"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the…" I glanced up from the book to make sure Nellie was still listening and found her concentrating on her needlepoint instead. I doubted she was listening anymore, even though she was supposed to be multitasking. My suspicions were confirmed when she went on working in the silence, not even noticing I had stopped reading.
I smiled as I watched her focus on the task in front of her. Her tongue was sticking out slightly as she held it between her teeth, squinting at the needle as she wove it in and out of the cloth; she looked like she was trying to defuse a bomb. Being brought up as a servant, she didn't have the advantage of having as much training as I did. She had experience sewing clothes and mending them, but when it came to the fine art of needlepoint she was at a loss.
A full minute passed before Nellie finally noticed I had stopped reading. She glanced up with a slightly guilty smile. "Sorry. I'm listening now, go on."
I turned my gaze back to the book and continued, "It was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before…" I glanced up for a second to see that same concentrated look on her face again. I glanced down at the book and then back up at Nellie, a mischievous grin spreading across my face. Time to see if she really was paying attention.
"Once upon a time there was a handsome, charming prince named James. With a head of golden hair that shone like the sun, and eyes the color of the sky on a clear, cloudless day, many young women tried to catch his attention. He had everything he could possible want, but he was missing one thing: true love. One day he went walking in the market place and ran into a beautiful servant girl named Nelly O'Malley," I stared at Nellie as I made up the story, searching her face for any sign that she was listening. She wasn't.
I let out a sigh. "Nellie!"
Her head snapped up. "I'm paying attention."
I raised an eyebrow and gave her a disbelieving look. "What did I just read?"
Her face went blank. "Uh…well, there was a…a city."
I laughed and shook my head. "I made up a story to see if you were paying attention. It's a shame you didn't hear it. It was very poetic, if I do say so myself."
She set aside her needlework and gave me her full attention. "Well, you can tell me now."
I held up the book. "We need to get started on this. The paper is due in one month, and we haven't even started yet."
I glanced down at the book and opened my mouth to read when a voice called out, "Samantha! Samantha! Where are you?"
"I am in the drawing room!" I answered. I heard rapid footsteps coming down the hall and a moment later Cornelia appeared in the doorway.
"Samantha, Grandmary is on the telephone and she would like to speak to you," she said. I closed the book and set it down on the mahogany wood table next to me. As I stood I threw Nellie a smile.
"We shall continue the love story of Prince James and Nellie O'Malley when I return." I chuckled when I saw her face turn red. Cornelia chuckled as I walked out of the room. As soon as I was out of her line of sight I picked up my skirts and ran to the other end of the house. Picking up the mouthpiece, I listened closely.
"Hello, Samantha." I could almost hear the smile that was sure to be on her face. "I trust that your birthday was pleasant. Did you get the present I sent you?" I remembered the charm bracelet that had arrived in the mail a couple days ago.
"Yes, I did and it was lovely. Thank you Grandmary."
"Well, I am glad to hear that. I called because I have a surprise for you and Nellie."
My eyebrows shot up and a smile spread across my face. "A surprise? Oh, what is it?" I could hardly keep the excitement out of my voice.
"You'll just have to wait and see. In two days' time your whole family will be traveling here to Mount Bedford to visit the Admiral and me. You will receive your surprise then."
"Oh, I can't wait Grandmary!"
"I knew you would be excited. Well, it's just about suppertime. I must go now, Samantha. Goodbye."
"Goodbye, Grandmary," I said before placing the mouthpiece back on its hook. Biting down on my lip to keep in the squeal of excitement, I turned and rushed back into the drawing room. I stopped just inside the doorway and saw Cornelia bending down next to Nellie, helping her make a complicated stitch and giving her pointers on her needlework. They both looked up when they heard me walk in, and Nellie smiled when she saw the excited look on my face.
"What is it, Samantha?"
"We are going to see Grandmary in two days, and she has a surprise for the both of us!" I exclaimed as I twirled around in a circle.
"Did she say what it was?" Nellie asked.
"No, but I'm sure it will be something wonderful!"
"A surprise?" A voice asked from the doorway. I turned around to see Bridget and Jenny standing in the doorway. At ages twelve and thirteen, both looked so grown up now.
"A surprise for us?" Bridget asked.
"Sorry, girls, but the surprise is only for Samantha and Nellie," Cornelia said quietly. A frown slid across Bridget's face and Jenny stuck out her bottom lip in a pout.
"But I'm sure Grandmary has something else special planned for you two girls," Cornelia quickly added, giving them a hopeful smile. That seemed to cheer them up a bit, but I could tell they were a little disappointed they weren't getting a surprise also.
"Well, you girls better run up to your rooms and start packing if we are to arrive at Mount Bedford in two days' time!" Cornelia said, giving up a big grin. Nellie and I both exchanged a smile before racing up to our rooms on the second floor and throwing our clothes in open suitcases on our bed.
