Elizabeth’s hands glided over the instrument, her fingers feeling each key as though it were a further extension of her body. There wasn’t a pianoforte in all of England that was so lovingly caressed as this one, so doted upon by its mistress. Her closed eyes blocked out irrelevant stimuli, allowing her other senses to fully appreciate the beautiful melody that seemed to enter her body and touch her soul in a way that was both magical and familiar. This particular piece was one she had written herself, a melody she had birthed out of the depths of her being.
This is how music should be, she thought to herself. An all-consuming experience that makes all else seem dull and lifeless.
Elizabeth’s life revolved around music – performing on her mother’s pianoforte, finding music sheets that promised an explosion of sound when translated, and even the practise of copying sheet music into the many notebooks that she favoured above any silly woman’s instruction manual on finding a suitable husband.
Cecilia, her younger sister, had a vast collection of books centred upon a woman’s appearance, social etiquette, wifely skills such as being a successful hostess, and literature that seemed to force women into a monotony of thought, speech and fashion. If only she would allow herself the opportunity to experience the beauty of music, then she would not concern herself over such superficial activities.
Two years separated the sisters, but there could not be a more different pair. Elizabeth could not bear the frivolity of her younger sister’s activities, preferring to confine herself to the parlour where her beloved instrument was housed. She began to hum the melody, her mouth opening to effortlessly form the words that matched the rise and fall of her nimble fingers.
“La la laaaa, do do do, la la laaaa, do do do…”
She fell into a hum once more, the sound sending vibrations throughout her body. If only the world could appreciate music, I believe there would be less evil. It caused her great sorrow to hear the plight of the poor, their quality of life, and the powerful few who, although possessing the resources to help them, neither wished or chose to do so. There had even been word of human slaves from deepest Africa being treated like animals by people who should know better but chose to entertain the darkness in their hearts. Perhaps if I could compose a piece of music that is so profound and moving, I could influence those with an ear for music.
Elizabeth understood the power of music. She knew how it could affect a person’s mood and actions. Play a light melody, then you are likely to raise the spirits of your listeners, or play a mournful melody, and the atmosphere of the room would change. I may be an optimist, a dreamer even. But I cannot help but think that music could change the world. Perhaps this is what my God-given purpose is, to influence those in a position to change the world. Or perhaps it is just to bring joy to those who hear me play.
Whatever her purpose may be, Elizabeth did not take her music capabilities for granted. Her skill on the pianoforte had been noticed from an early age by her mother, and it was her mother who had encouraged her to pursue her talent by spending hours at the instrument, diligently practising until the notes simply flowed. Not that Elizabeth had minded, for she had taken to the pianoforte as a baby did to a nursing bottle. She had gone from a daughter raised for marriage to a daughter who shared her mother’s love of music.
Mama has not spoken of a possible marriage for me, which is just as well as I do not think that I could be married to a man who would stifle my creativity and skill. I shall not become a wife and sacrifice the one thing in this world that brings me pure pleasure.
Her father may be of a different opinion altogether. I have the strongest foreboding that he may bring up the subject of marriage soon. I am to be twenty in a few mere months, an age when most women are either accepting the shackles of matrimony or having their first child. I pray that Cecilia does not become betrothed to Percival too soon.
Elizabeth immediately felt ashamed for her thoughts. Her sister was indeed in love with her young beau, betrothment would be a natural progression of their courtship. Could she really wish for a delay to suit her own purposes? She sighed. No, far be it for her to withhold her sister’s happiness with a heartfelt prayer to the heavens.
I may be obsessing over an event that may not take place in the near future.
Elizabeth noted that her mood had certainly dipped. As the piece of music came to an end, she went into a more jovial piece, one she had learnt from the copied music sheets of her dear friend Emma Thompson. Poor Emma was hopeless with the pianoforte, but proficient with the harp. The crux of the matter was that her father insisted that she dedicate her time to the pianoforte, which was fast becoming a firm favourite in the homes of the gentry. His sudden need for his daughter to play the instrument was likely due to the Dowager Viscountess de Bourgh recently stating that a young woman who was accomplished at playing the pianoforte would make a suitable bride for her nephew, the Duke of Carlisle. It was a statement Elizabeth had found rather silly, as there was much more to being a wife than playing a pianoforte. It was also contradictory as the wife would no longer be able to spend her time playing the instrument. While music was looked upon as a skill for a young woman looking to enter the marriage market, once married, it was considered socially unacceptable. Any musical skills would need to be replaced with wifely skills, which seemed like a complete waste of talent to Elizabeth.
Better not to marry and be independent than forsake my music!
A sudden movement to her right attracted her attention, but her hands continued to play, so accustomed were they to each key placement. Her mother entered the room and took a seat next to her. Despite her lack of time to play herself, her mother had always enjoyed sitting beside her eldest daughter during when she could, eyes closed, as she allowed the music to wash over her. A little peek to the side told Elizabeth that her mother’s eyes were indeed closed, a smile playing about her lips, her fingers moving upon her lap as if playing along. The music ended, earning applause from her mother.
“Simply beautiful, Elizabeth. I could not fault it at any point.”
“Thank you, Mama. I have learned from the best possible teacher in the whole of England, perhaps even the world.”
“Oh hush,” her mother protested, softly nudging her with her shoulder.
Despite the protest, Elizabeth could see that her mother was secretly pleased. She took her mother’s hands, bringing them to rest on the keys.
