Summer Daze, Austen Nights
Olivia Tannis Moore
Weatherly Manor was the obvious choice for the Spring Ball. Not only was it a handsome estate, but it had one of the largest ball rooms in the county, and on this night when most of Hertford arrived at Weatherly to catch a glimpse of the Cullen family, its spacious floor was appreciated.
Charlotte, my childhood friend, was anticipating out arrival as we pulled up on the circular driveway of Weatherly and waited for one of the footmen to take our rickety buggy.
As the footman came forward, Charlie took the invitation from his coat pocket and handed it to him. The footman glanced from the invitation to the buggy, his eyes lingering on the splintered and rotting wood, and the piecemeal patches that Charlie had fixed when money allowed. For a moment, Charlie looked away as the footman waivered, thinking perhaps that we'd received the invitation by mistake. Behind us, other carriages and buggies were waiting, the tethered horses snorting and stamping the ground impatiently.
Suddenly, Charlie put the horse reins to the side and jumped down from the buggy. I sat there as he came around and helped me to the ground. "Go on inside with Charlotte," he told me in a tone loud enough for the footman to hear. "There is no need in you staying out here with these dullards." He put his hands on his hips and stared at the footman who bristled at the insult. "Go on, I'll join you soon."
I met Charlotte at the steps of the manor.
"Why is your father angry?" Charlotte whispered as she took my arm.
I sighed. "The usual reason: he doesn't care what the buggy looks like, so why should others. Lucie tells me that he gets angry only when he thinks I am bearing the scrutiny."
Charlotte nodded. "Well, he is very protective of you."
"Overly so," I said.
The ballroom was crowded as we entered.
"Families from neighboring counties have come to our event," Charlotte said. "Mrs. Ashby told me that she had too many requests for attendance; and that she had the unfortunate task of choosing those who could attend since there were only twenty invitations left."
I snorted. "Unfortunate task, indeed. Nothing feeds that woman's self-importance more than coordinating events. Thank goodness we received our invitation early, before it was the most sought-after event of the year…or else our invitation would have gone to a family with a better buggy…"
Charlotte covered her mouth and laughed.
Charlie found us at the refreshment table. He had two men in tow and pulled me aside to introduce us. The older man appeared to be about Charlie's age, and the younger, uniformed man looked to be in his mid-twenties.
"Isabella, I'd like you to meet Mr. Sommers, and his son, Aaron."
I curtsied. "A pleasure to meet you,"
Charlie caught my eye and smiled deviously. "I'm working on a project for Mr. Sommers' mill. And Aaron," Charlie slapped the top of his shoulder, "is an officer stationed in Brighton through the summer."
As if the bright red uniform didn't give him away, I thought.
Charlotte lightly pinched the back of my arm. She thought Charlie's continuous attempts to play match-maker were hilarious. I, however, did not.
Aaron took my hand and quickly pecked my fingers. "I'm pleased to meet you, Isabella."
Aaron was fine-looking: pale, sun-streaked hair, green eyes, tall…but he kept wetting his lips as he gazed at me—and that was always a bad sign. If Charlie encouraged him—and he was well on his way down that avenue—I knew I'd be fighting off his advances through-out the night.
I smiled politely and gazed pointedly at Charlotte.
Charlie realized his social blunder. "Oh, and this is my daughter's friend, Charlotte Greenfield."
"Pleased to meet you, Miss Greenfield," father and son said simultaneously.
"Bella," Charlie said, "If your dance card isn't filled, perhaps you could save a dance for Mr. Sommers."
I stared at my father. He knew full well my dance card wasn't filled. In fact, I'd not had a chance to fill but one slot.
"I believe I have a dance available for later in the evening," I said. There was a chance that by that time he'd be too tired to dance, I reasoned.
"Nothing earlier?" Aaron asked.
Charlotte pinched my arm again. "No, my apologies…but perhaps Charlotte has a dance open…"
He smiled down at me. "That suits me. At least we shall all be close as we dance."
The ballroom suddenly became silent except for the murmur of voices as everyone turned around to face the wide, entrance doors where Mrs. Ashby stood waving her arms and calling for everyone's attention.
"The Cullens must have arrived," Charlotte whispered excitedly in my ear.
And soon the murmur was replaced with absolute silence as the entrance doors were flung open
"Who are these people? You'd think the Queen herself had arrived…" I said to Charlotte.
"Shhh," she said, and I realized then that Charlotte was just as caught up in the romance of the Cullen family as everyone else.