The automobile lurched and jolted as we drove down the road, causing Nellie and I to clutch onto our hats for fear of losing them. We now felt rather foolish that we'd refused to wear the scarves that Cornelia, Bridget, and Jenny wore over their hats to hold them in place. Uncle Gard had recently bought a new automobile to keep up with the latest trends, and since it had a black covering over the seats we assumed that we would not need scarves to hold our hats in place. However, the wind still swept through the car all the same, trying to send out hats flying off our heads.
"What do you suppose the surprise will be?" Nellie asked loudly, trying to be heard over the noise of the automobile.
"Maybe she's going to give us each a new necklace, or maybe she'll give you a charm bracelet and me another charm to put on mine!"
"You'll find out when we get to Mount Bedford, girls. We're only half an hour away now," Cornelia interjected.
For the rest of the ride Nellie and I exchanged secret glances and suppressed giggles. It wasn't only the surprise I was excited about—it was getting to see Grandmary again. I only got to see her on special occasions, like Christmas and occasionally on Thanksgiving and Easter. I wondered how she and the Admiral were doing, and if she missed me as much as I missed her. Although I wouldn't give up living with Uncle Gard, Aunt Cornelia and my three sisters for the world, I still wished that Grandmary lived in New York City so that I could see her every day.
I suddenly wrinkled my nose when I remembered that Grandmary and the Admiral weren't the only people I would be seeing during our stay in Mount Bedford. I would be forced to associate with that mean old Eddie Ryland—that nuisance of a neighbor I had been glad to get rid of when I moved to New York City. But then a comforting thought came to me: perhaps Eddie would be at a faraway University, or maybe he would be traveling the world, or at least something that would make it so that I wouldn't have to see him for the duration of our visit.
When we finally arrived at Grandmary's house I could hardly wait for the car to come to a stop so I could get out. I closed my eyes as the car slowed down in front of the large, double doors and breathed in the scent of freshly cut grass and listened to the sound of the rapidly rushing water of the Hudson River. It felt so much like home that I must have got lost in my memories, for when I felt a hand on my shoulder and was brought back to reality, I saw Cornelia standing in front of me, already out of the car. I looked past her and spotted Grandmary walking out of the house, holding onto the Admiral's arm.
"Grandmary!" I exclaimed. I pushed all my bags aside and jumped out of the car, running up to her. I wrapped my arms around her in a hug and breathed in her scent. She smelled of roses and lilac's, just like when I was a little girl; of course, that was six years ago, and I wasn't such a little girl anymore.
"Come in everyone, I'll have the servants bring in your bags. I have tea ready in the drawing room," she announced when we had both pulled away. When we were all sitting comfortably on the couches and chairs in the drawing room, each with a cup of tea in our hands, Grandmary turned to Nellie and me.
"Well, I'm sure you two are just itching to know what your surprise is," she said with a smile. Nellie and I both looked at each other with excited glances. "Well, you girls have just recently turned sixteen, and therefore, are now young ladies. It's time you be properly introduced into society, so with the permission of Gardner, you are going to be attending a debutante ball—right here in Mount Bedford!" She clapped her hands together at the last part. The smile that had been firmly upon my lips slowly slipped away as I raised an eyebrow.
"Debutante ball? What is that?" I asked.
"Well, when a young lady reaches a certain age—the age to start courting—she is supposed to be properly introduced into high society as a young lady. It is to be you and Nellie's debutante into society as young ladies, along with a few others girls from Mount Bedford."
Even though I loved Grandmary, and wanted to make her happy, I had to admit that I'd been expecting something…well, different. A big ball where I was suddenly declared a lady didn't sound at all like what I would call fun, but I guess that if it made Grandmary happy, then I would do it. I forced a smile and did my best to look excited about it.
"Excuse me, but don't young ladies usually have debutante balls when they turn eighteen, instead of sixteen?" Cornelia asked softly.
"Yes, but as I always say, the sooner young ladies can come out into society and find husbands, the better," Grandmary said matter-of-factly. Cornelia remained quiet and took a sip of her tea in response.
"That sounds lovely, Grandmary. I can't wait," I said. I discreetly nudged Nellie, who was sitting next to me and she put on a smile.
"Yes, that sounds wonderful. Thank you, Ma'am."
"Perfect! The ball will be held in two weeks. Everything is already planned, of course, from your dresses to your escorts!" Grandmary announced.
"Escorts?" I asked, furrowing my eyebrows into confusion.
"Oh, of course. A young lady cannot show up to a ball without a young man to escort her," Grandmary said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
"And who is to escort me, Grandmary?"
"Why, none other than your old neighbor, Edward Ryland."
The teacup fell from my hand and crashed onto the wooden surface, spilling tea everywhere. Everyone in the room gasped in surprise and shock, but I hardly noticed. All I could think about was that the boy I loathed since I was a little girl was to escort me to a ball where I would be announced as a proper young lady. Oh, how this trip was quickly turning into a nightmare that not even I could have dreamed up!
So, hope you like the first chapter. The next one will be longer. =)