We sped down the narrow, cobbled streets of Williamsburg; I had a distinct sense that I had (at least in some spiritual way) abandoned Gabriella. Valentine assured me that leaving Williamsburg to know meant that we would still be able to provide practical help from afar. Still, I felt a deep vein of guilt running like a thick black river through my body that I had left her in Williamsburg to deal with all these people to whom she - in their minds – was a traitor. She was a woman who had been tricked out of a marriage to Valentine Ravenswood and had found no other eligible bachelor other than Captain LeBolt, who she had run away with to marry. And that made her a traitor to the Virginia gentry.
And still, our carriage sped on towards Ravens’ Wood. Nothing would stop its wheels, not my guilt; not the outrange of the gentry, not the revolution, nothing. Softly, I placed my head against Valentine’s chest and shut my eyes. He leaned into me, and our lips met softly, and we kissed slowly, almost as if we were taking a moment to indulge in our first kiss as husband and wife away from prying eyes.
Out of the open window of the carriage, the rolling fields of Virginia zoomed past so that the whole outside became a whisked-up blur of different shades of green and black and brown because on this hot July afternoon, there were enslaved people working out on the land. They mopped their brows and gazed up at the sun with eyes that were dim and already crumbling in the humid air. Over the hill, I could see in the distance that the White Woods and the plantation fields of Kingston Grove were turning a decaying yellow colour. It mustn’t have been raining up there. From my position down the river, it looked as if the White Woods had lost their pale white and yellow flowers, which had been replaced by a dull layer of yellow decay plastered over it.
I looked out of the other window, and Ravens’ Wood swam into view with its vast clear blue lake and towering orchard, which was fulling in bloom. The huge white columns of the building towered up to the sky as a herald to the heavens, intertwined with thick, waxy leafed ivy with spiralled up, climbing, ever attempting to reach for the sunlight. The huge double doors of the manor were flung open, and a cascade of summer seemed to be let in with the breeze which blew the white linen drapes up and out of the manor so that they flounced around the entrance.
The carriage pulled into a vast gravelly path leading up to the house. Hermes had already returned to Ravens’ Wood clearly as he was happily wandering here and there and drinking from the lake. Despite the similar architecture, this place seemed entirely different to Ceasebury; at Ceasebury, you never would have seen a horse wandering around all by itself, no, it would have been accompanied by a servant and led straight back to the stables. Yes, here, there was a disturbing sense of lightness in the air. It was similar to how I felt when I was at the Creek, except here, it ran far deeper. Here, it was everywhere. It nested in the branches of tall trees and whispered through their leaves and flew on the wings of the inky black ravens which sored above.
Valentine helped me depart the carriage and guided me by the hand in through the open double doors and into the entrance hall.
“Valentine,” I paused “, why have you taken all the pictures down?” I asked.
“Well, I thought it was a bit of an odd thing to do.” He replied.
“Well, it seems very counterintuitive.” He said, “You know, having portraits of the dead hanging around on our wedding night.”
“And also, I want to replace that big one which was hanging up there,” he gestured broadly to a now-empty patch of wall at the top of the stairs “with a portrait of us.”
“Won’t your father mind?” I asked, “That was the place a portrait of him was, wasn’t it?”
“Yes.” He said. “He won’t mind me moving it though.”
“Well, if he does, there isn’t really much he can do, although if I get struck by lightening, I guess we wouldn’t have to speculate far as to how that happened.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, he’s dead.” He said in a very matter of fact tone.
“What?” I asked in bewilderment, feeling sure Valentine had been talking about him being alive on my last visit around a week ago.
“I went to the funeral about two days ago; he died the night of the ball.” He said. “He’d been suffering for ages.”
“Oh, well, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be.” He said, “He was a bastard.” I smiled slightly.
“So I’m a Duke now.” He said.
“So, I’m a duchess?” I asked.
“I think that’s how it works. Duchess Theodosia Antoinette Ravenswood. Now that’s a long name.” He sniggered. “Oh, and there’s something I want to show you.” He took my hand and began to pull me back out of the entranceway and back out into the vast grounds.