As the carriage approached Williamsburg, I had the increasing sense that I was viewing something I wasn’t supposed to. I hadn’t been to Williamsburg in person for some time now, but Cheyenne had gone there for me regularly to deliver my letters to Mr Jameston and I would have thought she would have told me if it had changed this much. There was a huge sense of uncertainty in the air. Red coat soldiers were swarming the streets, as if they assumed there could be trouble on this night which was five years since the revolutionaries had signed the Declaration of Independence. Why would you – as a Red Coat sympathiser – organise a ball tonight? It was as if they (although, I suppose I was one of them) wished to depict their wealth and power ostentatiously to a town - no, a colony – full of people who might very well support either side of this war. It was almost as if they wanted to know who their friends were.
Was I their friend? I didn’t know.
Through my marriage (or nearing engagement) I suppose I must have at least supported to British to some extent, or at least supported their honorary system. I suppose through my family’s ties to slavery meant that I didn’t support emancipation, although I didn’t own any slaves and I did support the rights of all people to be free – even women and slaves. But then again, the current system worked for me. I didn’t feel forced to marry Valentine, I loved him and couldn’t wait for our life together. I knew Gabriella didn’t feel forced to marry Charles, she was going to run away from her life of wealth and privilege to spend her years in barracks until the war ended and then on his estate. I had heard that some women had been hurt by their husband, although I also had heard that this was very infrequent and only down to a very small number of men, but, equally, I didn’t know if that was true. As a young lady, I had in the past been looked at by men I didn’t like in ways I didn’t like but being able to look where one wants is all part and parcel of having liberty, is it not? Ending liberty to protect one group would seem to be a far worse evil than just accepting that with free will in the free society we were speeding towards in this new world - this new America – comes the act that people will choose to do what they liked. Yes, that was one thing, I knew I supported liberty.
Despite the distinctly militaristic feel Williamsburg had tonight, the street which led to Governor’s Palace was lit up with what must have been at least a thousand red, white and blue lanterns. The Palace was situated next to the College (which as a young girl I had hoped to study at, before finding out they did not accept ladies), as our carriage passed the grounds, my eyes were drawn to the large gaggles of young men that sat around on the lawn - under trees and on benches – talking to each other about this and that and reading books with long words in and writing little things down, thoughts, perhaps, in little leatherbound books which were nestled in their lap. Yes, these men were academics. They spent their days learning about philosophy and politics in big rooms with old men speaking at the front. Despite the obvious gender divide between myself and the academics, I couldn’t help but feel a distinct connection to them, for, in my own way, I was an academic, I just learnt from a big room with an old man speaking at the front at Ceasebury, not the Williamsburg College. I suppose the real difference was that my life centred around marriage and beautiful things and all they had was academia.
The carriage drew closer to the Palaced and I turned slightly to look at Gabriella, but she didn’t look back. Her face held the distinct expression of hopeful romanticism, the kind of look you only see a few times in your life. If you are in love, you are lucky enough to see it in the reflection of the mirror every morning. Yes, this was a look I had noticed on Valentine. Gabriella wore this look so well. The carriage fell to a halt beside the Hall and a footman pulled the door open, allowing us to get out, me first, then Gabriella. My heels felt cushioned in the red carpet which had been laid out to welcome the guests. I took Gabriella’s slightly shaky hand in mine and we walked towards the main entrance which toward over the town; an archway in white stone, marked either side by columns protruding eagerly into the sky line.
The doorway led to what was perhaps the most grandiose ballroom I had ever seen. It was white (as one might expect) with Brobdingnagian columns sweeping from floor to ceiling, replicating the columns which had lined the exterior of the structure. Waxy ivy grew and draped itself along the walls, hanging daintily above the guests. The light from the summer evening whispered in through the huge crystalline windowpanes and cascaded itself into the ballroom, climbing as shadows on the marble floor. The ladies and gentlemen that were present stood around and laughed in high pitched tones as the band (all dressed in black which lent them a kind of macabre emotion) set up at the far side of the room.
It didn’t take long for me to spot Valentine. He was standing with a clear champagne glass, leaning slightly against one of the vast columns which jetted out into the room. He was dressed darkly, as was his usual style. I let go of Gabriella’s hand and we exchanged a knowing smile. As my fingers slide away, she abruptly pulled me back. She began to gesticulate as subtly as she could over to the door we had just entered by. It was Dorian. He stood at the door.
“What do I do?” Gabriella whispered.
“Nothing. You do nothing. You tell him nothing of what you’re doing tonight until it is done. And if you’re feeling scared of all of this, remember that verse I taught you. That’ll keep you from caving in.”
“Which verse?” she asked, nervously.
“You know the one, the one from Much Ado About Nothing.” I smiled.
“Oh yes, I recall.” She giggled “Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more, Men were deceivers ever; One foot in sea, and one on shore, To one thing constant never. Then sigh not so, but let them go, and be you blithe and bonny, Converting all your sounds of woe Into Hey nonny, nonny.” We finished in unison.
“There you go!” I smiled. “Try not to look at Dorian if it makes you feel like you have to tell him. Once it is done I can write to him if you want.”
“No.” she said forcefully. “Once it is done – once I am Lady Gabriella LeBolt – I will write to him and tell him all about it.”
“Okay.” I smiled to her.