Tonight would change Emily’s life forever. It was the annual Harvest Ball and tonight was to be the announcement of the engagement of Emily Edwin and Charles Dawson. This engagement had been arranged practically and harmoniously between both families since Emily and Charles had been children. It was the epitome of compliance, societal demands and regeneration of the family hierarchy for both of Chesire's most respected and admired families. The prestige of belonging to this nobility was envied and desired.
The sky blue silk and lace gown was laid out on her canopy bed and the sparkling diamond necklace from her grandmother was set upon the dressing table. Her ivory colored slippers, placed on the royal blue carpet, were ready to take her swirling in a glorious waltz around the ornate ballroom downstairs. Champagne was iced for toasting the unification of the two families. All was laid out on the giant stage of life in this accepted and acceptable society. She would want for nothing. Charles was a gentleman’s gentleman, dutiful and courteous, never reaching beyond what was considered status quo or what was expected of him. She had always known that as the youngest daughter of the Edwin family she would be expected to behave as the lady she was, the future Mistress of her home. They would live in their own home on the estate, and have children that would carry on both families' traditions and great expectations. Their children would want for nothing.
Her thoughts turned to him. Quickly she erased them from her mind! In this uneasy time, with news from the outside world that came to Chesire via various messages and travelers, she should be very happy tonight. She was, in fact, grateful for her life and privilege. How many women in the town would love to be in her shoes tonight? The handsome and very rich Charles Dawson was about to become her betrothed.
Katherine came in to help her dress and set her luxurious locks of hair in a raven swirl of curls, cascading around her sweet face, that was tinged with a blush of excitement. As she looked in the mirror, she couldn’t believe the transformation that sat before her. The blue gown set upon her ivory shoulders, formed a neckline around her slender neck and the bodice of the gown enhanced her cleavage to entice a hint of her ample bosom. Her grandmother’s necklace embraced her tender throat and shimmered. Stars shone from her eyes of blue sending light from within her soul. She was set to take the staircase down to her fate and enter the room to be greeted by adoring friends and neighbors. This was the night to carry on tradition. Her two sisters before her had done it. They were thriving in homes of their own, visiting on holidays and occasions such as tonight. A shadow cast across her eyes and she blinked it away, pushing the thought aside.
She opened her bedroom door and entered the hall. The music flowed upstairs, glorious and enticing. She wouldn’t think of him tonight. She was about to embark on a new and rich future. She caressed her dress, smoothing it down, and felt the necklace around her throat. Emily slowly walked down the stairway.
Heads turned and all eyes were upon her as she entered the room. Her father stood tall and proud, next to her adoring mother. Her sisters and their husbands were there, smiling politely, dressed and plumed like the peacocks that roamed the estate outside. She remembered him saying one day, as they sat in the field of heather, that rich people reminded him of peacocks. They pranced around and shrieked to the world that they were beautiful and the world should acknowledge that fact. The males, he said, were the obnoxious ones. “You”, he said, “could never be a peacock.” He told her she was a beautiful songbird whose voice should never be quiet, whose colors should rival the beauty of the sun and sky, and the flowers that grew in gardens. “But never would you be a simple flower in a garden. You should be wild as the heather or flowers in the field. Your song should fill the sky and travel across it taking flight into the beyond!”
She soon realized that Charles was approaching her, and she smiled as he bowed and took her hand. Soon they entered into a slow waltz and she lost herself in the music. Her ivory slippers carried her across the floor. A few gentlemen requested her to dance and Charles obliged in his polite and respectful manner. They sipped champagne and talked amongst themselves about the latest news and local gossip. Did you hear of the revolution raging across the ocean? Did you know that the son of John Mc Govern had planned on setting sail? Why, he himself would most likely join the rabble in the colonies and reject the crown, being such a rebellious and bedeviled character himself!
Her heart sank. How dare he settle on this without telling her. But then, why should she expect anything other than that? Since their last quarrel, when he begged her to go away with him, they hadn’t spoken. He left in a fierce mood, his Irish temper burning as his dark eyes flared between passion and disgust! She ran across the field, back home and escaped the thunderous storm that was raging both outside and in both of their hearts. That night she accepted Charles’ predestined proposal. Her fate was set in gold and diamond.
She felt the diamond necklace around her throat. She looked down at it. It shimmered, like the tears forming in her eyes, as if they were glistening diamonds. Emily felt like she was choking. She thought of the nightingale. It sang at night and was a migratory bird. It would die in captivity, trying to escape if caught in any cage. Juliet had listened for the song of the nightingale, and because she knew her Romeo would leave at the song of the morning lark, she feared the lark.
The music started again. As she turned to see who had reached for her hand from behind her, she heard a hoarse, and quiet whisper “May I have this dance milady?” There before her was John Mc Govern, dark eyes set in a penetrating gaze, his lips curved in that tempestuous smile. She gave him her hand and they whirled across the room in a dizzying swirl. She was lost in his arms, and their minds and souls were one. He asked her quietly. “I’ve no right to take you from this life. But I sail tomorrow for the colonies. Would you come with me across the ocean and settle into this new and wild unknown world? Or would you settle yourself here, embraced in Charles’ arms and this lap of luxury? I will respect whatever you do, and love you forever. You are free to choose between me and your inheritance. I’ll not hold you back or beg. But my heart will forever be caged by your beauty and your fierce soul, and be enslaved to you forever"
They danced outside onto the balcony. As she looked at him and then again into the ballroom, she realized her fate had been sealed. But not as she had thought earlier this evening. Her destiny was standing before her. “ Yes. Wait for me please. I have some explaining to do.” “I’ll be outside in the garden” he replied.
Quietly she crossed the floor and went to speak with Charles. He knew immediately and said that together they would speak to her father. Upon the news her father was furious, her mother cried, and the sisters did not know how to handle this “scandal”. Charles tried to soften the blow to his parents and knew he would not be scarce in finding a dutiful wife. When she left the house that evening, she thought she saw a look of understanding behind the tears in her mother’s eyes.
She walked outside to the garden and John was waiting. They embraced and spoke of their plans to leave tomorrow. She had broken a longstanding tradition of arranged marriages. She had turned away from a secure future, and danced right into the arms of a secure love. The new world and life would hold promise and danger, opening unknown doors. She was not unaware of the wild chance she was taking. But she had never felt so secure in her life.
As they kissed beneath the moonlit sky, filled with stars smiling down upon them like the diamonds in her grandmother’s necklace that she had returned to her mother that evening, she heard the song of a nightingale calling to its mate. She had answered that call and would forever be with her soulmate. No one would ever cage this nightingale and the song of the lark would find her love beside her tomorrow morning, as they sailed into their future together.