“It is true, Mama. These hands have moulded and shaped my skills better than any music teacher could have. I am thankful to have had a mother whose love for music gave me the opportunity to express my thoughts and emotions in such a magical manner.”
Her mother’s hands lightly caressed the keys before she folded them in her lap with a sigh. There was a longing in her eyes as she stared at the instrument, perhaps remembering her days when every waking hour was spent honing her skills, a joyous time for her.
“My time has passed, but you can continue the dream for the both of us. You play beautifully, Elizabeth. Hearing you brings me much joy, more than you can ever imagine. What was it that you were playing before I came in? I recognised this playful tune, but the other I did not.”
“Oh, that is something I created myself. It is the first time I have played it in its entirety, but I am pleased with it.”
Her mother’s eyes widened slightly. “You composed it?”
“Yes, Mama. It has been my dream to compose my own music according to what bubbles out of me. It is different to what I am used to. But it is my own.”
“That is wonderful, Elizabeth. I had no notion you had this gift within you. Yes, you play beautifully, but to compose is another thing altogether. It takes true commitment and passion for that.”
Elizabeth beamed with happiness. To hear her mother confirm her abilities were a gift was wonderful indeed. Her mother had been a gifted pianist. Not just accomplished but gifted. To walk in her footsteps was a privilege.
“I am glad that you think so, as I have worked increasingly hard to perfect my skills. While I do not consider myself a great composer, I still have a dream to be considered the world’s greatest composer to have ever lived.”
Her mother jumped up and paced the room. Whenever her mother got like this, Elizabeth knew that ideas were forming in her mind.
“How fortuitous. I could have never dreamed that my own daughter would carry the same dreams that I had.” She stopped and looked at Elizabeth. “Yes, I was filled with joy when you took to the pianoforte with ease and eagerness, but I could never have thought that you would aspire to be a composer. Could it be that my own daughter will become what I could not?”
She said this sentence more to herself, but it intrigued Elizabeth. While she had always known that her mother had been a gifted pianist, she had never revealed the dreams of her youth.
“Mama, did you wish to be a composer?”
Her mother smiled sadly. “Yes. It was a dream that shone brightly within me, pushing me to new heights of excellence. Of my generation, I was likely the most skilled pianoforte player in the land, and I relished that fact. I surpassed the women of my class and, if I were to be honest, the men as well.”
Elizabeth gave a little laugh and returned to her seat, caressing the keys once more. Why had her mother never informed her of this before? She had a close relationship with her mother, a relationship founded on their mutual love of music. She laid a hand on her mother’s hand, stilling her. “You have never spoken of this before, Mama.”
Her mother covered Elizabeth’s hand with her other hand, looking at her with eyes that seemed to be filled with old disappointment. “There was no use in speaking of it as it did not come to pass.”
Elizabeth frowned. “But why? You were gifted, Mama. I have heard many other people remark on your abilities, those who once had the opportunity to hear you play. Surely it would have been natural for you to fulfil your dreams?”
Her father did not seem like a man who would stifle his wife’s aspirations. She felt her mother’s hands slip from her, watching them come to rest by her sides.
“When I turned nineteen, I found that dreams were not attainable, at least not my own. I had a duty to marry the man of my father’s choosing and thus forsake my love for music. It is an unfortunate thing for a woman’s life to be led by those who do not possess a musical skill, or at least the love of music.”
Elizabeth felt foolish for asking such a question. Was it not obvious? Even I know that marriage kills any dream quicker than the guillotine.
“Mama, I am dreadfully sorry for bringing this to your remembrance. It was not my intention to evoke such sadness within you.”
She wrapped her arms around her mother and laid her head on her shoulder, hoping to bring comfort.
Her mother’s head came to lie upon hers, her hand patting the arms wrapped around her. “Do not fret, dear. It is all in the past. My dreams may have died, but there is still a chance for you, if you are willing to forsake matrimony for your dream.”
“I do not wish to marry, Mama. I wish to be an independent woman. I have heard of it before, women taking up a house for themselves. Papa will surely give me an inheritance to do so?”
Her mother’s head lifted, and she turned to face her, taking Elizabeth’s hands in hers. “Even if he does not, I shall help you. I shall sell my jewels if I must, but I shall help you to achieve your dreams.” She pulled Elizabeth to her and hugged her, kissing her head. “You do not know how happy I am to have you as my daughter. My own daughter, blood of my blood, will become one of the greatest composers of her time!”
Her mother released her, eyes shining with joyful determination. Could it be done? Doubt had crept into Elizabeth’s mind as her mother had spoken of her failed dreams. If a woman as gifted as her mother had been kept from her dream, where was the guarantee that she would achieve her own? However, she did not wish to darken the light she saw in her mother, so she merely smiled.
“I would like nothing better than to have you by my side.”
“Lovely. Come, let us sit elsewhere – these chairs are not comfortable for long conversations.”
They moved to the chairs that her mother had recently purchased. They were mahogany with legs of brass that resembled a lion’s feet, finished with cushioned seats that were maroon in colour. Elizabeth liked them well enough, but she preferred her furniture without any animal features. Perhaps an ornament, but certainly not her furniture.
If I could independently establish my own home, I would keep it simple and elegant. A touch of the east here and there would be welcome.
It was not the first time she had thought of having her own house, preferably in London where most social events took place, but that remained to be seen.
