Time ticked on as we danced. The ticking of the large clock in the ballroom reminded me of the clock face which watched over the Ceasebury Estate. It felt ominous. Each tick was a tick close to my life changing forever – for this time tomorrow I would be the talk of the colony as the seventeen-year-old who was engaged to the Marquess, one of the most eligible bachelors in Virginia. And Gabriella Kingston would be the colony’s new scandal (oh, how these ladies and gentlemen loved scandals). The only daughter of the wealthy Kingston family had run off and married Captain LeBolt.
But at least they wouldn’t know the other part of the scandal. No one would know that Gabriella wasn’t a Kingston. Thinking about it, I wondered if her real father even knew she existed. Now, that was a strange thought. I was imagined that when a men became a father something magically altered inside his head. Perhaps it was not so. The dancing dissipated somewhat, and Valentine pulled me off the dance floor and grabbed himself a glass of champagne, downing it quickly. It was nearly time. I felt an uneasy feeling rising through me. It was fear. But not fear of danger, but the far more dangerous fear - the fear of change. The same fear that drives men to give up their dreams and ladies to give up their hopes of love. The fear that things will change. Or that they already have and now that change will become more apparent.
Noticing this odd behaviour by Valentine, Gabriella grabbed hold of Charles’s hand and pulled him to the end of the ballroom which was opposite the orchestra. That side of the ballroom was lined with huge French windows which lent this place even more colonial charm. Gabriella and Charles stood beside one of these windows and I saw Charles fumbling to open it a crack (so it would be ready for their imminent exist). Valentine took himself to the middle of the ballroom. I followed him gingerly. The orchestra hushed and the ladies and gentlemen gathered around us, poised, as if waiting for some kind of colossal event to occur. It was occurring, just not where they were looking.
“Miss Theodosia Ceasebury,” Valentine began to speak loudly “though I have only been courting you a matter of days, I have found you to be the most wonderful and accomplished of young ladies. I have spoken to your father and have obtained his permission to make you my wife. So, Miss Theodosia Ceasebury, will you do be the immense honour of being my wife?”. The room was silent. It was a kind of un-shatter-able silence. I swallowed. “Yes, Marquess Ravenswood, I would love nothing more than to become your wife.” I smiled at him with a kind of jubilance I had never before seen. I looked out of the corner of my eye to the French windows, only to see a whisper of white crinoline whisked out of sight and the window to be pushed shut. Gabriella and Charles were out. I took a deep, hopeful breath and looked down at Valentine to see him rising from his kneeled position on the marble floor, a beautiful ring of diamonds and blue chalcedony. Valentine slipped it on to my finger. I was to be his wife.
I stared up at the crowd. They were all beaming artificially and looking at me and Valentine. They had no suspicions (it seemed) that Gabriella and Charles had just escaped the ballroom. That in itself filling me some certain kind of unfelt joy. Valentine stood up and took my hand in his. The whole ballroom erupted in applause. People began congratulating me and Valentine.
It was still something I had not much thought of that my name would become Theodosia Ravenswood and that I would live at the Ravens’ Wood Estate. My life was about to change forever. So was Gabriella’s.
People around me began telling me how I was the be the new marchioness and how Valentine (Marquess Ravenswood to them) was the most eligible gentleman in the colony and how lucky I was to have captured his heart, particularly at my young age. My mother was also the centre of attention with ladies and gentlemen alike offering her their congratulations that her only daughter had landed the Marquess who had been the talk of the town since he was out of boarding school. It took everyone a moment to realise that Gabriella hadn’t congratulated us. Myself and Valentine moved away from the centre of the room eventually and the orchestra once again took up their instruments and began to play a lively march which sounded almost militaristic. My mother, who was dressed in a crimson gown, came over to me in a kind of disguised fluster and pulled me with a disguised delicacy to the edge of the ballroom, with me frantically gesturing to Valentine that I would return to his side shortly, to support him in against the tidal wave of wishful congratulations and imagined jubilance.
