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Shall I tell you a story, Mam?
“Shall I tell you a story, Mam?” the maid enquired while bent over her mistress’s bed, tucking in the ends of the bed covers.
Her mistress didn’t even glance at her. Sitting against a mound of pillows and staring endlessly at the rain streaked windows. Tears glistened upon her pale cheeks, and even with blood shot eyes she looked dazzling. The women of society envied her. Her pastel skin, her soft lips. Her curved neck line and small breasts. And most of all her rich, coffee colored hair which favored every other aspect of her. But to the men of high society in the early 1800s it meant nothing. To Helen Price it felt as if her world was but coming to an end before someone set it off again – though not at all to her liking.
“No thank you Lou, I’ll be fine,” Helen murmured. A heavy weight pressed against her chest and filled her with resentment and desolation.
“Yes Mam,” Lou said setting out her mistress’s dresses for the next day. Her morning, afternoon and dining gown. “Might I say, Mam, that you looked wonderful this evening. I suppose the men couldn’t keep their eyes off you in your scarlet gown. Shall I lay out your laced gown for the ball tomorrow night? And I can curl your beautiful hair too.”
“No need Lou.” Helen was heartbroken and in despair. She wished to be left alone in her chamber to dwell in misery. What was she to do? If she was not to marry she would be left to nothing. Her parents already made it very clear that all the inheritance would be given to her two brothers. In the beginning she had understood, it was part of society but how was she supposed to find her way if the men didn’t even glance at her. Especially him! Of all she did not expect it of him.
Lou gazed across the chamber at her mistress. She looked so feeble and sad. So sad. Lou sat at the foot of her mistress’s bed.
“Excuse me Mam, I know it is not my place but the wallowing of the heart will do it no good.”
“And what if the heart knows none else but just that?”
“Then it has missed much that has passed its way.”
“What story were you speaking of earlier?”
“Also tale of the heart, which my mama told me nearly every night. Would you like to hear it Mam?”
Helen breathed out and felt empty of emotion. She knew none else sought her company and suddenly she feared her own feelings if they would be left with her alone.
As many tales start with a person or two so does our tale. Though in this version, envy is the downfall of all. A young woman was lucky to be born in a high class family. She was one of the few who woke up in a warm bed, ate breakfast every morning and had a family that cared for her but being born a woman was always a downfall.
“Papa!” Cora Knight greeted her father with the usual enthusiasm though he frowned upon her at first glance. This too was usual but to a young child, everything seemed different. John Knight was a respectable man and with that came responsibility. Some say he was too harsh on his young daughter, he said differently.
“Cora, change into your best gown immediately! We have guests arriving and deal with Emma, you know what to do,” offering no warmth or comfort family is supposed to have he turned and left the room. Cora nodded and ran up the stairs to her beloved sister.
“Emma,” she whispered. “Emma, we have to play in the small room now. Papa said so. You know what happens when you listen to Papa.” Cora gently led her young, slow sister towards the room and made sure she was comfortable. Being twelve was a big responsibility for Cora. She was ready to enter society and soon find a husband. For Emma, who just turned seven, it was not good news. Whenever there was company or a special event Emma was shoved aside into a small room. She was slow, strange an embarrassment at that. Something that could not be tolerated whatsoever.
“Cora!” John Knight called from downstairs.
“Ssh, Emma!” Cora crept out the room and quietly locked the door.
Reaching the front door Cora curtsied in acknowledgment.
“This is Hugh Dixon,” her father motioned to a young boy roughly older than her own age. He was dressed smartly and had an aura of over-confidence. “Entertain him while I have a word with his parents.”
With another curtsy Cora rushed off with Hugh. They played games that all children play. They amused themselves with their own imaginations and soon they formed a friendship.
“I’ll be right back. I forgot something in our carriage,” Hugh whispered in Cora’s ear and she blushed crimson, nodding in response.
As he hurried towards her house Cora remained in the garden and giggled. She liked Hugh and hoped her would also enter society with her so that she could have a friend. Picking flowers Cora waited. She waited for quite a while but as all young children she grew impatient and decided to go after him.
Cora felt hurt and betrayed as she couldn’t find him anywhere. Not by his carriage, not in the garden and not with his parents. Eyes filled with tears she ran upstairs to find comfort with her sister. Reaching the top step she froze. The door she remembered locking earlier was ajar. Inside she heard whimpering and giggling. Cora pushed the door open while everything in her body cried at her not to.
Emma sat sprawled on the floor, her lip bleeding and her eyes shedding large, watery tears. Hugh Dixon sat not so far away, his face filled with amusement as he saw Emma struggling to talk and get up right.
“Get away from her!” Cora shriek, rushing to her sibling’s side.
Laughing, Hugh got up, “Why? What’s wrong? She’s just a freak.”
“No.” Tear’s trickled down Cora’s face as all the warmth and friendship she had with him leaked from her body, leaving her numb and cold. “She is my sister.”
Hugh walked closer to her holding her Emma’s crumpled body. For a moment fear flickered in Cora’s eyes. She did not know what he was capable of but knew that he enjoyed pain. Luckily he saw that fear and stepped away from her, quietly leaving the room.
Cora mopped up Emma’s mess, wiping away the blood and sitting her upright. It wasn’t easy having a disabled sister. Cora learned that quickly and spent all her time protecting Emma. That night Cora lay awake in her bed thinking of her future. With Emma in constant danger she could never marry, never be accepted in such a strict society, her parents would resent her decision and probably disown her or worst yet threaten to hurt Emma. They had no love for their children, Cora understood that now. She hugged herself as emotion shook within her and the realization that what was left of her childhood was gone forever. A sob escaped her and she cried into her feather pillow. She had to be strong and stand up for her sister. It was a lot of responsibility to put on a twelve year old girl.
To be continued…