LOOK! There’s a Frog in the Punch Bowl

Recently returned from the War in the colonies, Lt. Jack Jackson’s sister decided, against his wishes, to introduce him to England’s High Society at a huge banquet thrown in his honor … or perhaps in hers. First hand news of the War would be one more feather in her bonnet and Eugenie smiled.

Lt. Jackson sat pushing the food around on his plate, a half-hearted attempt at appearing to enjoy the lavish banquet his sister had created to impress her Quality acquaintances. Poking at his plate, he scanned the dinner table, a look of polite interest glued on his features. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Gabrielle make a surreptitious motion that gave him pause. Something was up, of that he was sure. He had no intention of intervening; only thoroughly enjoying whatever deviltry was afoot.

“Psst,” Gabrielle hissed, getting Robbie’s immediate attention. She’d had enough of this silliness; a similar look from him expressed the same. With a look of gleeful mischief, she opened her hand under the edge of the fine linen tablecloth and extended it towards him. Robert snickered in delight, instantly covering his mouth to stifle the sound. Eyes bright with anticipation, he took the large frog from Gabrielle’s hand, and quickly changing hands, leaned towards his baby sister seated just to his right.

“Psst, Emmie.” He held his hand out, angled low at his side palm down, concealing the slippery gift. Emiline turned, meeting her brother’s look with open curiosity. “A present for you,” Robert urged in a low whisper, extending his hand to reach hers. Her small hand opened under his—and the deed was done. As the cold, wet lump plopped into her palm, an-ear-splitting shriek erupted. All heads turned in unison as a laden tray hit Eugenie’s exquisite Persian carpet with a loud crash of metal and shattering glass.

Folding his arms across his chest Jack leaned back, observing the debacle and thoroughly amused. The guest’s expressions ranged from startled shock to mild irritation and outright annoyance as they skewered the children with icy glares. But it was Eugenie’s venomous look that amused him most. Oh yes, my dear sister, you have finally grabbed the notice of High Society. And a rather successful attempt it is. They will probably talk of nothing else for months.

Gabrielle and Robert sat gazing at the ceiling with hands folded neatly in their laps, the picture of quiet innocence. But Emmie’s shrieks had just begun. Face brilliant red and eyes scrunched shut, she hurled the hapless frog onto her mother’s lavishly adorned table where it landed with a loud splash in the middle of the punch bowl. Horrified faces looked from one to another and then stared in disbelief. Realizing she had an audience, Emmie’s ‘command performance’ was on. Stomping her feet and pounding the table amidst staccato yelps was only the beginning.

Eugenie rushed from her end of the table making embarrassed apologies along the way, and upon reaching her daughter scooped her up. Balancing her like a sack of potatoes on her hip and clamping a hand over her mouth, she finally silenced her. But Emmie’s legs continued flailing wildly as her mother marched her from the room, refusing to make eye contact with anyone.

How appropriate. Jack shook his head trying to control his facial expressions, but was helpless. A napkin pressed to his mouth quieted his guffaws, but his eyes watered with telltale glee. He had not felt this good in months.

Silence filled the dining room; no one made a move—all but the hapless frog. It bobbed quietly in the pink lemonade blinking its large eyes. And as Jack watched, it proceeded to paddle, unconcerned, in watery bliss. oh, there will be hell to pay for this night’s work. He grinned. But how perfect, how very perfect!

Excerpt from ‘Beyond All Odds’, Book II of ‘The ‘Beyond’ Trilogy’

For more information: J. Winfield Currie: a fresh new voice in historical romance