A shriek of laughter and giggles erupted from the dining room. It was hard not to admire how much fun the two girls were having despite the circumstances they were in. Both sisters, Jane and Cassandra, were lying in front of the window, staring out at the dimmed stars in the evening sky.
The girls were both dressed in simple smocks that had elbow-length sleeves, providing the girls with the utmost comfort to play in.
They looked very different though, and if it weren’t for their matching clothing, one would never be able to guess they were sisters.
The older sister, Cassandra had beautiful hair, but it was mostly hidden under her hat. She was a pulchritudinous girl with pale lips tinted with the slightest of pink. Her eyes were a plain brown colour but the way she smiled lit up her face.
Jane, on the other side, hid her beauty. She knew well enough from hearing her parents talk it was obvious that a suitor was to be found for her in the near future. Jane thought that maybe they wouldn’t be interested in her, but her attempts failed.
When she smiled, her lips stretched ever so slightly, and her eyes widened. She was a proper lady, as her mother would say. But one couldn’t deny that Cassandra was one too.
Their fun was interrupted by Henry, the girl’s brother, poking his head in the room.
“Mother wants to speak to you,” he said with a soft smile to both girls, but his eyes were filled with sadness.
Mother had cleaned the halls so much, it was as if a trained maid cleaned it. In the little income they earned from Papa, they were able to save some over the course of a few years to decorate their house.
Large abstract paintings covered the walls, even though they were cheap and fake copies, they still made Jane smile when she saw them. There was one in particular she loved. It was a flat print that hung by the foyer. It was a night sky with golden stars flickered at the top. Jane loved how it made her feel like she was filled with indefinite possibilities. And maybe she was.
As Cassandra, Henry and Jane walked through the halls they passed James, George, Francis, and Charles, the rest of her brothers.
Each one patted her on the head, taking advantage of her tiny height.
“Are you girls done packing?” Mother asked as she ran her fingers through Jane’s tangled hair. Cassandra shook her head meekly.
“Well, what are you waiting for! You guys are leaving tomorrow, and it’s night already! I sure hope that will be enough time!” Mother walked both of the girls back to their room. Jane was so preoccupied with Cassandra, she hadn’t noticed the bright sky covered in an inky midnight blue.
Cassandra and Jane shared a room, while the boys shared another. Jane was glad she had a decent room to only share with Cassandra.
Mother was a short plump woman. She shared the same curious eyes as Jane as she picked out two of Jane’s fanciest outfits, her court dresses.
Jane never fully understood how she managed to not rip them apart all the years she had them. They were stiff and provided no comfort. But she did have to admit, she looked pretty good in them. The elbow-length sleeves were covered with tiers of lace flounces, echoing the full-sleeved chemise.
Oh, the hours of discomfort they’d bring!
Mother laid the dress onto the bed along with the rest of Jane’s collection of muslins, petticoats, and waistcoats. The collection only consisted of six pairs of clothing, and Jane was glad. If there’d been anymore she’d be wearing ruffles and poofy skirts for the rest of her years!
For Cassandra, Mother picked out a series of gowns and corset laces. The bodices were tight and looked very uncomfortable.
Lastly, in the deepest depths of the closet, Mother found the shoes. A flashy gold colour made out of cheap material covered the shoe. It had a curved heel and looked way too big for Jane.
“There! You girls should be dressed in your finest for Ms. Cawley!”
Mother’s words resulted in a sad scowl from Jane.
She didn’t want to leave her family.
“Thank you, Mother!” Jane said nonetheless.
“Thank you is right! You’re lucky we spend all this money on you!” Mother’s voice had no hint of harshness, she spoke in a gentle way. As she left the room, she planted a kiss on Jane and Cassandra’s foreheads.
“Now, you girls move those clothes into your suitcases!”
Cassandra nodded and fetched the suitcases from underneath their beds.
They were beaten up and in bad condition. Jane assumed they’d fall apart right away if they loaded it too much. But it was good for now.
Jane carefully folded each of her dresses into neat piles and put them into the suitcase, leaving half the space for Cassandra.
“Jane, you okay? You’re excited to go to Ms. Cawley’s, right?” asked Cassandra, her voice pressing with concern.
Jane sat down on her bed, straightening out her smock.
“Well, I’ll miss everyone! Won’t you?” she said, her thoughts drifting away. How would Ms. Cawley be like? Would she be nice? Or would she be evil like the people in the stories?
“Of course, Jenny,” Jane smiled, she loved it when Cassandra called her by her baby-name. “But, it’ll be for the best. And besides, we’ll be together. And you know, Papa and the boys can’t teach us forever!”
Jane knew this was true. There was only so much the boys knew. And besides, they had better things to be doing than teaching.
Their conversation was interrupted by Henry. He walked into the room without knocking and sat onto Jane’s bed.
“It’s time for bed, girls,” he said. Jane admired the way he hid his emotions for Jane, and the way he pretended all the problems of the world didn’t exist at the same time he managed to be fun and realistic.
Cassandra zipped up the suitcase and stood it beside the door. She then proceeded to remove both her and Jane’s nightgowns from their rack. She handed one to Jane.
Cassandra took her pyjamas and left to change.
