Prudence Lawrence, steadfastly pursuing her goal, aware of the influence her beauty and fashion sense have on others, and all too aware of her own human frailties . . .
The week between Letitia Laughinwell’s wedding and the grand naval ball was a restless and unhappy one for Prudence. She found herself resentful of the absent newlyweds, irrationally but truly: chagrined at them for their youth, their happiness, the contrast of their situation with her own, the way in which they demarcated her from bride to matron, or non-matron, as it happened, without either children or, at present, a husband, or at least without a husband present. She felt automatically guilty about her unhappiness—she had only to travel about from home to home, attended by servants, her comfort and safety assured, while her husband faced dangers unknown, and presumed the greater because unknown—but she could not, in honesty, deny that she was unhappy, and indeed tired of being regarded as an object of sympathy.
Further, while the attentions of Mr. Witherwood in Boston had been loathsome, Prudence was conscious of the way that her youth, regularity of feature, stature, and sense of fashion made her presence welcome to both men and women, sufficient to stimulate the attentions of the former while insufficient to trigger the envy of the latter. Her ease in making connections was thus rendered easier, and she found herself now wondering if the whole process had become too easy, if she had slipped into the role of the pulchritudinous object of sympathy, and if she and her uncle had slipped too comfortably into the social routine. No excuse for going to luncheon after luncheon after tea after dinner after riding after church social after drawing room at the White House like the effort to redeem a hostage husband, but now Prudence wondered if it were in fact an excuse rather than a mission, a relatively pleasant way to spend an unpleasant time. If nothing could be done to end Edwin’s ordeal, then nothing could be done as well at home in Boston as it would be in Washington City. If, on the other hand, something could be done by talking to Augustus John Foster, the British minister plenipotentiary to the United States, then perhaps this effort—this round of parties—had not been undertaken vainly.