Their Royal Highnesses, Princesses Veronica and Sophia of Montmaray, accompanied by the Princess Royal, Princess Charlotte of Montmaray, have arrived at Montmaray House in anticipation of the Season.
It seemed an extraordinary thing for The Times to print on their front page – who on Earth would care? (Especially as hardly anyone here seems to know where Montmaray is, let alone what’s happened to it. Toby says that people at school were always mistakenly thinking he came from Montenegro or Montserrat, or getting him mixed up with Prince Rainier of Monaco.) But then this morning, an absolute avalanche of envelopes descended upon Montmaray House. Advertisements from dress shops and tea shops and businesses that hire out gilt chairs and marquees; offers of free sittings with photographers; letters from dance schools and florists and ‘hair artistes’. And then there were the invitations.
‘What’s a fork luncheon?’ asked Veronica, staring at one engraved card as we sat around the breakfast table. ‘And who’s Mrs Douglas Dawson-Hughes, and why would she invite us to one?’
‘We’ve got eleven invitations to tea parties,’ I said, counting. ‘One of them promising consultations with “Madame Zelda, the famous fortune teller”.’
‘She can’t be all that famous, if they need to explain who she is,’ said Veronica.
‘Everyone’s hoping for invitations to your coming-out ball,’ explained Toby. ‘There haven’t been any big parties at Montmaray House since before the war – probably not since the last Montmaravian Ambassador lived here, decades ago – so they’re all wondering what it looks like inside. And I bet they’re madly curious about you two.’
‘They’re more interested in you, Toby,’ said Simon. ‘Wondering if you’ll do for their daughters. Here, Sophia, give me those.’ He began sorting the invitations into two piles. ‘Definitely not Mrs Dawson-Hughes, her husband’s about to be declared bankrupt. Yes to the Marchioness of Elchester, yes to the Fortescues . . .’
‘I suppose Lady Redesdale’s youngest girl is out this Season, too,’ mused Aunt Charlotte. ‘Poor child, I don’t suppose she can help having such scandalous sisters. One divorced, and now one run off to Spain with that awful Romilly boy . . . Is that in the newspapers yet, Simon?’
‘Not this morning’s, ma’am,’ said Simon.
‘Lady Bosworth told me all the details yesterday. Dreadful thing. Well, girls, what are you doing today? Do you need the car?’
‘Julia’s coming over at eleven to take us shopping, then there’s dress fittings and a Court class in the afternoon,’ I said.
‘Theatre this evening?’ asked Toby.
‘Can’t, I don’t have any proper evening shoes yet,’ I said. ‘Ask me again in a week’s time.’
‘Glad I was born a boy,’ said Toby. ‘Aren’t you, Simon?’
‘Very,’ said Simon.
I was very happy to be a girl, though, when Julia swept us into Harrods and showed us all the beautiful things girls could wear. Chiffon scarves and exquisite little straw hats and strings of pearls and bright silk tea-dresses and silver evening sandals . . .
Excerpted from The FitzOsbornes in Exile © Michelle Cooper
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Random House Australia. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.