Perhaps I shall be invited to play in the most prestigious homes of the country, even the Prince Regent himself. She thought twice about that, shaking her head slightly. No, I would not wish to play for him for I do not particularly like him. He seems far more concerned with filling his belly with delicacies and spending the nation’s wealth on frivolous parties than taking care of those who are in poverty. At least, that is what she had once overheard about him from a dinner party guest some weeks ago. The man had been talking to her father, who did not seem to hold the same opinion. But then, her father was most loyal to the crown. Her thoughts turned to her sister.
“Has Cecilia returned from her outing yet? It seems she has been gone for quite some time.”
“Young love knows no time,” her mother said simply.
She frowned. “Did Cecilia not say she was going to Mary Abbott’s home?”
“Yes, but she will not be the only guest there. Mrs Abbott has organised a picnic with some of the most eligible men of our area – she said so herself when I met her in town yesterday. Of course, there will be other young women there, but I guarantee that Percival Hawkins will be there as well.”
Elizabeth resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Her sister was far too preoccupied with her young love for Percival. She only hoped that he felt the same way as well. Elizabeth had met him on a few occasions, but not for any extended period. She had nothing to talk about to him as he was concerned with matters that she found rather dull. Cecilia believed that the sun rose and set upon his head, nothing that he did could be seen as wrong. A most peculiar thing, thought Elizabeth. We are indeed as different as chalk and cheese. I would rather we had been cheese and wine, then our different personalities would at least complement each other.
“I expect that we will see her after dinner,” Elizabeth finally said.
“I believe so. At least he is also of landed gentry. Anything less than that would gain an immediate objection from your father.”
Elizabeth was aware of that. Her father was a man with set views that adhered to the division of England’s social classes. There were no grey areas in his manner of thinking, which made him a simple man. She certainly loved her father, but his lack of creativity made for stilted conversations.
“The Hawkins family will be leaving for London soon, I am sure. The season will be due to start in just a few weeks.”
“Yes,” her mother agreed. “Julia has come of age to enter into her first season. She is a lovely girl although rather dim-witted. However, that may just be the very thing that secures her a marriage.”
This information startled Elizabeth. She had not attended a season in the past three years, more so as there were ample suitors who lived close to their estate. Her mother hosted a dinner party at least once a month, which is where Cecilia had met Percival and instantly fell head over heels for him. He had not been the first young man, but he certainly seemed to be the one who could control Cecilia’s flighty ways. The only highlight of those dinner parties for Elizabeth was the opportunity to showcase her skills at the pianoforte in front of an audience. She always received an encore, for which she would play something that the young people and married couples could dance to. This ensured that she would not be asked to dance. Why would being dim-witted secure a marriage for Julia?
“Surely she would repel suitors?”
Her mother laughed. “Oh, dear! Do you not know your own countrymen? They are afraid of intelligent women. Men are looking for women who will be obedient, demure, submissive and pretty. Heaven forbid they should marry an intelligent woman.”
“But you are intelligent, Mama, and yet Papa married you.”
Her mother’s laughter died. “Well, I did not know your father, and neither did he know me well enough. Our parents arranged our marriage for us. Of course, he had seen me once before, but I had been too preoccupied with my music to notice. Being married had been the last thing on my mind.”
How horrid! An arranged marriage? Elizabeth could not imagine a worse fate. It was no wonder that her parents did not show any affection towards each other. Ghastly, really. I pray that I do not fall victim to such a fate.
“Was there a courtship at least?”
“If a week could be called a courtship.” Her mother shrugged her shoulders. “I quickly understood that I had a duty to my parents and to the husband that I would marry. The day before I married, I was given advice by my soon to be mother-in-law.”
She nodded. “I was advised to put away childish fantasies and embrace my new life as a respectful wife. It was not easy, but I was never one to back away from responsibility. I have two beautiful daughters and a wonderful home as a reward for my sacrifice.”
Elizabeth had never heard her mother speak so openly about this topic. It was almost as though she was offloading what had been on her chest for years.
“I am sorry, Mama. No one should have to give up on their dreams. If men are allowed to pursue careers, then so should women.”
Her mother shook her head. “You have your head in the clouds, dear. That may be my mistake, as I have not truly taught you the way of the world. Your whole life has been your music, as it was mine. But one decision can take that all away. That is why I wish to help you before an inescapable decision is made.”
Elizabeth could have sworn that she heard rattling chains about the room. Inescapable decision? Did her mother know something that she was not telling her? Perhaps it is best to change the subject before I hear something that will provide me with sleepless nights.
“Cecilia, I expect, will embrace marriage with open arms.”
“She is quite different from us, is she not?” asked her mother. “I saw from early on in her life that she held specific interests. I did try to introduce her to the pianoforte, harpsichord, and the harp, but she did not take to any of them. She preferred my beauty creams and evening dresses to music.”
Elizabeth laughed, remembering how her sister, at the age of five, had taken their mother’s simple wedding dress from the armoire and worn it about the estate. No one had taken any notice until her mother spied her through the parlour window. Amazingly enough, her mother had not been overly concerned about the sullied dress, even giving her daughter the dress and having it tailored to fit her. Much of the dress material had been cut out, with the scraps turned into doll’s clothes by their housekeeper, who was an accomplished seamstress. Most women cherished the dress that they wore on their wedding day, but her mother apparently had not. Elizabeth now knew the reason why.
“She certainly did take to fashion at an early age. She is a wonderful dancer, far better than I am. To compare us would be to compare a lamp to the sun, or perhaps a great African hippopotamus to a gazelle.”
