Brambles and Thorns(3)By: Jocelyn Kirk
Yesterday, she had attended what would no doubt be her final engagement as a debutante. She and her mother had driven past the harbor en route to tea at Park House. As the barouche made its way slowly through the crowds of carriages and carts, a ship in full sail swept out to sea. A thrill of excitement shot through her at the thought of travel and adventure.
How she would love to see new places…experience adventures…even dangers. Rattling along safely in the barouche, she pictured herself bravely holding the rail of a clipper ship as it surged out to sea…or disembarking from a steam train in a distant city. In her daydream, she was alone and fearlessly facing what lay ahead.
Bella entered the solarium. “Forgive me, Miss Elena. Mrs. Bellwood told me to find you and make sure you were dressed.”
“Very well. I was about to go upstairs.”
“Are you quite well, miss? You look a bit pale…and…worried.”
“No, Bella, I am quite well. I was reminiscing and entertaining silly fantasies about adventure and romance.”
“Adventure and romance…you being a beauty, Miss Elena, you can have romance, for certain.”
Elena shook her head and smiled. “My dreams are not at all related to my destiny, Bella. I will no doubt marry the Duke of Simsbury.”
“And it will be the social event of the season!”
“Yes, I suppose it will, but—oh Bella!—it all sounds rather boring. We will take a wedding voyage to England, I suppose, and spend some weeks on his ancestral estate…then on to France, perhaps…”
“Indeed, miss, how could such a thing be boring?”
“I-I do not know, but…”
Elena shook her head to clear her mood. “I must keep reminding myself Mama is not wealthy enough for another year of debutante gowns, and indeed, I will never do better than an English duke. So many girls pursued him, and yet it appears that he has chosen me. I must remember that I am very fortunate!”
“Indeed you are, miss.”
“I had better go dress, Bella.”
“Aye, miss. And I’d better get to my business in the kitchen.”
But Elena lingered, recalling a debate with her friend Prudence on the subject of love.
“How wonderful it must be to fall in love,” she had sighed, as the girls walked along Hegler Avenue enjoying the sunshine of a mild fall day.
“Indeed,” Prudence replied, “but one must not mix love with marriage. The decision to marry should be based on cold logic.”
“Of course. Is he wealthy? Does he have a reputation as a man of honor? These are the considerations appropriate for marriage.”
Elena stretched and glanced at the tall clock standing in a corner. Ten thirty…she really must dress. She paused to look about the conservatory. Everything was so familiar—her mother’s plants flowing forth from an array of Oriental urns, a great pottery bowl where goldfish darted, the carpet with stylized leaves and branches woven along its border, the warm olive walls…
A crash, followed by a scream, jerked her from her poignant reflections. Someone, probably the new maid, Willa, had dropped a dish—no doubt from the stress of highly wrought nerves.
The door crashed open, and Willa ran into the room. “Miss, miss, come, come now!”
“Willa! What on earth is the matter?”
“It’s Madam! She fell! Come! Come!”
Elena ran out the door at the maid’s heels. A sudden ghostly voice sounded in her head, whispering, “Nothing will ever be the same.”
Love and Loss
Elena leaned over the bed, grasping her mother’s hand and shaking with sobs. Her tears fell on the embroidered pillow where her mother’s head rested. The hastily summoned physician stood nearby, and in the doorway the servants hovered, their faces as pale as the snowy linens on her mother’s four-poster bed.
“Come, Miss Bellwood,” Dr. Dryden urged gently. “Go into the parlor and let one of the maids give you a glass of sherry. The other can assist me in preparing the body.”
Elena cried harder at these cruel words, but she allowed Willa to lead her to the parlor. The maid poured sherry and stood quietly near her. Elena sipped the sherry and forced herself to sit up straight and smooth her dress and hair. Turning to the maid, she struggled to speak quietly and rationally.