The mid-summer sun shone down sharply upon Ceasebury Creek in the July afternoon. The light darted from the pure pale blue sky to the facet of the slow running rive which tripped and fell over the rocks and stones as it babbled along its path down to the mouth, a place I had never been in all my seventeen years living in the Ceasebury Valley. The water rippled lightly as I ran my ring finger slowly through it, before extracting it, shaking it gently in the warm air and then turning the page of my novel slowly.
The sun was so bright in the late afternoon that I often had to return to Ceasebury Manor before three o’clock, but today I had been able to get away to the Creek for a little light reading. I would have to return soon anyway and prepare for a dinner with Master Kingston, a gentleman I had not yet met, who – as I understand it – was heir to the Kingston Estate and lands, owing to the death of his three elder brothers in some war or other which spared Dorian (the gentleman I was to meet with) owing to his age (a happy thing on his part as he was now to inherit vast wealth, slightly less fortuitus on their part). That war or other had left only Dorian, Lord Kingston (his father) and his younger sister, a girl a year my senior whom I had had the pleasure of being acquainted with for coming on five years now, my mother having agreed rather reluctantly to take her under her wing after her own mother, Lady Kingston had died shortly after her three eldest sons. It was thought that my mother could be relied upon to bring her up from a girl into a marriageable young lady and help her though the courtship process and secure her a strong match, Marquess Ravenswood, perhaps. It was thought that my mother was a more appropriate person to take her to a good match than Lord or Master Kingston. After all, what do men know of courtship or marriage?
Her name was Gabriella.
She had lived at Ceasebury Manor for the last five years in the chamber across the hall from mine and insisted upon perpetually dressing in various shades of yellow. It looked awful with her hair, but I hadn’t the heart to tell her (nor did anyone else, it seemed). We had taken our lessons together (although she was far less literary than me), we ate together each day and often sat together in the afternoons and evenings, when I wasn’t out at the Creek, of course. And I had been out here so much more lately.
We were both to formally enter society (such as it was) this year and she seemed so hopelessly ill-informed on the topic of men and marriage. This was a source of worry to me. I mean, they tell me men know nothing of courtship and marriage, but surely, they must know more about sex than Gabriella. The human race had survived so long for a reason. I was amazed by her lack of curiosity. Had she never read a novel in which some young handsome rogue goes for a roll in the hay with a pretty girl? I supposed she couldn’t have done, for I had to convince Cheyenne to get them for me at the town brothel where the proprietor of the establishment, a Mr Jameston, kept a small but well ordered collection of novels of this kind in a little library of sorts. I would write to him every so often and arrange the loan of one of these novels and pester Cheyenne to collect for me the next time she was in town. I truly appreciated Mr Jameston’s cooperation in the whole affair. He even slipped in little nude French playing cards on occasion which were really my style, but it was nice to know that I am more physically attractive than most women.
That’s what I had turned the page of; one of Mr Jameston’s novels.
But, returning to Gabriella, surely she had at least wondered what happened after ‘… and they all lived happily ever after.’. Hadn’t she ever questioned why it is that husbands and wives share king-sized beds with soft white sheets and feathery pillows and blow out the candles a little before going to sleep? Apparently not. Not that it mattered so much, for one way or another, she would be wed and - hopefully – her new husband would be able to enlighten her on what awaits her. I shut my eyes for a second and leaned back, allowing the hot summer sun to kiss my bare neck.
“Theodosia!” a sharp voice called, breaking the hazy silence of the Creek. I switched around to see a mess of dirty blond hair trotting up towards me from the white Georgian Summer House on the opposite bank. “Theodosia, its almost half past three, my brother will be arriving for dinner soon and you need to come back to the house to get ready.” It was Gabriella.
“Don’t worry, we’ve got hours until he comes, I’ll come back to the house soon.”
“No, we need to get our curls. He’ll be here in two hours and so will Marquess Ravenswood, come on. How did you get over there?” she looked confused as she stared blankly at my position by the bank opposite her.
“Well, I’m in a rowing boat. I would have thought you could use your own inference from there.” I paused. Mr Jameston’s novel was still between my legs, so I picked it up and thrust it into a little pocket on the inside of my hoop skirt I had sewn in for exactly this purpose. Gabriella looked at me, still confused. “I’m coming.” I picked up the oars and rowed myself back to the side of the Creek with the little Summer House and Gabriella. I hopped out of the boat and tied it to a tree trunk protruding from the grassy bank.
“Good. Thank you. Your mother is losing her mind at the house. She’s shouting and that’s making Cheyenne worry that she wont be able to get you ready in time.” She said, rather hurridly.
“She shouldn’t worry about me. I always get ready on time.”
“Well, she is. Anyway, are you excited to meet Dorian? I haven’t seen him in such a long time. He promised that when I came here to live, he would come and visit me but we’re such a long way from Kingston Grove that I suppose he didn’t get the chance with running the plantation and all, but he wrote to me telling me how excited he is to meet you tonight. Everyone’s talking about it back up at the house.” We began to walk back up the hill away from the Creek and the Summer House and towards the white columns of Ceasebury Manor which came into view over the vast, lush green lawn.
“I suppose you will marry my brother, won’t you? You shall make Mistress of Kingston Grove before the autumn.” She giggled.
“We shall see about that.” I paused. “Mistress Theodosia Antoinette Kingston.”
“Yes, that’ll be it. You should practice writing that in your lovely cursive hand. That reminds me, I got you a little present, its up in my bedroom.” Gabriella grabbed my hand and pulled me up the path towards the house. The clock chimed a quarter to four.