Elizabeth had once seen pictures in a book of a hippopotamus lurking beneath the waters of an African river. It had looked decidedly tame in comparison to crocodiles and lions. But the text below the picture had stated that they were known to overturn boats and chomp on people who they believed were threatening.
“Well, she did take lessons, which you refused. Your father was none too pleased, but I reminded him of your stellar abilities on the pianoforte, which seemed to appease him. You sing beautifully as well,” she added as an afterthought.
“My skill keeps me firmly off the dance floor, which suits me just fine. Cecilia’s skill keeps her on the dance floor, which suits her just fine. I believe that we are both doing what we were meant to do.”
“I suppose that is one way of looking at it. Or we could say that Cecilia is looking for marriage while you are not. If I were any other type of mother, I would be crying from the shame of it.” She took on a mock look of horror. “My eldest daughter does not wish to marry? Oh, I shall not live another day!”
She closed her act with a hand to her brow and a theatrical fainting spell. Elizabeth laughed, clapping her hands. Her mother truly was a different sort of woman, certainly not as strict or stubborn as most mothers.
“You do a wonderful impression of Mrs Walters, Mama. She does love to faint.”
Her mother rolled her eyes and sat up straight. “That woman simply needs to grow a backbone and stop being so melodramatic. The next time she faints I shall not use smelling salts, but a jug of water.”
Elizabeth clapped her hands over her mouth, her giggles escaping nevertheless.
“Mama!” she playfully scolded. “That would be rather cruel of you!”
“Ha! As cruel as having to catch a large woman several times a day? She does smell rather ripe – a regular wash would do her well.”
“She does have a sweating problem, poor woman.”
Her mother raised an eyebrow. “Poor woman? If she would refrain from wearing dresses that push her ample bosom to the air all the while constricting her air passages, perhaps then I might feel some sympathy for her.”
Mrs Walters’ heaving bosom was legendary. Modesty did not seem to apply to her.
“Each to their own,” she commented.
“Perhaps a husband would convince her to cover up,” her mother suggested.
“Another husband? But she has had four already!”
“Yes, and they are all dead. A fifth one should hardly matter much. Perhaps he will stir a feeling in her heart that would change her for the better.” She looked at Elizabeth, a teasing gleam to her eyes. “I am sure that a man could never stir in our hearts the depth of feeling that music can.”
“I second that notion. If – heaven forbid – I should ever marry, he will need to have a love of music that matches my own as well as allow me to pursue my dreams.”
“Oh, Elizabeth, that sort of man simply does not exist.”
“It is just as well that I do not plan on marrying.”
Both their attention turned to the door as her father stepped inside. He did not come in any further but stood just before the door. Her mother immediately got up and went to him.
“Miles, is there something that I can get you?”
“Yes, Edith. I should like a moment with you.”
“Of course. Shall we go to your study?”
Her father nodded, looking at Elizabeth. “Are you still at the pianoforte, Elizabeth?”
She smiled. “As always, Papa. Perfection does not happen on its own.”
“Mmm,” he replied and left the room.
Elizabeth watched with sadness as her mother followed quickly behind him, ever the docile and respectful wife. Elizabeth noticed how her parents never smiled when they were together. To other people yes, but never to each other.
“This is why I should never be married. Who would wish to live their life with another person whom they do not love? It seems like a fate worse than death.”
She returned to the pianoforte with a sad melody in her heart.
Edith followed her husband to his study, wondering at his brisk walk. He only walks like this when he has much on his mind, she thought. What has happened now? He entered the study, holding the door open for her. He may not have any true affection for her, but he was polite to a fault. Not once had he ever raised his voice to her, nor his hand for that matter.
Miles was a mild-tempered man, one who always did what was right. It was something that she respected, although she did wish to shake him until his teeth rattled at times. A shout here and there would have been welcome in an otherwise dead marriage. Edith had thought of leaving him on several occasions but had chickened out. No one would accept a divorced woman, and while Miles would be looked upon with sympathy, she would be ostracised by society and her own family.
Father made it clear the day that I married that I should stand by my husband’s side no matter what may come to pass. She had never understood what he had meant until she had suspected her husband of cheating. It had been a heavy blow to her, as she had been with child at the time. In a fit of hysterics, she had lashed out at him, accusing him of adultery. Miles had taken one look at her, his eyebrows raised in amusement. Edith would never forget what he said.
“Edith, control yourself. Should I take a harlot to my bed when I have one already?”
He spoke of her brief love affair with a viscount during the early years of their marriage. She had never betrayed him physically, but emotionally she had. Charles had been a source of comfort to her, a man who was content to simply hold her hand or kiss her forehead. Guilt had made her reveal the nature of their relationship to Miles, confessing that she had acted inappropriately with a man who was not her husband. Miles had not raised his voice, not even then. He had merely asked if the affair was over, to which she had replied yes. She had already informed Charles that she could never be with him, and he had left England. Edith had often thought of him, wondering where he was. Within the depths of her soul she knew she had loved him like she had never loved her own husband.
Miles pulled her chair out, waiting for her to take her seat before going to his.
“Is there something on your mind, Miles? You seem troubled.”
“A man with daughters will always be troubled.”
There it was once again. Her failure to have produced a son, an heir. When she was with child for the second time, Edith had been convinced that the baby would be a boy. Perhaps she had just convinced herself as her second pregnancy had been so different to the first. When Cecilia was born, Miles had not looked at her for weeks. At her wit’s end, she had forced baby Cecilia into his arms and stalked off. When she returned, a different Miles had awaited her. It was amazing what such a small thing as a baby holding onto an adult’s thumb could do. Miles had softened towards his daughter, but not towards her. Edith had simply accepted it, glad that he had taken to his child. At his comment she looked down, knowing not to reply.
