This will probably be the last post of "A New Era," for it is likely I will change the title very soon.
“The Lord’s hand,” the minister recited, “is in all things.”
The lady listened to the sermon aglow with delight. Excitement and anticipation bounced around her mind like bunnies on Easter. She kept her eyes fixed on the minister’s kind face, for if she dared turn her head either to the right or to the left, she was sure that she would burst into a fit of giggles, disrupting the entire congregation.
Her youngest sister, however, could not keep such focus. Out of the corner of the lady’s eye, she glimpsed her sister gazing across the chapel. She felt a prod in her side by her sister’s elbow and made to silence her with a stern look of disapprobation. But when she looked over finding her sister’s wry smile, the lady’s concentration broke down and across her face broke out her own happy grin. Her sister motioned across the pews, and the lady could not help turning her gaze in the direction of her sister’s gesture.
At once her heart leaped and butterflies danced inside herself. Across the pews sat the object of the excitement: a handsome man in a fine ebony suit. To her sister he offered a nod of appreciation, and catching the lady’s eye he winked and whispered something she would not comprehend. To her amazement he stuck out his tongue and winked again.
Quickly she averted her gaze from him, looking around to see if anyone had noticed his inappropriate behavior. In the pew behind her an old man was snoring quietly and in the pew beside her a young mother was fussing with her children. A sigh of relief filled her breath and at once she looked back at the gentleman in the ebony suit with a sharp look of reproof. He would not take her seriously however, for he rolled his eyes and wiggled his ears causing her to smile yet again.
No other avenue of escape presented itself. Fearing her emotions would betray her, the lady once again attempted to fix her concentration on the minister’s message, this time ignoring the impertinent prods from her sister and the capricious winks from the gentleman. If no one else could maintain propriety, surely she could.
The minister’s message was a good one. He spoke of the ancient prophets of the Old Testament, faith in the Christ of the New Testament, and the power of hope in our lives today. As he spoke, the lady felt a sort of peace entering into her heart, sending away her jitters.
The minister concluded saying, “We must look towards the future with trust in His guidance. We must see the blessings that have blossomed from the trials of our past. We must embrace the present, rejoicing in the works of His hands. We must always have courage to press forward with an eye single to His glory.”
Those last words struck her powerfully. The lady felt as if the minister was speaking directly to her. Perhaps in fact, he was. In three days time she would be up at that very pulpit, the eyes of the entire congregation on her, gathering up the courage to begin a new chapter in her life. The man in the ebony suit would be there with her. He would take her hand, they would utter a few beautiful words, and their fates would be linked together for a lifetime.
Caught up in her blissful thoughts the lady did not notice the meeting’s end, nor the spark of life that flickered in the small chapel as congregation members began shuffling over to greet old friends. She was aroused from her thoughts by a light brush on her hand, which startled her. Looking up she smiled at the gentleman before her. His ebony suit glimmered elegantly in the sunlight streaming through the windows and for a moment he seemed to glow like an angel before her.
He approached and offered her his arm. She stood, accepting it. Their gaze met, his eyes penetrating hers with warm enthusiasm. She smiled and laughed for no reason except delight in his smile. He took the opportunity to wink again causing her already-wide grin to widen a bit more.
“My dear Sir Elsey, you must know that winking in church is not considered reverent in most civilized societies,” the lady teased.
“Certainly, miss,” the gentleman replied seriously. “If I see anyone attempting such heresy, I will inform the Reverend at once, that he may stop such insolent conduct and put them in their place. As for myself I do have some dreadful speck in my eye, which I cannot seem to remove. Might you help me investigate, miss?” And he winked again.
She laughed and pushed him away a bit, her sparkling eyes never leaving his. A moment later, her gentleman was summoned to speak to an older gentleman two pews back. An elderly woman who had known the lady’s family for many years took the opportunity to accost the young lady with felicitations and warm wishes for her future.
“He certainly is a playful fellow, is he not?” the old woman remarked with a knowing grin. So someone had seen his irreverent conduct. The lady blushed, embarrassed at such overt displays of affection. “Oh, you must enjoy it while you can dear,” the woman intimated pleasantly. “The bliss of youth, the wonderment of young love fades ever so quickly once the ring is won.” The woman chuckled at the lady’s abashed countenance. “Do not worry yourself dear, I was only teasing. You are a splendid young woman and he is as fine a match as ever I did see. You have done well my dear. I’m sure a lifetime of happiness awaits you both.” The lady offered sincere thanks and a warm smile, and at that, the woman dismissed herself and was lost in the crowd.
The gentleman returned as the chapel cleared. He found the lady and together they joined her father, mother and younger sister on an enjoyable ride back to Le Parc. It was a beautiful day in early summer, full of warm sunshine and happy sentiments. The family made the most of their day of rest with the knowledge that the coming week would try their spirits and their hearts as they let go of one more daughter to pursue her future as a married woman.
