It had been over a year since the lady’s disappointment with the gentleman; she had not seen him since that dreadful evening. Less than a month after his confession to the lady, it had come out to the public that he was not heir to the estate he was tending; that his patron had died and the true heir was come to take his rightful property. While upon this news, the family was quite relieved that their daughter hadn’t followed through with the match, it did not affect her view of the situation. She was quite as upset as before; perhaps even more so. It was not his lack of fortune that bothered her, however.
The news had given the lady twice a reason to question the gentleman’s character, namely his integrity. In all their conversations he had never mentioned that he was not heir to the meager estate, nor that he was betrothed and she now wondered as to the veracity of the latter. He well may have been trying to cover up his lack of fortune, which irritated the lady greatly. She had believed him to be of a higher mind than to be so conscious of wealth and l’argent. Furthermore, to believe that she was of such a mind revealed how little he had known her character.
Days, weeks passed and it was known that the gentleman had fled the area presumably for shame. The loving sisters tried their best to console their dear sister, but she would have none of it. In time the remonstrance felt by the lady toward the gentleman melted into a dull ache in the back of her heart. She missed his smile, his easy, genteel manner. She missed their walks in Le Parc, his thoughtful surprises, those twilit moments alone when the stars twinkled brightest…
And yet, no news was to be had of his return. Each morn she woke, spirit alit with hope; just a sighting, his name, even word of a relative would satisfy her! Yet each day drudged on with nothing of the sort; each night she struggled for sleep, tossing and turning relentlessly upon her lit.
The parrot hardly ever squawked anymore.
Time wore on and eventually it was required of the lady to accept that the gentleman was no longer a central part of her life. That the only place she might acknowledge nostalgia for him was in the subconscious of her stolen heart. Several months had now passed and the lady withdrew into les dessins.
She would draw and paint for hours on end; sometimes gentle scenes of lilacs and lilies, sometimes shocking portraits of terror and havoc. The quality of her artwork enhanced at an exceedingly astonishing and marvelous rate. Almost overnight she rose from not-quite-obscurity (her father was after all a highly respected statesman) to high personal acclaim from nobles, neighbors and friends.
Her art traveled far and wide across the countryside earning her a reputation of distinction and renown. This report was made known to the Baroness LaReine. A woman of finesse and accomplishment herself, the world knew the baroness as a very fond patron of les arts. Her expertise centered in la musique, nevertheless she determined to meet this young lady of whom she had heard so much praise and adoration.
An invitation was sent and the baroness, having no reason to dwell on the matter, proceeded to other issues. Imagine the shock of a lady of such high importance and esteem when several days later, a messenger returned with a letter from the lady most graciously declining the engagement. In a fury of shock and outrage the baroness determined never to waste another idle thought on the insolent woman.
Nevertheless she could not go a day without hearing of this new drawing for Sir John, or that recent painting of Mrs. Smith. Ultimately the curiosity of the baroness won out, and as soon as such a woman might conquer her pride, the baroness personally called on the maison.
Much to the surprise of the baroness, the lady received the visit with quiet kindness and soft humility. Well had Madame LaReine expected arrogance and a proud sort of air from an one so highly distinguished. Contrary to these expectations, the lady showed every grace of nature a dignified woman must possess. In time the lady excused herself and resumed her work. More than once, the baroness felt the need to reassure herself in subtle whispers to the family of the veracity of the lady’s identity.
In response to her wonderment, the baroness was ushered into a studio room cluttered with sketches and half-finished pieces of marvelous talent. The sisters of the lady, not so oblivious as she to the magnanimity of their visitor, left the baroness alone to muse and admire. Aside from the paintings only a drawing table and the chair occupied the room. With the exception of one cabinet. After taking quite a time to view the lady’s collection, the baroness noticed this cabinet which appeared to be locked. Upon inspection, however, from a proud and nosy noble, the lock was proved to be broken and the inside of the cabinet revealed nothing extraordinary.
A single piece of neatly folded parchment lay at the bottom. Curiosity battled with propriety for a short time before the baroness gave in and eagerly grasped the parchment. Listening hard for sounds of warning, the woman carefully unfolded the parchment, revealing a most unexpected, yet stunning array of color and detail. The drawing depicted a representation of a statue the baroness recognized as having seen while entering the front gates of the manor. On the statue, a man rode horseback with no bridle, nor stirrups to guide his way. In the drawing, the man’s hair blew as freely as the horse’s mane underneath a sparkling azure sky. It seemed to the baroness as if she could feel the wind as it whipped bright autumn leaves across a wild, unbeaten prairie toward which man and animal fearlessly ventured.
The baroness gazed for several minutes at the dazzling piece of artwork and wondered how such unrestrained beauty could be hidden away in a cabinet rather than on display in an elegant manor.
She did not have time to wonder long, however before she heard footsteps in the corridor. The baroness hastily folded the drawing and placed it back into the cabinet, making her way to the opposite corner of the room.
The sisters entered and, after receiving the highest praise and admiration for their sister’s work, led their distinguished guest down the hall. The baroness returned to her mansion that night with decided interest in the disconcertingly modest lady and her divinely bewitching art.