“Edith, I find myself in a situation that must be concluded today.”
“And what would that situation be?”
“Marriage for both our daughters.”
Cecilia arrived well after dinner, personally escorted by Percival’s spinster aunt, Miss Simms. Mrs Potts, their housekeeper, ushered them into the drawing room, much to everyone’s surprise.
“Miss Simms, how lovely to see you!” her mother exclaimed. “I was not aware that you attended the picnic today.”
“Oh n-no,” the woman stuttered. “I was not in attendance, Mrs Ramsbury. Picnics are f-far too frivolous for a woman of faith s-such as myself.”
Poor woman. She had been dealt a heavy blow at birth with both her appearance and a speech impediment. The woman was plain-looking, certainly not ugly, but nothing about her physical features were particularly remarkable. And if that was not enough, she spoke with a stutter that many men found off-putting. It was indeed a shame as she was a lovely woman, perhaps a tad too virtuous for the social circles that she found herself in. It was no wonder that she preferred to stay at her brother-in-law’s house, rather than to accompany them to social events. Elizabeth watched the woman wring her hands, clearly uncomfortable to be the centre of attention.
She watched as her father’s forehead creased. He was a mild man, one who rarely showed emotion. However, Elizabeth could sense the beginning of a potential scolding. It will not be a true scolding, for Papa does not like to raise his voice.
“How did you come to bring my daughter home?” he asked carefully.
Elizabeth watched as a blush suffused her sister’s already rosy cheeks.
“Oh, Papa, I was with Percy’s family.”
“That is highly irregular, Cecilia!” he said. “Why were we not informed of this before?”
“Oh, p-please do not scold her so,” Miss Simms spoke. “My s-sister does so love to have Miss Cecilia with us and invited her. I b-bring her apologies for n-not having s-sent word earlier.”
Elizabeth saw that her father could not stand the stuttering speech of the poor woman. Her mother must have as well, because she quickly stood and went to the woman.
“Thank you, Miss Simms, for bringing our daughter safely home. I am sure that my husband accepts your sincere apology. Come, let me escort you to your carriage.”
Her mother took Miss Simms by the arm, propelling the woman forward. When they were out of earshot, her father turned to Cecilia, impaling her with a stern gaze.
“What is the meaning of this, young lady? Do you think it acceptable to frolic about the town without a word to me or your mother?”
“Papa, I am sorry, but I could not deny Mrs Hawkins. She was most insistent. However, I assure you that I was in good hands.”
He twirled his moustache, something that Elizabeth recognised as a physical indication of his agitation. Elizabeth could tell that Cecilia also recognised the signs for, as if on command, her tears began falling down her cheeks. Her sister ran to her father, kneeling at his feet. I knew that the water works would start soon, thought Elizabeth. She watched as her sister began to beg their father for forgiveness, her voice seemingly full of regret.
“Papa, I implore you – please forgive my foolishness! I did not mean to disrespect you and Mama. You know that I hold the both of you in the highest esteem. I simply thought that I should represent our family to the Hawkins by being kind and obliging. I assure you that that was all it was. Please forgive me, Papa.”
Had it been acceptable, Elizabeth would have stood up and applauded her sister for her stellar acting abilities. She knew full well that Cecilia was not in the least apologetic for her changed plans. Instead, she was sorry for the scolding she was currently receiving. One word from her father could spell the end of her regular outings. Cecilia took her act a step further and took her father’s hand, placing it upon her head in submission. Oh, that was a wise move, thought Elizabeth. Cecilia does know how to manipulate people. She loved her sister, but she did not approve of her antics. Her father’s hand remained stiff upon her sister’s head for but a second before it relaxed. And there it was.
“I shall allow this to pass, Cecilia. But do not let it happen again.”
Cecilia leapt up from her position and planted a kiss on her father’s forehead. “Oh, thank you, Papa. You are indeed the kindest father. May I retire to my room now?”
Her father waved his hand. “Yes, yes, go on.”
Cecilia skipped out of the room, her face once more a picture of youthful gaiety. Elizabeth immediately returned to her novel, one of young love and hardships.
“Elizabeth,” her father said.
She quickly looked up. “Yes, Papa?”
“I would like you to speak to your sister concerning her behaviour. You know that I am not one for tears, and as her older sister, she will listen to you.”
Where would her father get that notion from? Cecilia was a law unto herself. No one could control her.
“What should I say?”
“I hardly feel the need to explain it to you. You are an intelligent girl, you understand what duty and propriety mean. Ensure that your sister does not repeat this,” he waved his hands in the air, “act of disobedience again.”
That was the last thing that Elizabeth wished to do. Cecilia was a highly emotional individual who would lose herself in hysterics at any opposition. The only person that she behaved herself with was her father.
“Papa, I hardly think that I can do such a thing. Perhaps Mama will be able to show her the dangers of crooked behaviour.”
He shook his head firmly. “No, your mother is occupied with other duties. You will need to step in and be the older sister.”
Elizabeth sighed, taking care not to make it too obvious. “Very well. Shall I go now?”
“It is late, best you retire to your room. Leave the book behind.”
That surprised her. “Papa?”
He pointed. “The book. You must leave it behind. No man wishes to have a wife more concerned with books than him. Best you learn that now.”