The next two days went by in a whirl. There seemed to be an endless list of preparations to be done, and the maison was in constant flux with visitors, relatives, servants and the like all coming and going at once. The lady was very glad her gentleman had been able to dine with them Sunday, because she had not seen him since. Nor had she a moment to herself.
The evening before the wedding the lady finally stole a moment’s peace. The visitors were gone, the servants retired to their quarters, with the family resting and chatting pleasantly in the salon. The lady soon excused herself; her family did not try to stop her. It had been an exhausting few days for all and they were glad to let her have some time to herself.
She wandered around the corridors of the grand maison, her childhood home. As she did thoughts of giddy happiness welled up in her mind. At long last she had found a gentleman suited to her.
After her travels around the world had finished she had returned to the maison. Her family welcomed her back graciously and the people of – shire had honored her like a duchess or queen. Her artwork had brought such fame and prestige to their little town, they knew not what to do with it. After the lady’s return, many visitors of high society came to see her; a few of them even took up residence nearby. This time she did not deny them company. While a day never passed where she didn’t think of the gentleman she once loved, her travels had taught her to open her heart to new experiences and new friends.
As – shire gained more prominence and more dignified people came to reside there, new business opportunities opened up also. This is what had first brought Sir Elsey to – shire. He came from a family of nobles not far distant from the Queen herself. He had long owned the land of – shire. With the influx of new visitors, inns, shops and other enterprises had been built on his lands. With so much new interest in his property, the gentleman had relocated to – shire in order to better manage his affairs.
The lady had been introduced to the gentleman Sir Elsey at one of her art exhibitions. In her absence, her family had transformed her studio into a grand gallery. There the exhibition had been a marvelous event with many admirers and influent persons in attendance. Yet none had admired her work so much as had Sir Elsey.
“My lady,” said he, “you have a gift beyond mortal powers. Your beautiful work has been recommended to me by a most influential Madame de LaReine and I am most honored to make your acquaintance.”
The lady received his compliments most gladly. Weeks passed and Sir Elsey had frequented the lady’s salon most intently. He was older then her, as was to be expected of a man of his situation and stature. Indeed, a few gray streaks ran through his hair, but this did not seem to dim his love for life, nor the youthful countenance with which he carried himself.
She had found him to be elegant, sincere and dignified. If there was one flaw in his character, the lady had thought, it might be his playful sense of humor. He seemed to take great pleasure in being able to make her laugh, even at the expense of propriety. Nevertheless, laugh she did, and they enjoyed each other’s company immensely. She had come to trust his opinion as generous, yet frank which suited her and her artwork. He was not an artist himself, but he had a good eye for the aesthetic. Thus, with her talent and his eye they never went for want of subject in their conversations, which often ran long into the evenings.
It had not taken long for the lady to admire him. Nay in a short matter of time the lady could confidently say that she loved him. Nevertheless she could not be sure of his affections for her, and so the only one to whom she admitted such feelings was her parrot friend. He listened patiently, but he was getting old, so he rarely responded anymore. She missed his silly squawks and phrases that had once agitated her so.
Then one day the gentleman had come with news. He was to be taken from – shire for the winter and would return the following spring. The news shocked the lady and her family, who had been anticipating an offer soon. The following months waned quite lonesome for the lady. Yet with her family’s company and many visits from friends, she managed to keep up her spirits well. She dedicated the time of her gentleman’s absence in completing the series of dessins devoted to her parrot. She drew him in his youth and she drew him in his age. In some dessins her friend was animated and lively, in some quiet or sleeping.
In one inspired dessin she had managed to capture the radiance of the parrot suspended in flight. Those to whom she showed this image remarked that surely this had been more than a drawing. In it the parrot seemed to possess mystical qualities of radiance and grace more befitting to a dove than a parrot, or at least so said her spectators. She, however, knew no dove could compare with his bright, colorful feathers and amiable personality. In the dessin, his blue-feathered wings grazed the light, which streamed through a half-closed fenêtre. The sunlight sparkled on the bright rouge feathers of his cou, bringing out their natural hue. He seemed to be heading past the window, towards the other side of the room, but on further inspection one could tell he had just changed course and was now flying towards it. “Would he fly out of it?” everyone would ask. “It is up to the viewer,” the lady would reply simply.
She had just completed these dessins in time for Sir Elsey’s return. One morning, about a week before his arrival, a maid had entered the gallery to find the poor parrot lifeless on the very window ledge the lady had depicted in her dessin. The parrot had gotten himself out of his cage and had used his last moments of life to watch the beautiful sunrise beyond the fenêtre. He had not flown out of it.
At the time, the lady had assumed she was finished with her parrot’s art series, and yet she found herself creating one more dessin, thus crystallizing the memory of her dear friend in his final act of beautiful triumph. Once she was finished with the last dessin, she wished him farewell with a single parting tear.
