The lady sighed pleasantly as she gazed fondly out the windows, through which the sun sparkled gaily. Coloured hues of autumn were beginning to overtake the trees that lined the walk leading up to the maison. Tidings, pleasant news in the form of a letter, had just come by messenger to inform the mademoiselle that the absence of a certain gentleman would soon come to an end. He was to arrive within the week, after a leave of business that had lasted several months longer than initially anticipated. This absence had occasioned in the lady an acute awareness of how much the lady had truly depended on the gentleman for all wants of society and company. Very rarely did the lady leave her situation at the maison or vary outside of the close social circle of Le Parc in which she lived. Thus said, the loss of this man was keenly felt, and this news of his return excited every brilliancy of feeling and delight one could expect of a heart so young and tender.
It was no wonder to any close observer that the lady should be so eager for the gentleman’s return; in fact it would have been much more odd had the lady been indifferent to the news. The man was of no little consequence, and on a general standing well respected and agreeable to all his associates. For the family of the lady, such had been transpiring before the departure of the gentleman several months preceding, which taught them to hope that an offer would soon be made, and their fair daughter soon settled comfortably as mistress of an estate not several miles off.
As for the lady herself, her disposition for propriety of manner only, concealed the excess of her joy in the prospect of his return. She wondered at, but dared not fancy or imagine (for fear of disappointment), the manner in which the gentleman would receive her attentions. He had been gone several long months, in which anything and everything could have changed. But she did not linger upon such ideas for she was an optimistic spirit to which little, especially of such an ambiguous and unfounded nature, could rustle into agitation. Thus she left the future to itself and mused upon pleasing memories and fond recollections of time spent with the gentleman during the days that preceded his arrival.
Tedious and long were those days which passed without sight of the gentleman. Quite often the lady found herself seeking refuge alone among the great oaks and sanguine beech trees of the estate, escaping the tiresome trouble of waiting. She was not musical to find peace in such endeavors, nor was she much for embroidery.
But she could draw.
Her sketches were admired by every one who glimpsed them, but she was modest enough to defer their compliments to the credit of the governess who had taught her as a girl. Nevertheless talent, such as hers, can never be learned, and in spite of all her protestations, all her family and acquaintance praised her natural gift.
Currently she worked on a sketch of a statue, bejeweled in leaves and glinting in the sunlight. It was the favorite of the home-coming gentleman and for him she hoped to do the intricate marble justice by her pencil. The statue was of a man on a horse with no bridle, nor stirrups. Together the two seemed to ride freely, unrestrained, and with no want of delicacy or propriety. The love and joy expressed in their countenances excited in her own being a desire for a same sort of unrestrained freedom of expression. She well knew why this particular piece was highly favored by the intended recipient of her art.
The sun dictated the time to head in for dinner and so the lady quickly made the finishing touches upon her project and gathered her things. Embarking on the path that led to the maison, the lady was lost in her own musings when the sound of near voices startled her into awareness.
She turned the corner of the shrubbery to behold a carriage parked in front of the maison. She stopped long enough to watch as the coachman disappeared around the corner of the house calling for a servant to tend to the horses, leaving only the gentleman standing in front of his coach. She witnessed this all in silent expostulation. Familiar desires which had slept dormant for some time awakened in her being. She felt her breath catch and her heart begin to beat furiously as she scanned his profile and took in everything he was. Would he come back to her with the same feelings as when he left? Had events transpired while he was abroad which she did not know of? She need not have worried. His expression was the same, if not more exceedingly pleased to be again standing in front of this maison. His air and countenance betrayed no want of joy or no repressed discontentments for the event of his return.
The lady sighed a glad sigh of relief as she gazed upon his figure sparkling in the afternoon glow of the sun.
It was at this moment his head turned sharply and even from this distance his brilliant blue eyes pierced her own. After a moment of intensity the gentleman began to walk most rigorously toward her, holding her eyes captive, reading every emotion which fluttered through her heart and mirroring such by his own tender expression. She was drawn to him by his gaze and she soon began to walk with forced composure to meet him.
They stopped a foot apart from each other, as was proper. Their hands met and he pulled her fingers gently to his lips. They brushed her fingertips sensuously as he uttered his soft-spoken salutations. She took her time as she pulled her hand away to return the greeting with a curtsey. Finally, she could compose herself enough that she could smile and invite him inside. He had arrived in just enough time to join their party for dinner and she entreated him that he should accept.
He kept a steady gaze on her throughout her speech and immediately consented, even before she had finished speaking. She smiled, bowed and turned to lead the way inside, but he remained standing, fixed in his place. Turning to inquire what could be the matter, the gentleman stopped her with his gaze. He advanced toward her timidly and yet with a boldness unforeseen. She did not retreat.
“You cannot have known,” he began, “the emptiness to which the lack of your presence occasioned in me. I could not think, nor sleep, without some reminder of your sweet smile and genteel manner embracing my thoughts and making tender my heart.”
The shock of such a speech fell to the reproach of no one. Only her gladdened senses eagerly drunk in every word he said as he began to express a love most ardent.
His addresses were interrupted, however, by a most well-meaning father who had news from the coachman of the gentleman’s immediate presence upon his estate. The two were ushered inside as dinner was about to begin.
