As we passed beneath the groves of blossom which hung low over our heads, I couldn’t help but imagine what it would be like to be whisked away to Kingston Grove after my marriage to Dorian, for Gabriella had been right, I would most likely but married by Autumn. I would be Mistress Kingston. It was thoughts of this that swept through my mind as Gabriella and I sat in our cushioned chairs, our hair being pinned into place. Cheyenne had been worried sick about my whereabouts and when I told her I had been at Ceasebury Creek, she had understood. My apology to her and to my mother had felt somehow hollow, though. I was worried and that worry seemed to grow and grow as I got ready for dinner.
I was not a fool. I knew that my match with Master Kingston was almost completely secure because it’d be agreed upon by men sitting in dusty room many years ago. I had a large dowry and a good family name. When I was married to Dorian, what would happen to Gabriella? Her possible match with Marquess Ravenswood was so tenuous, one couldn’t help but wonder if she would ever secure his proposal, let alone in the course of this summer. That would mean she would have to go a year living alone at Ceasebury Manor without anyone here to keep her company. I wondered if she had thought of this.
As we dressed in our corsets and pale evening dresses, I shot a few sideways glances at Gabriella. She looked a little worried. Perhaps she too knew that if she couldn’t win the heart of the Marquess (the process of which would begin tonight, if it were to begin at all), she would have to live alone here until she could. It was as I completed the difficult task of dressing that my mother came into the open white dressing room Gabriella and I were sitting in.
“Miss Gabriella, would you give us some privacy?” my mother asked tentatively. With a slight start, Gabriella hopped out of the room, tripped slightly over the hem of her gown. My mother pushed the door shut behind her. “Darling,” she smiled “I need you to be perfect tonight. The Marquess will be here in ten minuets. You must amaze him with your beauty, your charm, your wit and all the other qualities any young bride ought to possess. Do you think you can do that?” she paused.
“What? The Marquess? Marquess Ravenswood? I thought I was to wed Master Kingston.” I relied, bemused.
“Well, yes, you were, but plans change, darling. The Marquess is of higher rank and title and possesses a much greater fortune. With your beauty the way it is, you are bound to capture his heart.”
“But, what about Gabriella? Who will she wed? She can’t marry her own brother.”
“I know, well, you are my main concern. You will wed the Marquess easily. Gabriella will have to find herself another match.”
“And how will she very well do that? How do you think Gabriella will survive in this world without a high ranking, respectable husband? That’s why she was brought here, isn’t it? So you would get her a good husband.”
“Yes. It is. We will have to find her another match. I will not talk about this any further. You will talk with the gentlemen tonight and you will win the hearts of both and secure a proposal. Calm yourself and come downstairs. Oh, not a word to Gabriella or Master Kingston.” My mother left the room. I shook my head and picked up my skirts. I suppose my name would now be Theodosia Antionette Ravenswood by the end of the season.
After I left the room, I saw Gabriella standing on the cream carpeted stairs that led down to the main hall and eventually the dining room. How could I not tell her? She took my hand and whispered to me that she had my present. Slowly, she took her hand from behind her back and passed me a rectangular package which was wrapped up in white and lilac cotton.
“It’s a notebook. You can use it to practice writing your new name, its got a calligraphy pen with it. You can keep it wrapped in this little veil under your pillow and then maybe you’ll have dreams abut your new husband.” Gabriella whispered with a slight giggle. I thanked her and put it on the side table next to my bed.
We walked together down the white marble steps. I could feel her hand shaking a little in mine and wondered if part of her knew that she would not be married by the end of the season. The hard black and white marble felt somehow heavy beneath my feet and the guilt of all this tumultuous secret was heavy in my chest. I felt almost hypnotised by the secrets I was keeping from Gabriella, not just the marriage, but the things I knew would come with her marriage (if that ever happened) which she had no idea of. How could I be asked to keep so many secrets that in all honesty had nothing to do with me? I was the holder of all of the secrets of the world around me. We continued to walk down the stairs. The servants had set up candles all over the lower corridors and the manor had a kind of lurid nocturnal glow about it which suggested a kind of haze. Two young men were waiting beside my mother and two maids in the main hallway.