HERE GOES! Enjoy!
“I do hope that you will have a wonderful summer away from us, to both you who are entering your first season, and you who are returning home to your families for holiday. May you both please others and make Forthright proud! You are dismissed.” After a long-winded speech from our headmistress, Mrs. Forthright, we are all quite glad to be dismissed to leave the musty halls and boring classrooms of Forthright Academy for Girls, to return home to our families, the models of female perfection. At least, that is, most of us are.
I exclaim as cheerfully as I can with all the other girls, young and old alike. Mrs. Forthright, with her usually frowning angular face framed by neat graying brown hair pulled back, is smiling slightly; it makes her look like she is having a bout of painful wind.
“Oh, Eve, I only wish you could come with us!” I turn to find Genevieve, one of my closest friends, hugging me fiercely; “It just will not be the same without you!” I’m finding her embrace too tight, so that I cannot breathe. Genevieve, with most of my other friends, is going to London for her season; of course, I am not at all jealous. Well, not too jealous anyway.
"Do not worry for me,” I say, in a mock faint, “I shall try not to perish in the land known as Shropshire. Oh really, I shall be most bored,” I say, sobering, “and you must promise to write, and tell me all about it.” I pick up my things off my desk, a strand of my unruly copper brown hair that refuses to be tamed, escaping my somewhat orderly bun, and falling into my eyes. I blow at it exasperated.
Genevieve, her beautiful red hair pulled neatly, yet fashionably back, sighs, but with excitement still dancing in her brown eyes, “I shall let you know about everything! The balls, the gowns, the intrigues, and all the wealthy, handsome young men available, so that you will know about what is best at your season, next year!" She continues to babble aimlessly along as we go upstairs, her dancing, me trudging, reminding me of the fact that I hate most; next year is to be my season. I am seventeen, an age at which most girls are taken to London to have their first (and hopefully last, if she finds a young man to marry) season. I have to wait until next year, when my mother is well enough, to debut. My mother’s words, from her last letter to me, assured me that I would love the countryside known as Shropshire, where I am to spend the next few months.
“I do so hope that you are not very alone in Shropshire,” Genevieve pauses, thinking of my plight again, “surely there will be teas and evenings there?” she asks hopefully. Genevieve hates being idle, and the thought of no dances and no teas all summer is probably a horror to her.
I calm her fears for me with false cheer that I hope goes unnoticed. “I am sure that Shropshire is lovely,” I say, “and I cannot possibly be the only young lady in the whole of the county.” Appeased, she continues to chatter about the line up of balls and events, already planned, and the gowns already made and delivered from Paris. I wonder if mother would have ordered my gowns from Paris. Would I have as many events planned, or would her health not allow it? I’m musing bitterly again, angry at my mother for her pretentious state of ill health, and I hate myself for it. Genevieve steps out from behind the dressing screen, resplendent in a grey wool traveling suit with a smart black hat that sets off her hair rather nicely, and I am jabbed with jealousy again.
I step behind the dressing screen, and out of my blue school uniform, a loathed item by many, and into the soft wool of my nice, if slightly unfashionable, green traveling suit, and wrestle with the buttons. “You really should come and take tea with us one afternoon,” Genevieve calls from her position in front of the mirror, “do you think your mother might feel well enough to one day?”I step out, my hair an almost hopeless mess.
“I should hope so, even Slopshire must be dull enough for her, eventually,” I reply using my secret pet name for the place I am sure I will hate. “She claims she needs quiet, but after all that time in London, it will surely be too quiet for her. And I do need new dresses,” I gaze down at my boots, the gap where my dress should reach apparent; I am painfully tall, and I don’t like to be reminded of it. Genevieve pats my hand and attempts to tame the beast called my hair. I look at my face and sigh. I shall never be as pretty as Genevieve or Isabella, my other friend, but I made my peace with that fact years ago. Although I’m not beautiful, I’m aware that I am passable, what with my long, if stubborn, coppery colored brown hair with a gentle curl, deep blue eyes, high cheekbones, fair skin, and slender figure that bends easily with the forceful guidance of the corsets we wear. Maybe I would be more attractive if I weren’t so tall and my carriage almost boy like. They are among the worst traits a woman can have, but there it is.
