2. Withering February
The delicate gardenias were not the only thing wilting during that gloomy Friday afternoon. Lady Sierra Charmonte held the tears from rolling down her cheeks as she pocketed the very last letter from her father, Daniel Charmonte. She gazed away from the calendar and stared outside without focus as her heart crumbled into pieces with unseen severe pain.
The twenty-third of February marked the first month of her father’s passing, and Sierra still could not believe she would never hear his voice or his laughter echoing the halls anymore. She, once again, held tight onto the letter she received from their close family friend, whom Sierra called Aunt. She learned that Daniel had named Celeste Sinclaire as her legal guardian.
The RMS Titanic tickets winked at her when she lowered her gaze to the envelope. The shadows of her mind lifted with the maiden voyage, and the sheer electricity coursing through her veins replaced her sorrowful thoughts. But not having Father beside me for the upcoming journey — her lips trembled, and the tears escaped from her greyish-blue eyes. She hastily wiped her cheeks when someone knocked on the living room door.
Her head turned to where Jane Pérez came in, and Sierra gave a dreary smile to her best friend. “Yes?”
Jane shook her head slightly in disapproval. “You have missed breakfast again. You do not want to anger Ms Abram.”
Lifelessly, Sierra chuckled, looking at the time and noticing her best friend flinch at the tone of her laughter. She watched Jane walk closer to her and said, “I will eat in a while, please do not worry.”
Her lady-in-waiting sadly smiled, “Ms Abram and I are concerned about your well-being, Sierra.”
The well-mannered heiress sighed and looked down at the letter of her Aunt Celeste. Sierra waved the pages to Jane’s line of sight; her dark chocolate eyes followed. “Look at what my Auntie had said.” She gave the pages to her and waited for her best friend to finish reading them.
NEW YORK, USA,
29th of January 1912.
How are you, my flower? I certainly hope you are doing well. I was truly heartbroken to hear about what happened to poor Daniel. I wish I had written much earlier, but I got caught up with the corporation, and you know how it had been since my darling Robert passed away.
Despite knowing there was a storm, your father pushed through the business meeting to have it all done, and instead of waiting inside for a cab, he wandered outside to get one. Because of this careless action, he caught pneumonia. I told him to see a doctor, but he insisted on going back home, for it was the first time he sailed without you. His stubbornness cost him his life, and on that ship, he took his last breath.
Before Daniel left America, he executed his Last Will and Testament. I know you are still healing from the funeral, but I have news to lift your spirits; he named me your legal guardian. I am thankful he trusted me to raise you. I will not let your parents down.
I miss you, my flower. I wish I were there to join you in DelaCour Estate to see you and share my condolences personally, but I cannot leave yet. So, there are enclosed tickets for you, your chosen housemaids and valets to travel by cruise liner to New York in April. The chief naval architect is one of my closest friends; hence, I’ve purchased your tickets in advance. Also, I have a surprise for your 17th birthday on the 14th of April.
We will see each other soon. I will tell you everything you want to know about your parents and anything else you wish to know; I long to see you soon, my flower. Please remember, darling, I am thinking of you and your welfare.
I have grander news. However, I would like to inform you of the details in person. I hope you will have a safe trip!
When Jane gave the letter back, Sierra opened the envelope and took out the tickets. “You will come with me to America, won’t you?”
She smiled sympathetically and stroked Sierra’s back, “Of course, I will always be here for you.” Jane took a ticket from Sierra, “I wonder what Mrs Sinclaire meant about her grander news. Do you have any idea what she was indicating?”
“The mysterious news thrilled me,” Sierra pursed her lips as her eyebrows met. “However, leaving home for a long time diminishes the exciting thoughts in my head. I know Aunt Celeste wants me to live with them in New York…” she faltered, and her shoulders slumped, “…I believe Auntie’s approach to helping me cope was what she did when her husband passed away a few years ago, for me to leave the country.”
Jane nodded sagely, but an idea crossed her mind and beamed, “Mrs Sinclaire means well, Sierra. It has helped her a great deal, and perhaps going away will help you too.”
Sierra smiled at the memory of her aunt bidding farewell three years ago as she traced her fingers on the edge of Celeste’s latest letter. She giggled a little, “She even squeezed my cheeks before she parted.”
“Perhaps, you will feel better there and think about the adventures we will encounter!” Jane enthused.
Sierra’s lips upturned at hearing adventure. “I suppose you are correct. Thank you, Jane. I will ask Ms Abram for more lessons about America.”
“Ms Abram is in the solarium; she knows how much you care for the gardenias. So, she is tending the garden,” informed Jane in a coltish tone. “And by tending, I mean, Ms Abram is scolding the gardeners.”
Amused by this image in her head, Sierra genuinely laughed.
“Now, will you come to the dining table with me?” Jane pleaded, pulling Sierra towards the dining room.
“I will. Please give me one moment to recollect myself.”
“Very well, I will prepare your favourite meals.”
Sierra walked back into their living room with a glum sigh. She faced left to see her reflection in the ornate mirror hanging on the wall. A beauteous, light-tan skinned young woman with wavy black hair and captivating greyish-blue eyes fixated woefully back at her. She greatly resembled her mother, Eliza Charmonte. She had received the shape of her face, eyebrows, eyes, and lips.
Her eyes shifted to the portrait on top of the mantelpiece. As she touched her soft, rosy cheeks and curled her hair between her fingers, the mourning heiress observed her likeness to her elegant mother in the painting.
