Chapter 4: René Pellerin
Clara: - August 1906-
“It will be alright, Clara. This is hard on all of us,” I heard someone say, though I didn’t care who it was. They didn’t understand. In some ways, I selfishly convinced myself that grandma’s death was more difficult for me than anyone else, though I knew that wasn’t true. I was emotionally drained, and after learning only a small amount of my grandmother’s past I truly felt like I had lost a friend. My brother remained attached to my shoulder for the entire funeral and everybody but me closed their eyes as the priest said the final words. The service was long and tedious and I felt myself picking at my fingers and clicking my shoes together in a childish, impatient manner. I had always been short-tempered and reclusive, but I felt my childhood tendencies creep into my subconscious, and at that moment I wanted nothing more than to run away and be left alone.
Instead of going home, my father led the carriage to the remains of my grandmother’s house to clear her property further. The entire group was silent as my family rode down the swampy road, understanding that she would never be there again. The moment my feet touched the disgusting ground Henry’s arms were around me again. He was such a wonderful older brother and sometimes I didn’t know what I’d have done without him. He hugged me for what felt like hours before he released me and walked half a mile to our house to retrieve the other carriage. Ben was sifting through the destroyed remains while my sister avoided it altogether. She pretended to help, but I knew her sadness was preventing her from doing anything useful or productive, and I sympathized with her. Harvey trailed behind my father, avoiding the smoke from his cigar. The only person I saw actively working was my mother. She was busy clearing the parlor, and after I watched her for several minutes, she finally sat down to rest. Her head tilted forward, and for the first time since the storm, I wanted to talk to her. I wanted to know how she felt, to tell her I was sorry for accusing her. She had, after all, just lost her mother. I could be incredibly selfish and self-centered sometimes. I walked to where she was, but the moment I stepped close enough the feeling disappeared. My heart broke at the thought of not even wanting to speak to my own mother, but something inside of me kept my feet moving forward and I passed her, completely avoiding her gaze. I quickly took the steps to my grandmother’s bedroom and once again my attention was drawn to the portrait. I almost expected it to change; that their content expressions would transform into sadness in the wake of my grandmother’s death. I almost felt her presence. On the floor near the edge of the bed was a dusty photo album, and I felt the dust stir my senses when I picked it up. It was obvious that it hadn’t been touched in years, and I wondered how long it had been since a pair of eyes looked at the photographs. As I opened the album, the familiar smell of the house rose from it. I grazed my fingers along the photographs and sighed as I remembered that the people smiling in the photographs were no longer with us. Gathering everything I could, I carried it downstairs before running into my mother.
She paused and eyed me suspiciously. “What is all of this?” She gestured to the items in the box.
“Memories, mama. Grandma had so many photographs, letters….newspapers.”
Placing the portrait on the steps, I handed her the photo album. It was fragile and worn at the spine. My mother examined the photographs, and her eyes widened, but I couldn’t tell if it was because she was happy to see the photos or if they had the opposite effect.
“My father,” she breathed to herself. She took a deep breath, and I knew she was holding back tears. She closed the album and handed it to me. Letting out the breath she’d been holding in, she looked at me without faltering.
“We can put the portrait in the parlor. As for the rest,” she paused and looked at the contents in my arms, “It’s yours.”
“You don’t want it? Any of this? This was your mother’s!”
Doesn’t she want to know more? I asked myself. I didn’t understand.
“Clara, I’ve seen it. No need to bring up old memories.”
She tried to push by me as she spoke, leaving me on the stairs bewildered and angry. It was then that I heard my brother Henry pulling up with the second carriage. We spent several awkward hours placing my grandmother’s things in the carriages, not speaking to one another, and I was relieved when we finally prepared to leave. Within thirty minutes we were back at the house. After we finished unloading the carriage, my mother called me into the dining room. My parents were sitting, stoic as ever, staring me down like a criminal.
Is this an interrogation? I silently wondered.
The only time my parents ever called me into a room, was for a “serious discussion” though I wasn’t sure what exactly I’d done to warrant such a discussion. My mother avoided me just as much as I avoided her.
“Clara, I’ve spoken to your father about the events that happened the day of the storm. I know you’re angry with me but please understand, I did not know grandma was in any real danger and I would not wish harm on my own mother, despite our differences,” my mother said, taking my father’s hand. Differences? I gritted my teeth. I wasn’t sure if I believed her, and I was still so angry that my instincts prevented me from doing so.
