Jew Guglielmo Ebreo of Pesaro had written one of the great dance treatises back in 1463.
But I have two left feet!” Mike complained.
Rebecca raised her eyebrows. “Really? A professional boxer? I thought it was about the feet and not just the hands.”
Mike put one hand on his hip, and the other forward, as if holding a cane. He stooped over, and hobbled about the room. “Eight pro fights,” he moaned. “They take a lot out of a guy. Leave him a cripple, unable to dip, bob and weave. Let alone dance.”
Rebecca tried to look indignant, but cracked up instead. When she regained her composure, she declared, “Two left feet, you say? Well, then I will have to have two right feet, to match.”
Federico bowed. “I am so glad you were able to find the time, Prime Minister.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Mike toweled himself off. Galliards, he had discovered, were quite aerobic. He usually tried to get in a half-hour of exercise every day; he could mark today off, for sure.
“You have really done quite well.”
Mike preened slightly. “I guess the boxing was good for something. So, we’re done now? I can get back to running the country?” He lifted his water bottle to his lips.
“Absolutely!” said Federico. “Same time next week?”
Mike spewed out the water he had been drinking.
The dance lessons came to an abrupt halt after March 4, the day of the Dreeson Incident. A harried Rebecca sent Federico an apologetic note saying that they would reschedule after the funeral, but the days became weeks, and Federico eventually filled that slot in his schedule with another pupil.
Mike went back to the business of governing. He continued to exercise and, if he ever threw a caper or two from their galliard routine into his calisthenics, well, it was when he was working out in private, and no one else was aware of it.
In April, the ball invitations went out, as Federico had predicted, to all of the members of the incoming Parliament. However, the Crown Loyalists were practically singing “Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead,” which didn’t inspire much enthusiasm for good sportsmanship on the part of the Fourth of July Party members.
The Inaugural Ball was held in June, but attendance-wise it was a rather lopsided affair. Even the imperial court treated it more or less like a dead rat in the bed. The emperor was out-of-town on urgent military business; the Princess Kristina was “indisposed”; and General Torstensson’s appearance was so short that Federico quipped that he remembered it only as a consequence of persistence of vision.
Federico, as the imperial dancing master, had been obligated to attend. He eventually gave a full report on the event to a morbidly fascinated Rebecca. Which he ended with the line, “And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.”
Mike and Rebecca came down to Grantville for the Fourth of July festivities, of course. They saw Federico, and chatted it a bit.
After he left, Mike said to Rebecca, “I hope you weren’t too disappointed about not getting to dance that galliard.”
“A bit, yes. But the time and place, not to mention the people, weren’t right. How about you? Any regrets, now that you know that you don’t have two left feet?”
“I suppose.” Mike thought this to be a safe admission.
“Good,” said Rebecca. “Then we will go to the square dance tonight.”
“Square dance? Wait . . . you don’t know how to square dance, do you . . . .”
“I have been informed by reliable sources that the callers will say in advance if a particular dance is suitable for neophytes, and they will explain the sequence and do a walk-through.
“Besides, where do you think your American square dances come from? According to Federico, they are derived from French quadrilles, which in turn evolved from the square-eights of English country dances. And when I lived in London, it was pretty common for the court dancing to be followed by country dancing. So I am confident I can manage a square dance or two.”
“You sure it, it isn’t too soon after Dreeson . . . .”
Rebecca put her hands on her hips. “Michael Stearns, don’t think you can use that as an excuse indefinitely. Have you forgotten Ecclesiastes? There is ‘A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.'”
“Oh. I guess we can go. If you really want to.”
“I want to.”
Later, at the square dance . . . .
Rebecca rushed over to her husband, who had gone up to the bar to fetch drinks for them. “Oh, Mike, I have wonderful news! We can do our galliard routine, after all! Right here! Tonight!”
Mike nearly dropped the drinks he was holding. “This band can play a galliard? They’re almost all up-timers. And the only down-timer isn’t a court musician.”
“Oh, the up-time musicians know one tune with a galliard rhythm. It works fine if played sprightly enough. In fact, they knew it before they came through the Ring of Fire.”
“You have perhaps heard of ‘My Country, ‘Tis of Thee’?”