Thursday, June 3, 2010
Mrs. DeVrees told her as frankly as she could, so did Mrs. DuChamp, but she was subtler about it. Aunt Helen mentioned it in deliberate passing while her pale hands lifted, turned and twisted the cluster of spindles hanging from her lacework pillow; her gaze pointedly fixed on her from the corner of her eye. But to Beth, it was the last thing on her mind. Why everyone thought gowns and hair were so important was beyond her; for years, she’s been able to get away with being comfortable, and her father never once had criticized her for her plain appearance. Never once.
But ever since Miss Hart appeared from England to stay with her cousins at Beaulieu, everyone was all atwitter about fashionable gowns and parties and dancing. Beth could only sigh and roll her eyes discreetly behind the loose wisps of hair that had fallen into her face. Everyone came to her father’s home to expound upon this visitor’s attributes, and how perhaps Beth, who was Miss Hart’s peer, ought to set an example for the community. Beth just stared into the tall stone fireplace, black from centuries of use, the stone of the mantle worn smooth from the many ancestors of her family that had leaned upon it while they contemplated the world. She took in the pile of three large hounds that lay upon the warmed apron, and the comforting snap of the flames—her eyes wandered to the figure of her father, who hunched snoring in a banyan and robe in his chair, the travel from France for business still pressing upon him; she hardly listened.
For her whole life, it was she and him. She wandered the garden of rhododendrons her father had imported from the far Himalayas, she visited with the DeVrees family and taught their young girls how to draw horses; she sat and learned to write with a hand so refined, she could only marvel at the windswept words that curled across the page, and she spent hours upon hours strolling along the endless fields and canals, gazing at the lines of poplars bending in the breeze, and watching the tails of her dogs flag over the golden swaying heads of wheat as they explored the narrow spaces between the rows.
She had nobody to impress. Jean-Marc and Beth had been playmates as children, and were now comfortable friends. Their understanding was a given; and some day, she would become his wife. Neither she, nor he could imagine choosing anyone else. He found Miss Hart’s displays laughable and silly, and his barely contained smirk as he watched her go through her elegant motions was all Beth needed to know. Jean-Marc, like her father, was a man of business and of consequence, so she would not be uncomfortable. He lived nearby, so she would never be far from the home she loved. Ideas of England did not appeal to her. Gowns of the finest muslin, making shows of playing the spinet, or idle conversation and flirtation did not compare to the simplicity and wonder of the life she’s always lived.
She clutched her shawl closed, and twisted the parasol against the gust of wind that pushed her home; the great ladies in her life could mutter and mumble to their heart’s delight, and they were welcome to fawn and simper over the elegant creature that was Miss Hart… Beth was Beth, and Beth liked her printed day-gowns with the permanently stained hems, and her spencer made from the skirts of her mother’s old-style winter gown. She did not need to spend unnecessary money to prove her consequence to anyone; all she needed was the sound of the wind hissing through the endless fields, the silhouette of horses against the pastures of green, and the affectionate glances of her father and Jean Marc, the two people whose opinions really mattered to her.
Honour ran ahead as usual, and Maximus stuck by her side, the wind making his ears flap forward into his eyes. Leaves and buffeted birds gusted past her. With a smile, she followed where the winds carried her.