“Yes, mother.” I was emotionless. I used that word again, and I saw the pain it inflicted in her expression. I didn’t apologize.
I eloquently patted down my slumping, matted dress. “Was that all you wanted to discuss?” I politely asked. “I am quite hot, and would very much like to change into something else.” My parents looked at each other, and I knew that silent words were passing between them that I didn’t understand. When neither of them answered, I pushed my chair back, only for my father to hold a hand up and stop me.
“ I just-” My mother began. My father intervened.
“She is going through enough without your foul attitude, Clara. We have all noticed it, and frankly, it’s brought us all down. You are not the only one who has been affected by this tragedy. Blaming your mother for a natural disaster is cruel and I expected better of you. The way you have treated your mother and even your siblings these last few days is unacceptable. I am sorry you are grieving so intensely, but we all are. So please, work on your attitude. I didn’t think I’d have to sit you down and tell you to be empathetic toward your own family.” I didn’t need to say anything, and I knew my facial expression told them exactly what I was feeling.
“May I please go?”
The room was silent for a long time and I didn’t know if they’d answer my question at all. Eventually, my father nodded and I quickly stood up. My chair screeched against the hard floor, and I left the room in a huff, childishly stomping my feet against the hardwood and tile floors on the way to my bedroom. I slammed the door shut, and waited for someone to trail in after me and scold me for it, but no one did. Deep down, I knew I was being rude. I just didn’t understand why she didn’t care. For the first time since my grandmother’s death, I felt sorry for her, and I prayed that I would never disregard her memory so carelessly if I was unfortunate enough to lose her in the future.
I took off the suffocating black dress and set it on my bed, periodically glancing through the window as the sun hid beneath the trees on the horizon. I lied down next to it in my nightgown and started drifting. As I slipped in and out of consciousness, my anger melted away. I rested for a long time before remembering the contents I’d brought back from my grandmother’s. I never knew she’d kept so much. Her home’s walls were always blank, showing no evidence of her life. Surprisingly, I never questioned it nor was I curious to know. But now, I wanted to know more.
As I sifted through the photo album, my attention was immediately drawn to a photograph of an ornate pair of gloves. There was no one in the photograph, and the caption read:
That’s all? No date?
I had so many questions and was frustrated that no one could answer them. Perhaps my mother could but she had no interest in doing so. I set the photograph and everything I’d found under my bed, resigning to the fact that I’d never get answers. Despite the darkening sky, I lit the lantern near my desk and removed my diary from the drawer.
Elise: - September 1860-
Ten weeks had passed since the news of Caroline’s move, and Elise spent much of that time carefully making her parting gift. It was sitting on her bed when she finally decided to place it in the box and decorate it. She struggled to make it look presentable and shyly looked up at her mother when she walked in.
“Elise, are you ready?”
Dreamy-eyed, Elise responded, “Yes, thank you. Just finishing this. Are you and daddy almost ready? It is nearly time.”
“ Yes, I’m only waiting on your father. I assume you are staying the night at Caroline’s? I know you must be dreading tomorrow,” her mother noted with a sympathetic expression. Elise continued to tie the ribbon on the box to avoid the comment and created a perfectly wrapped gift.
Her mother gave a gentle smile before her husband walked into the room.
“Oh, Ben look at her.”
Benedict looked at his daughter with pride and smiled. “You did grow into a beautiful young woman, Elise.” He reached for a hug.
“Are we ready?” he asked.
Elise grabbed the gift box before walking downstairs. It was the evening of Caroline’s last social event at the town hall. Elise was happy to attend, but she was also dreading the entire thing and the heartbreak that would follow. Chicago was miles away, and she feared that her dearest friend would become lost to her as the years passed. Caroline had always been her closest companion, the friend that knew everything about her and always gave her the clear, sound advice that she often needed.
It didn’t take long for them to walk through the darkening Crescent City, sloshing through puddles on the cobblestone roads along the way. Elise looked at her feet until her mother’s voice pulled her out of the void she was in. The hall brimmed with carriages, music, and somber celebration. Elise immediately separated from her parents in search of Caroline, diligently carrying the gift that she’d been working on for weeks. After sifting through the crowds of people, there she was, standing near the center stairs.
“Oh, I am so happy you are here. My heart is full tonight.”
Before Elise said a word Caroline took control of the conversation. “You are spending the night with me, aren’t you? I am certain Abe will be drunk by the time the night is over, and I would dearly like you by my side to keep me entertained for the night. I fear I won’t sleep.” She placed a hand over her chest in a dramatic gesture. Elise nodded and handed her the box.