She was stunned. “But I have always read in bed, Papa.”
“And you are no longer a child. Must I repeat myself again or will you listen?”
There was a note of warning in his voice that had her putting the book down. She did not bother to look at him as she left the room. Why is Papa being so difficult about this? When did he become so concerned with my reading habits? She did not like this change, not one bit.
Elizabeth climbed the stairs to their bedroom, not looking forward to the conversation to be had with her sister. It had been their father’s wish that Elizabeth share a bedroom with her sister during the time of Cecilia’s nightly terrors many years back. As time went on, it became an unspoken settlement that Elizabeth should remain with her sister. All attempts to advocate for her own room had fallen upon deaf ears. More so her father’s than her mother’s. And now to be forced to speak with her when it is well-known that Cecilia accepts no advice contrary to her beliefs? She shook her head. “I should enjoy living on my own and being independent,” she muttered out loud.
She opened the door to find her sister already in her nightgown, sitting upright in her bed, seemingly waiting for Elizabeth’s arrival. Her facial expression belied one who was mournful of her actions. She could see that her sister’s body was humming with excitement, a stark contrast to the mask she wore. Oh, Cecilia. If only you would start to understand that life does not revolve around you. Elizabeth wanted the best for her sister, but she was worried that her nature would expire any good fortune to fall upon her. Patience and tolerability could only last for so long before something had to give.
“Is Papa quite upset with me?” Cecilia asked.
Elizabeth longed to say yes, but no good would come of it. Her sister would likely fall into a fit of passionate tears, ranting about the unfairness of it all.
“No, just disappointed.”
“Oh,” Cecilia said smiling. “Disappointment is preferable to anger. I am sure that he will lay his feelings aside once Percy speaks with him.”
Elizabeth paused her progress to her bed. “Percival? Why should he speak with Papa?”
“Prepare yourself for bed, and then I shall tell you. I have so much to tell you, Elizabeth! I am nearly bursting with excitement. Today has been a most productive day indeed.”
Believing herself to be subjected to the latest gossip, Elizabeth bathed her face before moving behind the screen and changing, all the while thinking about her father’s odd request, or rather command, for her to leave her book in the drawing room. Perhaps if I were given to hysterics like Cecilia, I might be able to get my way. But I could never do such a thing.
“Oh, do hurry up, Elizabeth. Must you prolong your routine? You do it every day, surely this means that you are used to it.”
“Each to their own, Cecilia. You take some time in the morning. I take my time in the evening.”
Her sister laughed. “You cannot compare the two. Who are you preparing yourself for at this time of the night? The man of your dreams?”
“I was not aware that by taking my time I would be doing it for someone.”
She heard her sister flop onto the bed, sighing loudly. “Oh, you are hopeless.”
Elizabeth chuckled. “And I still love you, despite how you mock me, little sister.”
She was indeed still her sister. Elizabeth could become frustrated and angry at times, but this was the sister who used to run to her when she hurt herself or hug her at the oddest moments just to show affection. It was only in the last few years that she had changed so much that they no longer had anything in common except for the room they shared. She came out from behind the screen and climbed into bed, preparing herself for the onslaught of gossip she was about to hear, wondering if she should tell her what Papa has said before she started.
“Ceci, Papa wished that I would talk to you about your behaviour and actions today.”
Her sister rolled her eyes. “I believe that this has been sorted, Elizabeth. I do not wish to discuss it again.”
But Elizabeth was firm. “What you did was wrong. But due to your tears, Papa could not scold you.”
“Who has said this to you? Surely not Papa?”
“Yes, it was Papa. There is an image that must be upheld. Whatever we do will reflect on the Ramsbury name, and you know that this is important to Papa. Please do not repeat your actions.”
“Oh, leave that be now, Elizabeth. As I said, Papa will soon forget his disappointment once Percy speaks to him.”
“Speaks to him about what, pray tell me?”
Cecilia adjusted herself on the bed, getting to her knees and sitting back on her haunches. Her excitement was palpable.
“I expect that Percy shall ask for my hand in marriage in days to come. Is that not wonderful?”
Elizabeth tried to smile but she couldn’t. This cannot bode well for me. I am nowhere near to accomplishing what I wish. If Ceci should marry, pressure may be placed upon me to do the same.
Cecilia saw the look on her face and placed her hands on her hips.
“Are you not happy for me? Should you not congratulate me?”
“How certain are you of this proposal?”
“As sure as my name is Cecilia Ramsbury. He told me that he wished to take our courtship to another plane of intimacy. What can that mean but be betrothed?”
Another plane of intimacy? Is that what the young men were calling it? “I am not familiar with the jargon used by the young people of our time.”
“Oh, you truly know nothing, Elizabeth.”
“I shall take that as a compliment.”
Cecilia flopped onto her belly and regarded her sister with a narrowed gaze.
“What is it?” Elizabeth asked. “Why do you look at me like that?”
“I do not imagine that you are a happy person.”
“What has made you come to that conclusion?”
“You cannot be happy to sit at home for much of your day, if not more, and be happy. It is my hope that you would find a man who will make you as happy as Percy makes me feel.”
Elizabeth snorted. “Marriage? An invisible chain that we women wound ourselves with every vow that we speak. I am not one for marriage, Ceci. In fact, there is not a hope within me directed toward matrimony.”
Cecilia’s nose wrinkled. “And why ever not?”