This was the image in front of which the lady now found herself. In her present wanderings, she had managed to end up in her gallery gazing at all of the dessins to which she had poured out her heart. As she gazed at the dessin of her parrot’s lifeless body made holy by the sunrise, she could almost see his spirit ascending up towards heaven. Another silent tear slid down her cheek.
“Why did you not fly away?” she wondered aloud. And yet, she felt already she knew the answer in her heart. She felt that she had known it for a long time.
By March, Sir Elsey had returned. Soon after his arrival, he had made an offer of marriage to which the lady did not decline. This came to the great rejoicing and relief of the lady’s family. Preparations had begun immediately, and now in early May, the fruits of their labors were being realized. On the morrow the entire town as well as visitors from far and wide would be in attendance to the highly esteemed wedding of two exceptional individuals. There were even rumors that the Queen herself would be present. The lady did not think much veracity belonged this rumor, for even if Sir Elsey was a distant cousin of the Queen, she could not believe herself to be of such import as to merit such a dignified visit. Nevertheless she had met some very important people before, and so she would do her best to make all perfect for whomever should arrive for the ceremonies to morrow.
As she now stood in her gallery gazing at her artwork, she felt glad. Her wedding was to morrow, she realized. And, as the elderly lady had said in church, it was a good match. A very good match. She loved this very fine gentlemen and he loved her in return. The happiness they inspired in each other had not a comparison in all the rich company to which she had been a part. He would make her a good and faithful companion and a husband well worth her love. This was good. This was right.
And yet, inside, something tugged at the cockles of her heart. Somewhere deep inside, in a corner of her heart she had forgotten existed, lived a pang of…what was it? It was not sorrow, nor regret, nor remorse. Nor was her heart broken any longer. It had been repaired and revived and was all the stronger for it. She was ready to press forward, as the minister had said, with an eye single to the glory of God. She was ready to begin this new chapter of her life with this good man of whom she was so fond. So what was this feeling tugging at the corners of her heart? Why did it appear now, on the day before her own happy wedding? It came back stronger as she again gazed at the dessin of her lifeless parrot sitting peacefully at the window. His final resting place, she realized with a smile.
She could not understand what her heart was trying to tell her and so she dismissed it. Not withstanding the beautiful artwork on the wall, she no longer had a parrot there to remind her, “Suivez votre coeur!” Anyway, she thought, it was getting late and she had a big day tomorrow and she needed her rest.
She went to the corner of the room to extinguish the candelabra, which stood giving light to the room and its contents. As she went to extinguish the first candle, a pencil lying on a small cabinet fell to the floor, knocked off by a swish of the fabric from her gown. She bent to pick it up. As she did, she noticed the familiar carvings on the small cabinet door. She gasped taking in a quick breath. She knew this cabinet; she wondered if she still knew its contents. Her family had rearranged everything during her three years’ absence, and with the studio transformed into a grand art gallery, she had never much reason to spend time in it, except to show her artwork to people. Along with the neatly organized dessins, furniture and other accessories had been brought in to accommodate their guests. All of the lady’s unfinished sketches had been relocated to another room, which then became her studio. She had never guessed that they had left this old, worn cabinet amidst the grand furniture and artwork of this room. Yet here in this dark corner it stood, apparently untouched.
She hesitated for a moment and then opened the cabinet. Surely enough, on the first shelf lay an old, yellowed piece of parchment. The cabinet contained nothing else. She gingerly took it, unfolding it with the greatest care. She knew what it contained, and yet she was not fully prepared as the color and vibrancy of the horse and its rider radiated from the page and into her heart. Even in the candlelight, the rider sparkled in his wild candor as the wind whipped the horse’s main and the autumn leaves whisked around his face.
The lady found herself weeping now. She wept with abandon, and if anyone had entered the room, she would not have noticed. She could not articulate the reason for her tears, but she was beginning to comprehend the strange feelings in her heart that she had so readily dismissed a moment ago.
She thought of Sir Elsey. She loved him dearly and knew that love was real and true and right. And yet as she gazed at the dessin, she knew that her heart was not fully his, nor could it ever be. With sadness, she realized that there would always be a piece of her heart which belonged to the keeper of this horse and its rider. At this thought tears recommenced to flood her eyes.
She wept for a long while; she did not know how long. At long last, when shadows had completely covered the last of the light, she gathered herself together and arose from the floor where she had lain and wept so freely. She snuffed the waiting candles that were little more than wicks by then and moved through the shadows towards the door of the gallery. She gingerly folded the parchment back, slid it in her pocket and retired to her chambre. As she left her gallery she glanced back one last time over her shoulder.
Tomorrow another maison would be her home. In this place she would be a visitor.In the dark corridor, she smiled, one last tear trickling down her cheek. Having finally understood her heart, she was now ready to embrace her destiny.