“Elise, this didn’t require gifts! Though we have received quite a few. Such kind people here,” Caroline exclaimed, taking the box and smiling at her crowd of friends.
“No, but I wanted to make you something to take with you.”
“Make me something?” Caroline knew what that meant. Elise was well known by many to be talented with a needle and thread, and Caroline immediately unwrapped the ribbon. She opened the box to reveal an elaborate set of white gloves, with Caroline’s first initial embroidered on the front. The work looked professionally done, and she gasped at the sight of them.
“My word, Elise,” she said, gaping at the gloves. The “C” was sewn in with light blue thread contrasting strikingly with the white leather. She handed the box to Elise and slipped her hands into the gloves.
She admired them and compared them to the fabric of her dress. “A perfect fit. Oh, Elise, this must have cost you a fortune, please, let me pay you!”
For Caroline, money was no issue, she’d always been wealthy. She pleaded with Elise to let her pay for the gloves and Elise fiercely refused.
“Nonsense, they’re a gift. I cherished every moment I spent working on them,” she claimed, “And that was quite a lot of time,” she playfully added. Caroline’s face melted into a loving and grateful expression. Her beautiful black hair was tied in a loose arrangement of braids, and at that moment Elise thought she was the most beautiful girl in the building. Despite the sad occasion for the party, Caroline was glowing and Elise knew that she felt the love of every person in attendance. They lingered together for several minutes before Caroline was called to greet other guests, leaving Elise alone. It was then, for the first time in weeks that she saw René Pellerin standing across the hall. They’d exchanged several pleasant and innocent letters to one another, but had not been together in person since the picnic. He had not yet noticed her, and she caught herself staring at him. As before, he was dressed in a pleasant, attractive manner, with full, sculpted hair. His face was clean-shaven and she felt herself wanting to run her fingers along his defined cheeks. He moved gracefully along the dance floor, and she noticed that his dance partner was no other than Flora Wildes. She giggled to herself as she imagined his thoughts about dancing with her, recalling his honesty about his feelings toward the young girl. René was too kind to show any rudeness or disdain toward Flora, and Elise appreciated his magnanimity in asking her to dance. She heard laughing from the dance floor which distracted her gaze. Perhaps it was for the best. It wasn’t proper to stare so intently at a gentleman. She watched her parents closely, looking for any sign of disagreement. She saw nothing of the sort and felt a wide grin form on her face as she watched them laugh and dance together. Much to her disappointment, when she turned back to René, he was gone. She quietly observed the dancers and felt chills creep along her arms when she heard his voice.
“Elise Carpentier. I do believe you were staring at me,” he stated eagerly, scooting closer to her. She felt her face flush and her mouth creased into a smile as she turned to him.
“My gaze may have landed in your direction,” she cooly responded.
“I had the pleasure of catching a glimpse of the gift you made for Caroline. That’s superb craftsmanship, Elise.”
“Thank you. I take great pleasure in working on clothes,” she replied, eager to hear his compliments. “Do you have a craft, René?”
He released a small chuckle. “I have very little talent for making things, but I have a flair for numbers. I enjoy mathematics.” She did not realize that she was staring at him again until the small symphony’s music ended, and the hall filled with applause. As they announced the next piece, René continued the conversation.
“There is one thing, though, that I think I might take even more pleasure in,” he admitted. She expected a smart remark but he held his arm out to her instead.
“Honor me with this dance?”
She gleefully placed her hand in his. There was nothing wrong with an innocent dance with a very attractive man was there? Within seconds their bodies were close, and she didn’t know if the heat she was feeling was from her body or his. The band’s waltz occupied the room absenting every other sound. Her daring, scarlet dress was large, and she felt it fold as he pressed his body to hers, perhaps too close considering the number of people watching, but she didn’t care. They were so near to each other that she could almost feel his breath on her neck. His eyelashes were long and full like hers, his cheeks decorated with freckles. She’d never been so confident before, but when his rich brown eyes looked into hers so closely, so intimately, she wanted the moment to last forever, twirling and spinning together until everyone else disappeared. It was only when she heard the applause that she noticed the crowd surrounding the center of the hall. The other dancers bowed and curtsied, while Elise reluctantly disengaged from René.