“I expect that it would bore me to an early grave. Being happy is an important aspect of my life. Marriage would rip that away from me, not to mention it would inhibit my talents on the pianoforte. I have much that I wish to achieve – getting married is certainly not one of them.”
Her sister shook her head. “You are far too cynical for your age, Elizabeth. Who is to say that your husband will not allow you to pursue your passions?”
Elizabeth thought of her mother, of what she had said. Getting married would surely dampen her musical passion. “Have you ever seen Mama play the pianoforte?”
Cecilia thought about that as she twisted the bed quilt around her hand. “Perhaps once or twice. She seems far busier doing other duties. Why do you ask?”
“Did you know that Mama was a gifted musician? Her passion for music was as mine, if not greater.”
“It could not have been that great if she chooses not to play now. There is ample time in the evenings to practice her hobby.”
“A hobby?” said Elizabeth incredulously. “You believe that it was a hobby?”
“What else could it have been? She is hardly bothered with it now.”
“That is my point. Mama gave up her passion to be a wife and a mother.”
Cecilia looked taken aback. “You are too concerned about this, Elizabeth. If Mama did so then so be it. She understood that wifely duties are far more important than a silly talent.”
“Silly? Do not speak of what you clearly do not understand, Cecilia. You wish to be a married woman, so be it. I, however, have dreams that do not concern finding a husband, bearing his children, and running a household. I wish to do something with my life that is meaningful.”
“Oh, I believe that I see it now. You wish for fame and glory. You wish for people to take notice of your talent and praise you for it. The compliments that you have thus far received have gone to your head, dear sister.”
Cecilia could not have been any further from the truth. Why must it be wrong to pursue a passion other than matrimony?
“You are wrong, Cecilia. I do not desire fame and glory, but a life of my own choosing, doing what I love. I do not wish to be controlled by others. I am an individual, I refuse to lose myself in the roles of mother and wife.”
Elizabeth delivered this speech with great passion, her chest slightly heaving. She was surer than ever before that her fate would not be one of marriage. Suddenly exhausted, she lay down, her long auburn hair fanning her pillow.
It was not a minute later when Cecilia spoke again, her voice light but sure of what she was saying. “You are just not ready for love yet, Elizabeth. But do not fret, it will happen soon enough.”
“I already have a great love, Ceci.”
“Playing the pianoforte? Music? Playing that instrument and studying music all day must be tedious, I am sure that you will tire of it one day.”
Elizabeth said nothing in reply. She was tired of explaining to her sister that she loved music and did not desire to get married. My words go into one ear and come out the other without taking root. It is pointless to speak to her of my dreams.
“Well, now that we have all of that out of the way, let me tell you of the latest news. I am sure that you are going to most interested in it!”
“I doubt it,” Elizabeth muttered.
Cecilia paid her no attention as she launched into the latest gossip of the town. “Our own dashing baron suffered a great rejection some days ago, perhaps even weeks.”
“Then we should not speak of it. I am sure that you would not like people to discuss something that you found humiliating.”
“Oh, Elizabeth, do stop acting as if you are a shrivelled prune!”
Elizabeth burst out laughing. She had never been called that before.
“And what has tickled you so?” her sister demanded.
Elizabeth wiped the tears from her eyes, trying to compose herself. “Oh, dear me, you can be rather colourful at times, Ceci.”
Her sister regarded her with amusement. “Only you would laugh at yourself when being called a name. It makes me wonder if you are not indeed a different creature altogether.”
“Would you know, I think the same thing at times. I certainly do not fit the mould.”
Cecilia uttered a noise of frustration. “Oh, do let me continue, please.”
She sighed. “Very well, go on.”
“Well,” Cecilia started, once more excited. “The story goes like this: he proposed to his sweetheart, and she rejected him. Can you imagine the shame? What was her name again?”
“Miss Diana Lambert.”
“Yes! That was her name. How did you know?” Cecilia asked accusingly.
“Ceci, I did not get to the age of twenty not knowing the names of those who throw themselves into the public’s eye. Besides, I believe that I once played in their audience just last year. They attended the spring celebrations.”
“I do believe that you are right. She is the daughter of the viscount who opened the celebration with a long-winded speech.”
“Well, I cannot imagine how the baron must feel about this. I hear that he has not left his room in some time.”
“No one enjoys rejection. I imagine he needs time to come to terms with it. They were together for some time.”
Cecilia stared at her sister, her eyes narrowing. “Why do you know so much about them?”
Elizabeth was not about to tell Cecilia the truth, that would be self-sabotage. Three years ago, when she saw the baron for the very first time, she had thought him terribly handsome. He had caught her attention for reasons she could not decipher. He had looked at her, a lopsided smile playing about his lips, only to have his attention snapped away by a beautiful woman with golden hair. She had soon learned that they were an item – Anthony Cavendish, Baron of Bedford, and Diana Lambert, daughter of the Viscount of Somersby. Elizabeth had felt an odd twinge seeing them, not understanding why she should be sad. She did not know him, but he had arrested her attention for a moment in time. She blinked her eyes, forcefully setting aside that confusing moment.
“Oh, I have heard of them here and there. Mama hosts many dinner parties. It is not hard to pick up information about people as well-known as they.”
“I suppose so, although I am surprised that you hear anything at all. You always appear to be joined to the pianoforte in a way that seems unnatural.”
Elizabeth shrugged her shoulders. “It is more rewarding to play than to partake in activities that do not interest me.”
“You are a peculiar being, Elizabeth.”