Inside the great hall, the gentleman was received with many expressions of welcome and joy from all. He was swept away in a tide of inquiries and tidings of what had transpired in Le Parc during the course of his absence. So passed the remainder of the evening, depriving the gentleman of a moment alone with the lady in which he might renew his sentiments and proceed further with his purpose, and also the lady of an opportunity in which she might secure a moment to present her gift, the drawing, to the gentleman. As he departed however, a significant look passed between the two, assuring the lady that the morrow would bring great joie. This hope led her to a gentle night’s rest and fanciful dreams to quicken her spirits as she slept.
Unfortunately, no such happy meeting took place the next day, nor even for the rest of the week. Caught up in the whirlwind of all those matters of estate which he had eluded upon his first day home, the gentleman made no call upon Le Parc.
The lady idled her days in suspense. This sort of waiting was even more treacherous than the first sort; the gentleman was so close to her, and yet while he was not by her side, she could not be content. The lady made no more attempts at drawing. Rather she spent much solitary time out and walking the grounds. Sometimes she would bring with her a tropical parrot whose primary residence was in the foyer of the maison, but who nevertheless enjoyed the freedom supplied by the lady’s left arm.
This parrot would often talk to the lady, although very rarely did he make much sense. He knew not a word of English, and the lady delighted in having someone (even a parrot) with which she might practice her French. On their walks, the parrot often became the lady’s confidante. With this creature, it was so easy to pour out all her heart’s hopes and fears, joys and discouragements, challenges and struggles. To him she told things she never breathed a word of to anyone else, mostly because propriety forbid it.
Of course then, the parrot knew all about the gentleman, had known for some time. He kept encouraging the lady to “Suivez votre cœur” and “Prenez un risque!” as well as many other things to help the lady win his love. One can imagine the frustration it brought to the well-meaning parrot, whenever he attempted to give the lady advice, only for her to laugh it off! Indeed! She would laugh and say, “Silly parrot petit, if only you had the smallest idée of what you say!” or something to that effect. Indeed, she made the business quite tiresome with all her ignorant reproofs. Nevertheless the parrot made no surrender. Surely one day she would understand. One day…
On the gentleman’s side, each day separated from his lady (although whenever he thought this, he would check himself; in all technicalities she was not yet “his”) made him more and more anxious. After a week of this separation he determined to see her that very night. He left word with his butler to send a messenger to notify his associates of a postponement of his prior engagements. Business of a nature that could not wait had come and the gentleman while acknowledging its inconvenience to his party resolutely declared that it was necessary and he must attend to such matters at once.
Thus he found himself late that night anxiously pacing the grand foyer of the maison, waiting on the lady to return from an evening stroll. He had already spoken with her father and while the rest of the household was upstairs preparing for bed, he had granted unusual permission to the gentleman that he might wait downstairs for the lady without interruption. Of course, the father suspected what might be transpiring below, and made every effort to secure for the pair all the privacy which might be desired for such an occasion.
It was with great surprise (and no little pleasure) for the lady when she entered the foyer and found the gentleman awaiting her return. The parrot also was intrigued. “Il y a l’homme!” he shrieked. “Ma fille, maintenant est le fois! Demandez-lui un baiser!” Not a little embarrassed, the lady hastily put away the parrot and covered the cage to muffle his erratic cries.
Non-plussed, the gentleman chuckled a little and approached the lady. He offered her his arm and with her at his side, he silently led her through the maison until they reached a quiet terrace overlooking the moonlit night.
Songs of crickets reached the pair through the whispers of the wind. Songs of despair, hope, joy and of love echoed through the silent night. In time to each melody fireflies danced and sparkled bright amidst the darkened landscape. As little beads of light they hung alongside the stars, forming a curtain of brilliance, flickering in and out, in accordance with the beating of the hearts upon the terrace.
Their eyes met. The whole world might have crumbled around them and neither would have noticed. Grasping the tips of his fingers, she searched his face in orotund silence, wondering. Wondering, that is, until a great grin spread across his features and suddenly she was swept into his arms and spun back to the ground. Breathless, she gazed up at him in amazement. He pulled her close in a tight embrace and the lady knew not what she should do. Surely this was not proper. Surely something was amiss according to every standard she had been taught. And yet…it felt so right.
Not a word had been uttered since her arrival in the foyer, except by the nonsensical parrot. Now his words rang again and again in her mind, “Suivez votre cœur.” They suddenly made sense—follow your heart. Upon realizing this she suddenly knew what she must do.
Her soft eyes twinkling into his blazing blue, she hesitated for just one moment. Then, as if drawn to him by some unseen force, she gently lifted her lips to his. He seemed surprised, nevertheless he gladly accepted her gentle kiss.
“Embrasser,” she whispered once they parted.
“To kiss,” he repeated with the hint of a smile.
The cool evening breeze caressed their tender faces as their hearts intertwined that night. The countenance of each glowed in superfluous brilliancy as they poured out their souls to each other in united felicity and bliss. All the while, the crickets continued to hum, the fireflies continued to dance among the stars, and all the universe rejoiced in one accord;
This was right.