Before they separated, he touched her fingers, and said, “I need to see you again.” Without hesitation, she answered, “Meet me outside in ten minutes. I’ll be waiting near the front gates.” He smiled, and let go of her hands, leaving her with a polite bow. She felt as if all eyes in the room were on her, and her face pink from delight, walked to the nearest server to accompany her heated body with a glass of wine. As she sipped the tall glass, her eyes followed him. He was standing across the room, breathing heavily, eyes glancing at the clock near the center mantle when his eyes weren’t on her. Elise didn’t realize she was staring at him until Caroline blocked her vision.
“I’ve shared a few words with him, nothing is going on!” Caroline mocked. Elise coughed as she felt the wine spill into her lungs at Caroline’s teasing.
“You noticed us dancing?” she asked innocently, taking a large breath.
Caroline shot her a look.
“Oh, come now, Caroline, you’re intoxicated,” Elise accused, gesturing to the glass of brandy in Caroline’s hand. Caroline brushed off the accusation and twirled her glass.
“The entire room noticed. If nobody was aware that you two were interested in one another they certainly do now.”
Elise countered quickly. “Who said we were interested? It was one dance.” She shifted uncomfortably but caught herself looking at the clock.
Caroline tried to ease her worry. “Perhaps not everyone in the room. But I noticed. It looked like a lovely dance,” she teased.
Elise rolled her eyes. “Goodbye, Caroline. We can discuss this later.”
“Bye!” she responded, taking a sip of the brandy and giggling. Elise excused herself and gracefully strolled to the back door of the hall, avoiding the unwanted attention of anyone else in the ballroom. The minute the door shut she heard the clock chime. The sky was darkening, and there was very little light apart from the moonlight and lanterns that lined the walkway to the building. She followed the path, glass of wine in hand, to the front gates, eager to finally have a moment with René in private. The minute the gates were in her view she saw him standing alone. The heat rose to her face again. Her entire body felt hot and she let out a long breath before approaching him. He heard her footsteps and turned to face her. She let out a shaky breath. Evidently, she had the same effect on him.
“That was quite a dance,” he said, smirking.
“Quite,” she agreed. “Shall we walk? There is a garden here. I don’t think it will be inconspicuous for two friends to be seen walking together.” He followed her lead, linking his arm in hers, and they walked toward the garden.
“No reason to suspect anything, of course,” she concluded.
He shrugged. “Of course.” The moment he responded, his arm slid down hers, and their fingers entwined. They heard the music from inside, and the sound of a slow, melodic tune poured out of the building.
“I think,” he said, touching her other hand. “I’d like to dance with you again.”
“Again? Are there no other fine young women in this hall that catch your attention? I’m positive there is more than one young lady who would be happy to be holding your hands as I am now.”
He gently brushed her hair out of her face. “No. No one else has caught my attention. Not for months.” He moved his body closer to hers, and she wasn’t exactly sure what feeling arose from that. She rested her cheek on his, and they danced slowly. She was drifting away, and she wanted to fall asleep in his arms. He is so warm, she thought, nudging closer to him. They remained close to one another, missing the end of the song. It hadn’t even occurred to her that they’d be in trouble if anyone saw them together like that, but his warmth made her forget about everything. No one had ever captivated her so much, and she didn’t remember why she never sought him out in the first place. They’d known each other since childhood, and yet, they knew virtually nothing of one another until that day in the square. She’d grown to know him through every stroke of his pen. Each letter that he wrote resonated within her until she was sure that she’d fallen in love with the man solely on his words. Being with him in the flesh was a different sensation entirely, and she was almost ashamed at her lack of restraint around him. She didn’t do this, she didn’t scurry into the garden alone with a man…
Their embrace was disturbed by loud voices, right outside the hall. Her eyes shot open quickly, and they both rushed into the side bushes in fear of being caught alone together.
Elise’s parents were openly arguing outside of the hall, suspecting no one was witnessing their fight. Her bliss shifted to embarrassment, as René was witnessing the same altercation. Their voices faded as she turned to face him. He was as confused as her to see them standing there, quarreling in a public space. Most couples, if they fought, did so in private.
“I apologize,” she said, holding his fingertips. “They disagree frequently. I didn’t think for a moment it would happen in public.” She felt his eyes scan her.
“I didn’t know. They hide it well,” he said, looking up at them again.
“They do. I don’t understand, they looked so happy dancing. I thought for a moment that all was well between them.” They watched her parents for what felt like hours and her embarrassment blossomed into solid humiliation. She let out a defeated sigh and the moment she did, he perked up.
She followed him out of the bushes around to the front of the building. Despite the trouble they’d be in if anyone caught them, they both giggled at the excitement. He led her to the back door into the garden.
