Though the last workmen had completed their setting-up tasks and departed, still Adriana could not bring herself to stop staring out the broad casement window before her. How could the sky be such an impossibly clear blue, the sun shine so brightly, a myriad of birds flit about so when, for all intents and purposes, her life would no longer be her’s to live after today?
Clad in naught but her chemise and short stockings, she belted a dressing gown about her and padded across her room. She gazed at the dress form, scarcely able to breathe, as the exquisite beauty of the gown overtook her. It was a diaphanous work of organza, crinoline and lace shimmering with the soft glow of countless tiny seed pearls. Its pristine whiteness seemed to transcend the material world and reside partly in a realm more accustomed to the magical and make-believe.
Her auburn hair had been braided, plaited and pinned with combs of ivory and more pearls and her cosmetics applied with delicate, precise care. In an hour, the dressmaker and her maids would be there to ensuring their gown was presented to best benefit on Adriana’s slender frame. She shuddered in anticipation of the stays and laces, ribbons and ties, fortified by unyielding whale bone, that would cocoon her in their inescapable hold.
She swooned and near fell as the enormity of it all suffused her. Before that brightly-shining sun next rose into the impossibly clear blue sky again, she would be, till Death did them part, Mrs. Geoffrey Charles Windham-Smythe IV. Had she not been raised by a man of stern and proper mien and tutored from her earliest years in acceptable deportment, she’d have allowed the tears within her to find release. Instead, she merely slumped, languidly, onto the settee.
A part of her felt guilty for carrying on so. It wasn’t as if it were such an odious task to marry a man who was highly educated, impeccably mannered and tremendously wealthy. She’d convinced herself it wasn’t the fact his one eye was a bit odd and his midsection a bit too prominent for one so young and in his prime. No, these were mere physical imperfections and hardly worthy of her disdain or lack of approbation. She supposed, at its essence, her objections lay in the fact she simply did not love this man.
While still quite young, she’d enjoyed the best attentions of governesses and tutors in matters social to understand, on a purely objective basis, love was hardly a necessary component in the eventuality of her being wed. While it was within the purview of the common and lowborn to make unions based on the trivialities and intangibles of physical attraction or perceived passion, for those of breeding and station, marriage was more a matter of observing convention and securing situational betterment. In that respect, her union with Geoffrey exceeded all expectations.
As Europe’s preeminent shipping magnates, Geoffrey and his family had enjoyed a business relationship with her father for all of her life. In his capacity as head of Assurance and Guarantees for a major financial concern, her father’s fortunes and future had long ago been inextricably entwined with those of Geoffrey’s sire. That Adriana and Geoffrey would someday find themselves wed was more an understood certainty than ever a matter of conjecture.
A soft knock at the door and the low voice of her father drew her from her ruminations. Rising she met him at the doorway and turned away as he crossed the threshold. It would be unseemly for her to, in any way, appear discomfited on such a momentous day. He closed the door and stood in silence for some time before, at last, speaking.
“Here now, Adriana, I suppose it’s past time I gave this to you.” In his hands was a small, velveteen box of the kind common to jewelers. Opening it he tilted it to show her the delicately filigreed cameo necklace within. He did not wait for her to remark but bulled ahead in his accustomed gruff manner.
“I found this treasure in the dodgiest little stall on Portobello Road more years ago than I care to recall. I only remember the exceptionally pungent miasma of cumquats going bad from the adjacent costermonger’s on one side and untanned leather works to the other.” He chuckled nervously.
“Your mother wore it on the day she became my wife and for every occasion of note for the rest of our all-too-brief time together. She made me promise…no, vow…I would clasp it about your neck on the day you were wed to the one man in all the world who could make you feel as fulfilled, as protected as…beloved…as she claimed I made her.” His voice nearly broke before taking on an entirely different tone.
“And there, my little one, is where you’ve made things a tad difficult for your doddering old father.” An uncharacteristic grin came to his mouth and his eyes twinkled in a mirthful way Adriana had seldom seen.
“Father, dear father, if I have done anything – “ He broke in before she could finish whatever she meant to say.
“Oh, you’ve gone and done it all right. I mean, every father hopes someday his wee girl will be swept off her feet by a man who adores her above all else…a tall man, a strong man…a handsome man.” Something in the way he said ‘handsome’ struck her oddly.
“Aye, a handsome man I would expect. But damn it all, girl, not a ‘hansom man’. My sweet girl has given her heart to a blasted…drover…a cab driver? Now, isn’t that going to give me something of a bit to explain to Geoffrey and his clan? Oh, don’t bother to look so smitten and appalled by it, Addy. I never liked the cast of that Geoffrey’s damnable eye anyway. And..your father didn’t rise to where he is today of not knowing what goes on about him. The same cab with the same driver on my street a half dozen times a week will draw one’s attention sooner or later, eh?”
“Now, herein, lays my only problem of it all. How shall I keep my vow to your mother when I know not when the young scrapper shall ever get to taking care of business in that regard? So…here’s all I can do then. Take this case and place it carefully inside the valise I’ve posted outside your door. Mind that valise and the 200 pounds sterling inside I’ve decided will suffice for a dowry to this liveried troublemaker.” She could only stand in stunned disbelief.
“Best wear those grubby tweeds and that cap you usually don to meet him or you’ll not be getting out of the house unnoticed. This time of day, he ought to just be getting his tea over by the Charleston, so you must hurry, lass!”
Holding her in a long embrace, he kissed her forehead and stepped away. “Now, then, go meet your young ‘hansom man’ and leave this lot to me to sort out. And never let it be said outside this room I let my smooshy side out for ye to see, eh?” With a laugh, he swept out the door with never a look back.
Eyes moist but knowing time to be short, Adriana changed her clothes and changed her stars as she slipped out of her childhood home and in to the unknown world of a woman.
This story was written with the intention of submitting it for the Dark Fairy Queen Writerly Bridal Shower event being hosted to celebrate the impending nuptuals of Dark Fairy Queen Anna Meade. Sadly, i was unwilling & unable to pare this tale down to size. Should you feel inclined to participate, details are here.