Mrs. Ashby was doing a silly tippy-toe dance, as if she couldn't stand still as she waited for the family to emerge one by one from their carriage. I couldn't help but shake my head as she made a spectacle of herself—if she knew how garish she looked bouncing around with the two matching rouge circles on her cheeks…
The family exited the carriage in pairs…except for the last one, who seemed to hold himself aloof from the event, as if there were a million other places he'd rather be. I could see only his black boots sticking out from the open door of the carriage.
"That's Carlisle Cullen and his wife, Esme," Charlotte said, as the first pair strode through the doors. "I hear he is a brilliant doctor…" she sucked in her breath, "But father did not tell me how handsome he is."
Charlotte's observation was an understatement. Both Carlisle and his wife were beautiful beyond compare. They didn't walk…they flowed across the threshold and into the ballroom, youthful and so obviously in love.
I gazed at Esme's perfect figure. "How many children did you say they have?"
"Five," Charlotte replied. "But they are adopted. No one could keep a figure like that after bearing five children."
The next couple to walk through the doors was a beautiful blonde girl and her equally beautiful but muscle-bound brother.
"That is Rosalie and Emmett Cullen," Charlotte told me.
I gasped. Rosalie was by far the loveliest creature I had ever seen. "Did Dr. Cullen and his wife set out to adopt only the most attractive children they could find?" I asked.
Charlotte cut her eyes at me and smiled.
The last couple was just as attractive, but in a different way. The girl's name was Alice, Charlotte told me. Unlike the others, she was petite, and even across the ballroom floor, her eyes sparkled and her smile charmed me. I liked her instantly—as if I could determine her character from those few seconds. Her brother, Jasper, was her opposite. He seemed a bit shy, and more than happy to give his sister the limelight. I studied his face for a moment, realizing his subtlety and perfect features made him just as attractive as his brother, Emmett.
"Ah," Charlotte sighed. "Here he comes…the only son not spoken for."
I braced myself. Surely there had to be one ham-faced son in a family of princes, after all, there was a reason he wasn't already spoken for.
I couldn't see him at first, as everyone in front of me suddenly stood upon their toes to get the best look at Edward. He must be short, I thought.
The crowd began moving backwards to allow the Cullens to walk about the center of the ballroom. I pulled Charlotte along, still unable to get a look at the last Cullen. He now piqued my curiosity—and despite the fact that none of the other Cullens had sported white wigs and big bellies, I was certain this last one would.
Charlotte had let my hand go and I turned around to grasp it again and pull her along forcibly if necessary.
She was reaching for me, trying to tell me something, but I couldn't hear her through the din of voices. She grabbed at my arm, but I again pulled her along, not watching where I was going…until I bumped into someone and nearly sent us both reeling to the floor.
"I'm sorry…" I said, turning to the poor soul I'd collided with. But then the words died on my tongue.
It was him. Even without watching as he made his entrance, I knew it was Edward Cullen. There could be no mistake.
My cheeks burned. Edward Cullen was not the plump, white-wigged aristocrat I'd envisioned. And he was not short. The long, expertly-cut coat couldn't disguise the warrior's body underneath as he stood in the center of the room as if he owned it. But it was his face that made me gasp—I'd seen his face before in an old painting at my grandparents' home when I was small. I'd studied that face thinking that it belonged to an angel, for no human could be so perfect. Surely it was just a coincidence…perhaps a long-dead relative had sat for the painting.
He turned in my direction and I swept my gaze to the floor—I'd be mortified if caught me staring.
When I finally looked up, I was instantly struck by the intensity of his eyes. They were the most blazing color of topaz I'd ever seen—and they were looking straight into mine.
"I'm terribly sorry…I was turned and wasn't watching where I was going…" I sputtered, trying to make amends.
His eyes grew wide, and to my horror, he began to back away. "Get away from me…"
People were turning and staring. I froze, disbelieving that someone, this someone whom everyone seemed to consider royalty, was speaking to me in this way—and at the Spring Ball at that.
"Go!" he demanded, as he backed off the ballroom floor, and disappeared into the crowd.
(Okay…a little help from you guys. I'm trying to keep the time period authentic, but I'm googling every five minutes, which makes the writing slow. I'd like to write the story on some sort of middle ground, where I don't have to do loads of research on the little things. Also, the dialogue of that period is very high diction and proper, which I'm not used to. I'd like to use a middle ground for the dialogue, as well. While the story is young, give me your opinion. Thanks for reading. OTM)