Jane locked the door behind her and slipped off her smock. As she changed into the soft silky fabric of her nightgown and tightened the laces behind her to the correct amount of comfort. She unlocked the door and hurriedly crawled into bed.
She kicked her legs onto her bed and tossed her sheet over her body. She tried to sleep like a lady, but it was impossible as all she wanted to do was tangle herself in her sheets.
She drifted into unconsciousness before Cassandra returned.
All she could hear the faint words of Henry and Cassandra.
“Goodnight Cassandra. Goodnight Jane, I love you both,” said Henry, his voice laced with care.
“Night Henry. Love you too,” replied Cassandra, her voice reduced to a whisper, “Jane’s asleep already,”
Henry nodded with a chuckle and kissed Jane on the forehead.
As Jane drifted off to sleep, one thought stayed in her mind, would she ever see her family again?
* * *
The morning came sooner than Jane had hoped. The shafts of light peeked through the spaces in the curtains, waking the girls up.
Cassandra yawned and stretched out her arms elegantly.
Jane’s awaking wasn’t as splendid. Jane touched the top of her head with her hand, a rough unsmooth surface met her hand. She ran her fingers through her hair, only to have them stuck by a set of tangles.
“Cassandra, can you help?” asked Jane, scooting beside Cassandra.
Her sister nodded happily and sat behind Jane. She took a piece of her hair and began combing it through. Soon enough, the bird’s nest was replaced by a smooth wave of hair. She braided it tightly, making Jane feel like a princess.
“Thank you, Cass, I don’t know what’d I’d do without you!” Jane said with a giggle.
Cassandra laughed and together both girls made their way to the kitchen. It seemed that the rest of their family was awoken.
Jane walked to her mother and began helping her with breakfast. Even though they couldn’t afford a cook or any fancy ingredients, Mother with the help of Jane still managed to make a visually beautiful and tasty breakfast.
Today, Mother had plain pancakes stacked on top of each other.
Jane took each one and slathered a thin layer of syrup and butter. She topped it off with some strawberries and placed them onto the dining table. Her father and brothers wolfed them down and thanked Jane.
“Thank you, Jane! Now let’s eat for ourselves, shall we?” Mother said.
Jane smiled, and they walked to the table where Cassandra was sitting.
Cassandra smiled at Mother and Jane, but her smile didn’t reach her eyes. Jane figured that she too was upset that today would be her last breakfast.
Jane took a seat beside Mother, and only a few minutes after beginning to eat, their plate was wiped clean.
When she got up, she saw Henry bringing down their suitcase. Jane thanked him, Soon the whole family began crowding in the foyer.
“Girls, the transport will be here soon! You guys aren’t even dressed for Pete's sake!” Mother’s frantic voice echoed across their household.
Jane slipped off her smock from her hanger once she got upstairs. She raced into the bathroom and slipped off her nightgown, then putting on her smock. It had little embroidered designs on it that itches her through the fabric. Jane tried not to be annoyed by it as she tied her hair behind her hat.
As she swung the door open, Cassandra was just finishing off too. She looked lovely in her floral pink smock, almost identical to Jane’s except her hair was in luscious curls that sat regally on her shoulders.
When they reached the bottom step, her family awaited her, tears in their eyes. She could feel her own eyes tearing up.
“Come here, girls! I’ll miss you so much! You be good for Ms. Crawley! And Cassandra, please take care of your younger sister!” She wrapped her arms around both sisters. “Oh, my babies!” Her words were slushy and hard to make out through her sobs.
“You mustn't worry Mother! I’ll take good care of Jane!” Cassandra’s sophisticated, lady-like voice sent Jane and her brothers in giggles.
Mother, who was still crying, managed a slight smile too.
Next, Papa came and gave them both a kiss.
“You shan’t worry girls! Ms. Crawley is a wonderful lady, you’ll both have a splendid time.” Papa’s goodbye was short, but his cheeks were puffy as he moved back making space for Jane’s brothers to say goodbye.
“Papa! Why can’t we teach the girls? They’ll be so lonely without us!” James wailed, sarcasm dripping from his voice.
“James is right Papa,” Charles said, his voice breaking. “When will we see them again?” He sounded scared. So small.
The room was plunged into silence before a chorus of fights broke out from her brothers.
“Papa, Mother, they’re so young, you aren’t really going to send them away?” Francis said as if the girls weren’t in the same room as them.
Their pleas were silenced by Papa clearing his throat.
“Boys, we already talked about this! There is only so much you boys know! I know our beautiful girls will make us proud of the knowledge they bring home!”
Jane smiled at that. She would miss Papa and her brothers.
Henry, who stood in the corner of the living room moved up. Tears were streaming down his cheeks. Jane could only imagine how much the boys would tease him for crying.
“I love you both, please don’t forget me,” Henry said. laughing gently before he choked on his sobs.
It finally occurred to Jane that she’d be going away. Her stomach churned with sadness as the boys took turns hugging Jane and tousling Cassandra’s hair, which annoyed her very much.
Papa opened the door and outside was a sleek black car waiting for them. As she stepped out of the house, she stole one last look at the painting with the stars, vowing she would never forget the feeling it gave her with.
Jane grabbed Cassandra’s hand, gripping tightly. The sisters smiled at each other before making their way to the car. As she did, Jane truly felt ready to face the world.