When her mother was still alive, she stood out in the Elite Society of England. Eliza was beautiful and elegant. However, the complexion of her skin differed her from them. She was a Mestiza, a term Sierra learned from reading a Filipino book called Noli Me Tangere by Dr Jose Rizal. Sierra had Filipino blood in her, making her complexion darker.
Ms Sadie Abram came into the room, holding a book and looking disoriented when she said, “There you are, Sierra!”
Sierra only glanced at her tutor and back at the portrait.
Ms Abram turned to where Sierra was looking. With a smile across her lips, she said, “You gracefully carry the beauty of Eliza,” turning to look at her student, “but Daniel’s personality exuding in you outshines it.”
The young heiress smiled weakly at the opinion of her tutor and glanced at the hem of her skirt, damped in morning dew and grass remnants.
Ms Abram’s bright, brown eyes followed and cleared her throat, “Pardon me, Sierra, I will change my attire this instant.”
“No,” commands Sierra, making her tutor stop on her tracks, “it’s all right, Ms Abram.”
She nodded and walked closer to her while Sierra resumed staring at her mother’s portrait.
“I assumed her hair was long since it was in an up-do style in the painting,” she giggled softly, a tiny smirk playing across her naturally pink lips.
“Her hair was soft and shiny,” Ms Abram agreed.
Sierra turned away and, above the decorated end table, she looked at her parents’ portrait with Henri Colinsfirth standing in the middle between them, looking dapper in his early teenage years. They looked blissful. Celeste mentioned before that her parents hired John Singer Sargent to paint them when they discovered Eliza was pregnant with Sierra.
As she breathed heavily, she looked around the living room, where she had grown up learning the proper ways of being a lady. The once jubilant air hanging in every room of their home had disappeared. Their staff loved Daniel, for he was fair and kind to them when the other Englishmen were not, and they mourned with their Lady.
Ms Abram placed a hand on Sierra’s shoulder. “They are at peace in the picture, are they not?”
Sierra nodded and glanced at her smiling tutor, “Sometimes, I saw my father looking at the portrait without saying anything, but his eyes...if his eyes could speak, they would say a thousand words.”
Ms Abram squeezed Sierra’s arm.
“I felt how much Father greatly missed Mother,” Sierra continued, eyes never leaving the painting. “I pray they are together in Heaven now. I would love to believe so,” she whispered as she held back her tears and cleared her throat.
“Sierra, I cannot help but worry about you,” said Ms Abram, caressing her arm. “I witnessed how you and Daniel were.”
Feeling the ache welling deep inside her chest, Sierra turned to the woman who had been her tutor since she was born, “Ms Abram, how am I ever to cope?” she revealed. “How am I to go on?” Though she told this with utmost pain, Sierra showed none of the affliction she was feeling inside to Ms Abram.
Her tutor fell into morose deep thinking, and Sierra saw how uncomfortable she made her feel. “Forgive me, Sierra, if my advice is not good enough. But perhaps start with a journal? Or we can learn more about the DelaCour Mining Company; after all, you are the heir. When Mr Colinsfirth comes home, he can continue teaching you where we might leave off.”
Sierra smiled gratefully at the suggestions. “I would like to know more about the company, and please, I want to learn more about America. Also, about the maiden voyage, Titanic,” she gave Ms Abram her ticket.
Her tutor beamed as she looked at the ticket, “I will get into it, Sierra. There are a few articles about the Titanic in the newspaper. You might want to start there. Oh! I have a good feeling you will like it.”
“Thank you, Ms Abram,” said Sierra and watched her bounce into the library.
The weight on her shoulders lifted a bit from talking to Ms Abram and Jane. But when Sierra’s eyes fell upon the photograph of her as a toddler, where Daniel was guiding her to walk, her heart ached in agony; tears trickled down her cheeks. But she wiped them away before anyone could see her. Sierra shook her head and focused on reminiscing how much love and happiness she felt before her father left for America.
I love my home. How can I not? She smiled as she observed its combination of Neoclassical and Rococo architectural styles. The young heiress basked in the dustless air. Each piece of furniture, paintings, and framed photographs had fond echoes of memories. She chuckled as she held a small picture frame of her, Daniel, and Henri in Chicago, recalling what a great trip it was. Her heart warmed, little by little, and her smile widened.
Tears forming, her eyes fell upon the piano, sitting peacefully at the end of their naturally sunlit grand salon. What disheartened her most was when she and Daniel used to play songs. She could still hear herself playing Beethoven’s Piano Sonata: No. 8, Op. 13. Pathetique II to him. Her throat ached as she held back the tears. She inhaled through her nose and exhaled through her mouth. I have to be brave.
Leaving London made her realise the inevitable uncertainty. I could not face the music. But, perhaps, it’s time for me to start a new chapter and sail through the ocean to do so. There was no other choice. She took a deep breath and glanced at Celeste’s photograph in Coney Island. Besides, I miss my aunt so much. I cannot wait to see her.
The young heiress straightened her back, and the proper demeanour washed over her face. She repeated a mantra: I have to let the pain and withering pass. She composed herself and nodded with a firm decision: When April comes, I have to remind our gardeners to take good care of my mother’s garden because I have a hunch…, she shakily sighed. I will not be seeing my home for a long time.
She pulled out her father’s letter from America and placed it near her heart before reading it once more to find courage and strength for the inevitable future she was about to face in a few days’ time.