“But not as peculiar as the hat that Margaret Moore was wearing today. Where could she have bought such a horrendous creation? And she seemed quite proud of it. Well, it did well to hide most of her face and those unfortunate freckles.”
Elizabeth allowed Cecilia to speak, not commenting besides the odd sound that convinced her sister that she was attentively listening to her. Soon enough, Cecilia fell asleep, her last words a slurred mention of the dress that she intended to buy for her upcoming proposal.
“G’night,” she mumbled.
When an hour had passed, it soon became apparent that Elizabeth could not sleep. Her mind was filled with thoughts and worries that kept her annoyingly alert. It is not that I am opposed to love, but I am opposed to the false love that I see around me. Conditional love that wounds rather than strengthens and heals. The love described in books and fairytales is the type of love that I desire for myself. Perhaps it is wishful thinking, but it is how I feel. Why must I settle and be unhappy?
Her books had told of enduring love, passionate love, a type that gave and did not take away. It sacrificed but did not cause pain.
Is that such an impossible love? Is it so wrong to wish for a man who will make me stronger and allow me to be who I am? I would support him as well, I would love him and take care of him without forsaking myself.
Feeling restless, she rose from her bed and went to the window, peering into the darkness. A movement caught her eye: two people coming out of the shadows. Intrigued, she slowly opened her window and leaned outside. Although she could not see their faces, their forms were clearly male and female. They walked hand-in-hand, every now and then the male figure leaning down, bringing his head close to the slender female figure.
“Sweethearts,” she whispered.
It seemed that love was in the air, not just for her sister, but for the servants below her as well. She was sure that they were servants as the family did not have any visitors. The two figures turned to look at each other before the male figure bent down and kissed the woman.
Elizabeth coloured, stepping away from the window, feeling like an intruder, although they surely could not see her. Unable to look away for long, she peeked once more, disappointed to see that they had gone.
“Just as well, I should not have been looking in on such an intimate moment,” she admonished herself.
She closed the window and returned to her bed, lying on top of the covers.
I shall not lie and say that I am not at all envious of young love, or any love for that matter. What concerns me is that there are no men who I can see tying myself to. I refuse to settle for the sake of matrimony. The stories she read were misleading, but she couldn’t bring herself to stop reading them. The men in the stories were strong men who desired women who think, who had thoughts of their own. They did not seek to take away the woman’s identity and replace it with their own beliefs of how a woman should be. The men that she knew are all alike, even Cecilia’s darling Percy.
Even though it seemed that she did not pay attention to the people around her during her mother’s many dinner parties, she secretly did. She observed the relationships between married couples, those newlywed as well as those who had been married for some time. She watched the interaction between unwed women and men, silently taking notes. Elizabeth had come to the conclusion that all men were fundamentally alike. She used her father as a measure for the behaviours of other men, which only served to prove her belief and opinions. All men were dull, lacking in feeling, and terribly traditional. They all wanted the same things but wrapped up in different packages called women.
It was the same thing over and over again.
How did no one else see it? Or did they simply not choose to see it? If I was to marry any of the men I have so far seen, I shall inevitably end up like my mother – unhappy. Of course, life wasn’t just about happiness, but it did make life worth living.
Elizabeth imagined that love would be the most important thing in a relationship. That and respect. She had seen respect in the relationships around her, but it had been one-sided. The men commanded respect from their wives, all the while belittling them. Except for her Uncle Noah and Aunt Deborah. Elizabeth had never seen a couple more in love.
Aunt Deborah was her father’s sister, and different from him in everything but the colour of their hair and eyes. Her aunt was older by three years but seemed far younger than her austere brother. It was amazing what a light attitude could do for one’s physical features.
When Elizabeth was a young girl and would see the playful attitude between her aunt and uncle, she wondered why her parents could not behave in the same way. While her parents treated each other with cool politeness, Aunt Deborah and Uncle Noah would be laughing, with Uncle Noah frequently kissing his wife’s cheek, hand or forehead. There was a tenderness in him when it came to his wife, a fondness that Elizabeth would have liked to experience for herself.
It was possible, if but rare.
Maybe she should ask her aunt for advice if she was ever in the way of matrimony. I would need her to tell me what I should look for in a potential husband.
“I speak as though I have every intention of getting married!” she laughed to herself.
Perhaps it was time for her to put it out her mind and focus on her dream of becoming a composer who would change the world, one melody at a time.
“A Courtship to Remember” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Elizabeth Ramsbury is only interested in pursuing her independence and her musical talent. Unfortunately, the entrapment of matrimony looms over her head like a bad omen. After her father forces her hand, she sees no other choice but to take the only honourable route and find a suitable match to marry. A fortuitous meeting at a ball leads her to make an elaborate plan with the Baron to convince everyone that they are courting. What happens when their scheme paves the way for true feelings to start blossoming? Will Elizabeth realize that she can find the love and passion music has given her in a different place too?
Lord Cavendish, Baron of Bedford has been rejected by his only true love. Dejected and heartbroken, he mourns the loss pitifully. He believes that he can only be whole again when he wins her back. His prayers are answered when a beautiful woman he meets by chance gives him the perfect opportunity to make his lost love crawl back to him. But he soon finds himself unwittingly enchanted by her grace, beauty and pleasant company. What if what he’s looking for is right in front of him?
It may have been pure chance when they met for the first time, but is it fate that will bring them together? Sometimes love can be found when you least expect it, even in the best-laid plans! Will they both realise that their goals, as well as their hearts perfectly aligned?
“A Courtship to Remember” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.