“What are you doing?”
He did nothing but smile at her, walking away and leaving her bewildered. She watched as he approached her arguing parents.
Their manner changed instantly, and grins replaced their frigid frowns at the sight of the young, handsome gentleman. They stopped arguing and gave their full attention to him.
Elise could see them but their conversation was inaudible. She watched as he charmed them, and curiously thought of the many things they could possibly be discussing. Minutes passed before she saw them walking back into the hall, the grins on their faces larger than before. She emerged from the bushes, fanning her face to somehow hide the blush that had spread across her cheeks.
“Elise,” her father said unprompted, “this young man has sought my blessing to court you. If you will have him, I give my full blessing.” His overlong, red beard stretched with his smile and made his face look twice as large. They stared at her, awaiting her response.
“Your attention would not be unwelcome, Mr. Pellerin,” she admitted, blushing profusely. He was bold, and it was the last thing she expected.
“What a fine young man,” her father exclaimed. Her mother gleefully responded, “What a charming gentleman. Perfect match for her, Ben.” Her parents walked away blissfully, nearly unaware that they’d been arguing only a few minutes before. Elise stared at René. He’s sly, she thought. He led her out the door back outside toward the garden and she followed him eagerly. She could hardly believe what had just happened.
“Don’t worry,” he assured her. “I’ve been granted permission to escort you for a walk in the garden.”
She was astounded. “Did that really just happen?”
“It did. I have feelings for you, Elise,” he declared, moving closer. “And I know you have feelings for me.” She felt the heat radiating from him again and her breath refused to leave her body. He was so incredibly confident.
“What makes you think that?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I did catch you staring at me.”
Their conversation continued as they moved deeper into the garden and found a bench.
“Staring? Oh no, I was merely admiring the splendor of the hall. Caroline did pick a lovely place, you know. Such a wonderful venue for a party.” She took a seat and faced him.
“Lying isn’t kind, you know.” A smile formed across his lips. His hair was messy and falling out of place after they’d danced and run around the grounds. She reached for it, gently brushing it from his eyes. He touched her fingertips but she wanted more.
“Your hands are warm.”
He closed his eyes and let the comforting warmth of her hand sink into his skin. She touched his cheek and had intended to linger only for a moment, but he placed his hand on top of it, keeping it in place. Without another word, he gently pressed his lips against hers and when she finally felt his kiss after months of yearning for him his lips were soft and sweet against hers. When she expected him to break away, he didn’t. He kept kissing her, and she kissed back for what felt like hours of euphoria. Her skin tingled with pleasure as his tongue brushed against hers, a sensation she’d never felt before. She’d never felt any of it before. She had not a care in the world other than feeling his body next to hers. When they parted, he let out a gasp.
“I’ve been wanting to do that for months. Ever since I spoke to you in the park,” he admitted, releasing her.
“I thought you were deranged,” she admitted. “You didn’t even know my name.”
He smiled at the memory. “I know it now,” he said, his voice low as he touched her hair.
A loud ringing distracted them both.
“I think they’re making an announcement. We should go,” he said, hesitantly standing up. He held out his arm for her, and she eagerly took it. With their newfound permission she did not let go of his hand upon entering the hall, and he squeezed it gently. It felt good to allow everyone to see them hand in hand. Caroline and Abe were closing the night by thanking everybody for attending. Saddened by the realization that this was her last night with her best friend, Elise was immediately overcome with melancholy. René noticed, and comforted her as Caroline led the toasts.
“I hope that I have given you some happiness tonight,” René said. He brushed his thumb against her fingers, and she returned the gesture smiling at his kind words.
“Don’t worry. My night improved the moment I saw you dancing with Flora.”
He snorted before they both gave their full attention to Caroline’s farewell toast. Elise slowly felt her emotions grow out of control as she listened to Caroline and Abe discuss their favorite memories of the town, particularly when Caroline singled her out among the crowd. As the crowd grew smaller and the night grew darker, Caroline walked near their table.
“We are nearly finished. Elise, are you still escorting me to my house? I dearly crave your company,” she said, a glass of wine in hand. René took his queue to leave and stood from the table.
“Caroline,” he said, politely bowing in her direction. She returned the gesture by curtsying.
“Yes I will be joining you, just let me escort René to his carriage.”
Caroline walked away giggling. Elise took René’s arm and they strolled out to the gates. Most of the crowd was gone and all they could hear was the faint sound of the carriages’ echo.
