We ran out laughing back onto the land. Valentine led me around the edge of the lake, and for a fleeting moment, I saw myself in its clear waters exactly as I would perceive myself at my best. It was like a snapshot in time of the rebirth of Theodosia, not as a Marchioness, but as a Duchess. And she was someone - the reflection staring back at me, that is – that I so dearly wanted to be. All I could do was to hope that that snapshot in time I had been allowed a privileged glimpse of was my future. We continued down the little path which traced the edge of the lake, passing wild roses and flower beds thick with plants that I had never even seen before.
Once we come to the opposite side of the lake from the manor (which had taken us about ten minutes), I found myself gazing at a towering white marble structure. It had a vast marble dome at the crest and white pillars standing tall at either side of the doubled door entrance. These doors – like the ones at the entrance to the manor – were wide open. Three marble steps led up the entrance, which itself was arched – an ecclesiastical niche of colonial architecture.
"What is it, Valentine?" I asked.
"It's for you." He replied, "It's a Summer House of sorts; well, I had it built in honour of our wedding. I think it's technically a boathouse because it's on the edge of the lake, so you can tie a little boat up to the edge and just climb in from the water."
"Oh Valentine, that's wonderful."
"Is it?" he asked with a slight hesitancy. "Yes, yes, I suppose it is, isn't it?"
"Of course, it is." I smiled at him.
"I want you to feel like this is your home too, Theodosia."
"I feel like it is."
"Good." He stared at me with a kind of enchanted joy for a few long seconds before turned back to the Boat House for a second as if contemplating its existence and then back to me. "Let's go into the house." He said quickly, "I want to show you your bed chamber." I followed him back around the vast lake to the manor house, and we entered, without shutting those colossal double doors which were half concealed by the buoyed up white drapes which fluttered around them in the late afternoon breeze.
He brought me up the stairs and to the bed-chamber. As we reached the top of the stairs where his father's portrait had been hung, I couldn't help but wonder why he didn't tell me that his father was dead. And why did no one else seem to be talking about it, for that matter? It was all very strange. But I knew why no one would ever want to tell anyone in Virginian society anything about themselves or anyone they faintly cared about. Not everyone enjoys partaking in the speculation around others after holidaying briefly in their life.
He led me to his - our – bed-chamber.
"Well, this is our bed-chamber." He said as if we had just arrived at some new destination like it was a shop in Williamsburg.
"Okay, Valentine." I whispered.
"That's the bed over there." He gestured broadly to the four-poster bed, which stood at the opposite end of the room.
"I know; I've been in here before." I laughed. When we made sudden, deep eye contact, I stopped laughing, and the sound faded away out of the open door and down the corridor, out into the grounds. "I love you, Valentine." I whispered.
"I love you too, Theodosia. My wife." He said, leaning in close to me. He placed his hand lightly on my jawline, tracing the formation with his ring finger.
"Breathing in a wedding dress this tight is murder, Valentine." I smiled. "Could you undo the corset?"
"What about the reception?"
"I think that's probably off now they've found a more interesting rabbit to hunt."
"True. But the reception is supposed to be here, so they will come here if they're looking for us. So it's probably best to keep the corset on for the time being."
"You're right." I smiled. "You're always right."
And he was right. Within a few minutes of us deciding that now perhaps wasn't the best time to consummate our marriage, we heard the aggravated friction of gentile wagons rolling over stone and came to the window that overlooked the front of the grounds and saw about thirty pristine carriages trundling into view from the country road we had come down earlier. They were the guests from the wedding.
"Look which witch hunt has gotten boring." Said Valentine with a cynical snigger. We both rushed downstairs to the hallway where my trunks were to see the ladies and gentlemen poncing through the open double doors, the last one shutting them behind them, causing the white drapes which had been fluttering like free butterflies in the summer sunlight to fall dead against the edges of the doors with a dissatisfying crunch. They stared up at Valentine and I impatiently, as if they had assumed some grand entry from us, perhaps in a similar fashioned to how they had entered.
"Good afternoon." I said after a disturbingly long pause.
"You left quickly." Smiled one older woman.
"We thought you needed the space to hunt." Smiled Valentine.
"No." said my mother abruptly.
"How about that cake?" I said, attempting to break this awful, un-shatter-able silence.
"What a good idea." Valentine said with a grateful smile. The huge white cake complete with sugary flowers was wheeled in on a little table by three of my mother's slaves.
"Wonderful." I said with a forced smile (not forced because I was unhappy with the cake – truly, it was gorgeous – but by the maintained air of silence that still plagued this room).
"I could have brought that in." Valentine whispered to me.
"Not on your wedding day." My mother said. "But we must have your father here before we cut it."
"That won't be so easy." He said.
"Why?" my mother said, half concerned.
"He was buried two days ago."
"What? Duke Ravenswood? Dead?" there was a hushed chatter from around the room.
"Yes. I was the only one to attend the funeral. We decided it was best to keep a small affair as he was a well known Red Coat supporter, and we didn't want to run the risk of an ambush."
"That was probably safer." A younger man from the crowd said.
"But you need to announce it in the paper." My mother exclaimed. "And we need to hold a memorial." A thought suddenly flickered across her face "And some kind of celebration is clearly in order. My daughter is a Duchess. And you're the new Duke." She said as an afterthought.
"No, thank you." He said. "I'm quite alright. Let us go into the drawing-room with this cake." He smiled. The slaves returned to help move the cake. "I can do it." He said abruptly.