“That’s better,” Genevieve looks into the mirror and my eyes focus; she’s pulled my hair back with half a million pins, my hat perched precariously on top- I’m sure it will not last the afternoon- and it looks rather nice, I will admit.
I smile up at her in thanks, just as the door bangs open, and what seems like a whirlwind flies in and lands on one of the beds, “Bonjour, Mon cheris!” Isabella, my other friend, calls out in her impeccable French, “Ah, Genevieve, Evangeline, tu est tres jolie!” She giggles as I turn my head and a hairpin inevitably falls out.
“Merci beaucoup,” I reply batting my eyelashes and getting up from the chair, to let Bella promptly plop down and start primping her already perfect hair. She scrutinizes her reflection carefully, her wide green eyes, her almost translucent white porcelain skin, with her masses of honey blonde hair curled and arranged tastefully in a coif at her neck, a small blue hat, made of the same blue silk of her expensive dress, is perched on her head. She reaches out an ungloved hand to pluck a delicate petal from one of the pink roses in a vase on the dresser, which she crushes, inhales, and then dabs behind her ears.
“La odeur de roses est tres magnifique!” she says happily. Of the three of us, Bella is the most excited about the season, being both the richest and the most beautiful girl in the school.
"Yes, I’m sure,” I pout, quite miffed at being left out of the excitement of the London season. “Please, don’t forget about me while I waste away in the exciting countryside of Shropshire,” I turn away as Genevieve attempts to dab rose on my wrists.
“Evangeline Dalton, stop whining. It is as if you are being exiled to never return. You’ll have your season next year! It’s not as if Shropshire is at all pernicious!” Isabella says rolling her eyes, and making some final adjustments to some unseen problems in her hair before rising, “I even arranged for you to come as far as London with us in my carriage!” She is almost indignant at my seeming ungratefulness, and I sigh at her misunderstanding. Bella doesn’t understand; her mother is beautiful and rich, and Bella need never suffer from lack of society because her mother feigns illness to receive sympathy from society. I let Genevieve put the fragrant, if not sticky, rose behind my ears before rising too.
“I’m sorry,” I whine, something quite unattractive, “it just isn’t fair! My mother isn’t even in bad health!” We go out the door, donning our gloves, and I glance back at the white cheerless walls of the room I’ve occupied all winter long, “Goodbye!” they seem to say, “We won’t miss you, though you will probably soon miss us!” I sigh and tread carefully down the stairs after my two friends; for all I know, the room I will be staying in will probably be even drabber.
We walk down the many steps outside of Forthright and, one by one, climb into the waiting carriage. It rolls out of the gates of Forthright, and I glance back at the tall building that is the Academy. The gray, forbidding building, with its lawns attempting to appear cheerful stretching out below it, like seas of green, seems to sigh in a goodbye to all the girls who inhabit it all year long. For a moment I find I shall miss it a little, but then the moment is gone, and I am happy to be going elsewhere. Goodbye! I want to shout, I shan’t think of your happy face once while I am gone! Have fun being empty! The bit of sarcasm in that sentence almost hurts.
I stand outside of the cottage, although it seems too big to be so, and look up at it with poorly concealed distaste. The grey stone is covered by climbing ivy one corner, and all the windows looking out onto the sweet garden full of roses and other flowers, fronted by a sweet fence, seems to say welcome home to the beautiful countryside of Shropshire! The whole sickeningly quaint picture is completed by the green fields and mysterious forest full of trees. I walk on the path to the door, the fragrances of Rose and lavender mingling into a mind-dulling sweet that hangs in the air. Mother appears at the door, wrapped in a shawl, although it is quite warm, and beckons to me with open arms. Suddenly, with just the look of welcome etched on her beautiful face, all my anger and disappointment dissipates, replaced with the longing to show her how much of a lady I have become in her absence.