“Theodosia,” my mother whispered frantically “where’s Gabriella?”
“What?” I swallowed.
“I can’t find Gabriella, nor that red coat gentleman she was dancing with earlier.”
“Oh, don’t worry, I’m sure they’re fine.” I smiled to her, trying to conceal my desperation that she would just not panic for long enough that it would be too late. If she just waited for another five minuets before raising panic, I could be sure that Gabriella Kingston was now Gabriella LeBolt and nothing could be done to bring her back to Ceasebury.
“But they’re not chaperoned.” My mother said in alarm. “This could ruin her reputation.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that.” I smiled quietly.
“Do you know what this could mean for our family?” she gasped at my lack of concern “For her family?”
“Its okay.” I smiled “She’ll show up in a minute.”
“I really hope so.” She said, forging calmness.
“Yes, it’ll all be fine, now, I must return to my public.” I said with a laugh full of gaiety.
I returned to Valentine’s side. We continued to be congratulated by the guests and the orchestra continued to play loudly and merrily. My mother began to promise people that we would be wed before the end of the month and I laughed, assuming that wouldn’t be possible. She promised that it would be the wedding of the season and that all who had been in attendance at the ball would be invited. My eye kept shooting to the clock. It was ticking. Gabriella and Charles had been gone for half an hour now. Surely that was long enough?
It was just as I turned my eyes back to those around me that I noticed Dorian Kingston pushing his way up through the crowd towards me.
“Where’s Gabriella?” he asked loudly. I swallowed.
I stared around blankly as the room seemed to fall into a kind of hushed silence.
“She must be here somewhere.” I said calmly to Dorian.
“Really?” he smirked. “Well, I can’t see her anywhere.”
“What have you done with her?” he said in an accusatory tone.
“What?” I paused “I haven’t done anything with her.” He came closer to me. I smelt alcohol on his breath.
“Dorian, you’re drunk.” I whispered to him. The people around us sniggered slightly.
“What?” he advanced on me “What did you say to me?”
“Look, you need to go home, your sister is fine.” Valentine stood between Dorian and me.
“This has nothing to do with you.” He ignored Valentine.
“He’s right, Dorian, Gabriella is okay.” I said, attempting to calm him.
“How do you know?” Dorian shoved me back. “How do you know she’s okay?” he pushed me again, causing me to fall back onto the marble floor. “I have spent the past five years trying to keep Gabriella safe and for what? So you and Valentine can go and put her somewhere?” the guests gasped as I fell.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Valentine shouted.
“Keeping my sister safe.” Dorian panted for air “What do you think youre doing by interfering?” he shouted.
“That is my fiancée. You hurt her, you hurt me.”
“Valentine, what do you mean?” concern began to rise in me.
“A duel.” Valentine stated loudly. “Tomorrow.” He stared at Dorian.
“No, Valentine, if you do that and win you’ll go to jail.” I said in alarm.
“Not in accordance with the gentleman’s code of honour. My – our – honour has been challenged and I will have justice.”
“Tomorrow at dawn.” Dorian said decisively. “At the Ceasebury Creek.”
“Okay. Pistols?” Valentine asked. Dorian nodded. I stared around, alarmed. They weren’t honestly going to do this, were they? Everyone else seemed to be interchanging similar glances.
“But where’s Gabriella?” my mother shouted.
“She must be here.” I said. There was a hurried search for her in the crowd. She was no where to be found. A truly frantic search began. The ladies and gentlemen searched the ballroom and the upstairs rooms but she was nowhere. All talk of the engagement was over. Now, all eyes were upon this new catastrophe.
“Perhaps she has gone back to Ceasebury.” I shouted, in a desperate attempt to calm people down.
“Yes,” Valentine said. I think she said she felt unwell.”
“Oh, we must return there then and see her.” My mother said decisively. “Sorry for the panic, ladies and gentlemen.” She trotted towards the exit to call for a carriage. I kissed Valentine lightly on the cheek and bid him good night. I would see him in the morning. I would be waiting.