“I must admit that I am unhappy to be parted from you, René,” Elise confessed. “I have enjoyed tonight, tremendously.” He placed a kiss on her cheeks.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “After a night like this, we will be together again soon.” He smirked at her again before strolling to the sidewalk, disappearing along the darkened road.
Elise watched after him for a moment, but the happiness she’d been feeling disappeared when she heard muffled crying from the front steps. Caroline was huddled in her massive olive dress holding her face in her hands. The elaborate braids that she’d been sporting all evening were now loose, spilling over her head through her fingers. Elise rushed to her side.
“Oh, Elise you looked so happy,” Caroline cried. “Your parents told me that René asked for their blessing, this is such wonderful news,” she sniffled through tears.
“My dear, why are you crying?”
Caroline wiped away her tears and looked at Elise. “I am going to miss it. All of it.” Caroline was drunk from a mixture of melancholy and too much brandy, and her messy tears leaked onto Elise’s dress. She eventually composed herself, and when Abe brought the carriage around, one would never know she had even been crying. She was always strong like that, and at times, Elise envied her resolve. They boarded the carriage with Abe and rode to their large, empty house, listening to the splash of the water that flooded the grout and the loud chirping of cicadas. Unsurprisingly, the couple fell asleep promptly after arriving, leaving Elise alone. As they slept, she found a pen and paper and wrote to René.
Caroline and Abe were loudly shuffling around the house when Elise finally awoke the next morning. Despite their drunken adventures the night before, the couple managed to prepare breakfast and dress for the day before Elise opened her eyes. When she regained full consciousness, she was agitated.
“Why did you not wake me? I don’t want to miss everything.”
At hearing Elise’s tone Caroline was hurt and merely shrugged. “I was only trying to let you sleep more. You were awake much later than us. You left the lantern lit all evening,” Caroline shot back.
“I’m sorry. Where is Abe?” Elise asked. She poured herself a cup of coffee and seated herself next to Caroline.
“He is tying the horses to the carriage. It won’t be much longer before we leave. Please, have something to eat,” Caroline said, gesturing toward the food on the table. Elise took a pastry but their fake pleasantries didn’t disguise the fact that they were both desolate. They sat in silence until Abe walked through the door.
“Ah, Miss Elise you’re awake.” He was a tall, burly man nine years Caroline’s senior, but one of the gentlest men Elise had ever had the pleasure of meeting.
“Yes. Will you be joining us for coffee?” Elise asked, holding up her cup.
“I think I might like that, yes thank you.” He sat down heavily next to Caroline, causing her to lift from the sofa. Caroline brushed an affectionate finger across his cleanly trimmed beard. His dark hair, though thinning, was professionally brushed back. He was primped and ready to travel.
“My dear I never asked how you slept.”
“Better than expected, given I’d had two glasses of brandy and a glass of wine.”
Abe had always appreciated Caroline’s brash personality, even though society chided her for it. It wasn’t exactly proper for a young lady to drink quite so much, but Caroline didn’t care in the least. Her husband was the only man she needed to impress, and he looked at her like she was the only woman alive. Elise’s grin slowly faded as the reality of the day came back to mind. Delicious coffee and pastries were a good distraction. After Abe’s third pastry the clock chimed for nine o’clock, and he stood up.
“I’m afraid it’s time for us to leave, my dear,” he said, kissing her cheek, “It will be a long journey and the boat won’t wait for us.” He walked to Elise and hugged her before walking away. Caroline reluctantly set down her coffee. Elise and Caroline stood together in silence before Caroline started sobbing.
“Who will take care of this?” Elise asked, gesturing to the coffee and pastries.
Caroline slumped. “We have servants who will be joining us in a few days after the house has been cleaned and ready for sale.”
“And where are your parents?” Elise asked. She didn’t mean to, but she was asking questions to delay their departure.
“They insisted on meeting us at the harbor,” she answered.
Elise, arm in arm with Caroline, walked her to the carriage and held back tears as they boarded to leave.
“Write often,” Caroline gently demanded once situated in the carriage. Smirking, she added, “Even though you’re being courted now.” Elise held in a sigh and watched as they started moving. The second carriage with their luggage was trailing closely behind and for a moment she wanted to jump on and hide within.
Caroline’s smile faded, and Elise watched as she and the carriage grew smaller and eventually disappeared from view. After walking home alone, she entered the parlor with the intent of plopping down on the couch and falling asleep. Instead, she noticed a new piece of furniture; a piano, made of dark red mahogany. Curious, she opened it, revealing the black and white keys.