I walk as quickly as decorum will allow, and then I am wrapped up into her arms. She smells just as I remember; sweet, a mixture of the rose water she wears for perfume, with just a small amount of peppermint. I gaze into her beautiful face and grin in what I hope is a becoming way, and not girlish. Her returned smile satiates all my fears.
“Let me take a look at you; my how beautiful you have gotten; and tall!” With the last two words my mood lessens slightly; I’m not proud of my height. In a flash, I can see the men I will waltz with during my season next year. What will they say? “My, how wonderful to waltz with someone who is your height?” I can here the whispers of the mothers, “she is quite tall,” young ladies should be able to gaze up becomingly through their eyelashes, not look eye to eye. No, begone! I push the offending thoughts from my mind. All I want to think about is how much I have missed my mother.
“Come inside, love, I have someone for you to meet,” she says, pulling away and ending my moment of happiness. I now have to look forward to entering the house that is supposed to be my home. I take one more glance around me before inhaling deeply, and entering the house. The inside is quite pretty, although not elegant, and smells heavily of lavender. The light colors of the walls make the room seem more open, and we walk through the hall, my father’s hat on the rack, and a bowl of calling cards on the table, as if we’ve always lived here- yet I feel so foreign.
We enter the sitting room immediately off of the main hall where the dreariest woman I’ve ever seen sits on the lilac colored settee, a dark forbidding stain in the light, happy room. A feeling of dread starts in the pit of my stomach and works its way slowly upward as I come to realize who she is.
“This is Miss March,” mother says beckoning widely to her, “she is to be your chaperone.” Miss March, who has as much cheer as February in the Alps much less March, rises at her name. I groan inwardly.
“Do I need a chaperone?” I ask turning to my mother, who seems oblivious to the anger growing in my eyes.
“I should think so, as you are going to be alone much of the time, I thought you might like to have someone to keep you company so that you might go out to town some days.” She isn’t acting oblivious to my masked anger, she is oblivious to it. I turn to her, my teeth grating.
“May I have a word with you, mother?” I ask, trying to sound normal. She reads that something is not right, and I pull her into the hall, out of earshot of the engaging Miss March.
“Mother, I am seventeen years old, and we are in Shropshire! I hardly think that I need to be taken care of! Mother’s face hardens as she realizes that this is turning into an argument.
“It’s for your own well being!” she exclaims, “I have not the strength and time to be running about with you- that is why we are here! My health will not allow it! It is incomprehensible for a young lady to be going about with out a chaperone, even in the country!”
I am not pleased by her lack of trust in me, “I will not be going anywhere! Not to town, not to London! What use is she if she is sitting still watching me read all day? I will not have her!” I am being disrespectful now, which is hardly a way to win my cause, but she has destroyed all of my happy feelings of being home, and I will not be watched like a three year old who hasn’t even left her nanny. Mother’s eyes harden, upset at how unladylike I am being.
“Evangeline you are of no place or judgment to say what you do or do not need. I can see that for all the schooling you have done, you are still as childish as ever. Miss March is going to stay, and you are not going to say another word about it to me.” She turns on her heel and walks away, head erect. My eyes are stinging, and I realize that I am starting to cry, her words cutting me more acutely than any knife.
I enter the drawing room again, and Miss March rises, no smile on her dour lips, no hello. No attempt at all to seem the least inviting. I smile tentatively trying to seem more pleasant than I feel. My smile is not returned. “We should go to your room to get you settled.” It’s not a question; it’s a command. I only nod, following her up the dank stairs, a prisoner in the wake of her guard. It’s unfair, this mistrust. My room is small, with a tall bed, a vanity dresser the shade of ivory, a wardrobe, a bookshelf, and window with its own seat. The only cheer the room affords is in the vase of pink roses on the dresser. “I will leave you, miss. I trust you will be down for dinner at six?”
“Yes,” I nod, turning my head so that she cannot see the tears in my eyes that threaten to fall any second, “yes, I shall.”