Mesmerized at the very thought of disappearing in to what Ella called a house; Ada sniffed the air around her as if danger was a fragrance detectable to humans. Ridiculous, she thought, could she really be this stupid, this reckless, this illogical as to attempting such a daring, outlandish idiocy? Ada swerved her head from side to side, analyzing her surroundings, drinking in the scene of a gothic garden, basked in the moonlight. Ivy twines reveled beneath her feet, snowdrops stood solitary from one another, drooping quietly, as if they were white soldiers braving the winter elements weeping for the loss of sunlight. White and black rose bushes guarded the land, declaring the boundaries with their threatening thorns. Wild trees of all sorts rose into the velvet sky, hindering what little light the moon and stars could offer. The reminiscent sweet aroma of last summer’s gooseberries and bilberries filled the night air as Ada inhaled another breath of the chilling mist trying to calm her over-analytical brain.
Gazing up at the monstrosity of the Victorian mansion Ada began to edge closer to the shambles of the porch, where the elegant stained glass front door stood in dilapidated glory. Shame, she thought, the house could be magnificent if it was properly attended to.
As the distance between Ada and the house grew more insignificant, the worries, consequences and natural warning instincts became louder in her mind. Eight feet from the house, Ada found herself rooted to the spot, her feet reluctant to move. All of her body was subconsciously against this, pleading with her to turn back. Her fingers numb with January chill reached down into the pocket of her cloak and grasped the worn newspaper clipping reminding her of why she was here.
Fingering the depleted paper, tracing over the familiar print, gave her strength. Cautiously she edged towards the looming shadows that were emitted by the brick beauty, they were taunting her, jeering, sneering at her to come closer. Her mind ragged with the many varied visions of what-ifs was now beyond panicking as she placed her foot upon the first splintered stair. Ada’s eyes flew open wildly as she gained an understanding that nothing had happened, nothing had attacked her, nothing had disturbed the eerie silence, and nothing was out of place. She tittered weakly at the thought that she had shut her eyes upon the first step out of sheer terror.
Ada continued up the stairs, each step more confident than the latter. Her heart was beating furiously as she stretched out her hand toward the gothic doorknob. As she gripped the frigidly cold handle she paused for a moment, but the hesitation was brief, Ada turned the knob and the door opened with a surprising silence. She had expected a creak that would wake the dead in the near-by cemetery.
“Hello Ada, I’ve been waiting for you…..
I breathed heavily on to the pane of glass, exhaling for more than just an exasperated sigh but out of utter boredom as well. Pensively I traced the shape of a heart into the fog patch that had formed on the window as my mother spoke animatedly about the hors d'oeuvres that were to be served next week.
“Quail eggs are a classic, but perhaps we need something with more of a substance… salmon, maybe?” Mama pondered.
The heart faded away, disappearing into the window, how I wished I could do the very same thing. My mind longed to be somewhere else; I didn’t want to think about pathetic little portions of food with ludicrous French names that made them sound more appetizing than what they were or what colour drapes should be hung in the ballroom for the occasion, maroon or scarlett?
“Ada, darling are you listening?” My mother had paused to take a breath and realized I wasn’t exactly fawning over the dress fabric swatches laid out in front of me.
“Hmm?” I replied as I tore my gaze away from the burly knife sharpener on the street below who was staring intently into the eyes of a customer; I guess intimidation was a rather effective sales tactic when your business involved sharp objects. I turned towards my mother; her face alive with excitement, eager to see my reaction to having veal instead of lamb for the main course. I hadn’t seen her like this in a long time, her eyes dancing with anticipation, and her movements carried out with a flourish of importance and worth.
It was something to do, a challenge that my mother thirsted for, a break in the mundane routine of life. From the flowers to the invitations, my father had left her, just her, in charge of planning every detail of my Debutante ball.
“What do you think, veal, yes? Dressed in a Bourguignon sauce” she declared adding a dramatic flair to the sauce’s pronunciation.
“Sounds delectable” I sighed.
“Wonderful! I’ll get Tabitha to order some right away.” She babbled, clearly not picking up on my lack of enthusiasm. She hurried out of the room skirts trailing behind her, calling Tabitha’s name giddily.
I had attended many of my friend’s Debutante balls, all more derisive than the last. There was always wine, dancing, and the usual batch of bachelors all hoping to tally up the most dances with the debutante of the night and compare them among one another like some sick contest. I’d seen the fake glamour behind it all, the way men ogled you like a piece of meat at an auction, deciding whether or not you were adequate enough to smile and look pretty at his side like every good English wife should do. Where was the romance? Where was the passion? Where was the love?
My corset was pushing its luck, crushing the air from my lungs and my ribs along with it. Normally I refused to wear the fabric death wish, a losing battle that raged on between my mother and me, my mother usually triumphing; but today held the prospect of many social calls so I hadn’t grumbled this morning when Ella brutally tightened the strings. Most of the calls concerned my ghastly"coming-out"ball. There was Mrs. Spinner, the florist; Ms. Raymond the town gossip, who indeed would fill my mother in on who to invite and which potential esteemed bachelors where no longer so esteemed; and last but not least my Aunt Gertrude, my mother’s extravagant, eccentric sister, and my favourite aunt.
I glanced back out the window and saw a carriage draw up to the house and prayed that it was Aunt Gertrude even if it was too early in the morning for her; she didn’t usually get out of bed until noon. The little glimmer of hope dissolved as a portly gentleman dressed in a cheap suit eased himself out of the carriage, almost falling over when the horse gave an impatient whiny. Once his suit had been brushed off hastily and his dignity salvaged, he paid the driver a few shillings and instructed him to stay where he was, it would only take a moment.
I figured it was another business owner, begging my father to invest in their company. My father was a benefactor, a rather generous one at that, but he had reason to be I suppose, he had pots and pots of money all inherited from my late grandfather who’d inherited it from his father. “More money than Queen Victoria herself!” my father would chuckle to me after his brandy and cigar, when the tipsiness had settled into him.
The gentlemen continued up the steps to produce a vigorous knock on the front door. His overzealous rapping was finally stopped when Anne opened the door.
“Good Morning to you, I’m here to see Mr. Leighton”, the man boomed, his voice was one of those that made you impatient for him to clear his throat, but the “hphpmmm” never came. “Right away, Mister…?” Replied Anne her welsh brogue, more prominent than ever when she greeted strangers. “Mr. Boone.” He sniffed, as he pompously checked his pocket watch, not even bothering to make eye contact with Anne. Already jaded with Mr. Boone and his disrespect, I turned away from the window hoping that father would not invest in such a complete mockery of a gentleman. The drawing room was deserted; mother had flounced off to tell Tabitha the “great” news, and there were no maids to be seen neurotically dusting away imaginary dust from the shelves or fluffing up the pillows on the chaise.
I had spent all morning just wishing that everyone would leave me to my own devices and stop going on about this bloody ball, but now that they had, I felt oddly lonely. The annoying natter that had surrounded me earlier had been replaced with an eerie silence. Discomforted by the serenity I decided to venture down to the kitchens where I knew all of the girls would be. Father often chided me for associating with the help more than necessary.
“Sweetheart, they must know where the line is drawn, and that they are inferiors. Encouraging them to interact with their superiors will disrupt their work ethics.” I could hear his latest speech reverberating about my head as I descended down the wooden stairs.