The streets and houses were completely quiet as Elizabeth Jacquin ran home from a long day at work. The sun sat just beyond the rows of stores and shops, peeking out from beyond the rooftops, and it glittered upon the water like sparkling diamonds. Mrs. Mattis, Elizabeth's employer, had to complete some last minute mending on a beautiful indigo creation she'd made for a young girl hoping to show off at the party and she'd arrived home a bit later than usual, making Elizabeth watch Jack a little longer than she'd intended.
Once she realized how hard it was to run in her black slippers, Elizabeth pulled off the shoes and held them tightly in her hands as she jogged along. Since it was spring, she didn't mind it, but if anyone had seen her, especially Odessa or Marilee, she would have gotten into a lot of trouble, for going barefoot is very un-ladylike.
Once she'd reached the McKellan's door, she banged her free hand on it loudly, knowing Roderick was still dressing inside.
"Hurry!" she yelled, although she probably should have been doing that herself instead of simply yelling it at him.
The Jacquin's quaint, red brick house sat just beside the McKellan's, so it only took a moment for Elizabeth to run over to her own house. Entering, she found her brother Terrace in the parlor lacing his shoes.
"Where have you been?" he asked, "We're already five minutes late and you know how Odessa gets when we're not on time."
"Mrs. Mattis got home a little late," Elizabeth explained quickly as she passed.
She ran to her room, found in the back of the house, and began to undress as quickly as she could, not minding that the door was open. Then, she began to redress for the party that she, Terrace, and Roderick were off to. First, she slipped on her formal undershirt and white cotton skirt. Next came the corset.
"Terrace," she called, "I need you!"
She slipped the structure over her head and waited impatiently for her brother.
"Oh God, not the corset," Terrace said when he saw her. He hated helping Elizabeth with her corsets. He wasn't even supposed to, since it's most improper for a man to help a lady dress, but she couldn't possibly do it on her own. And besides, whom else was she supposed to call? If Odessa Jacquin had walked in at that moment and seen Elizabeth practically naked and Terrace fixing her corset, she would have killed them both on the spot.
Elizabeth sucked in her stomach as much as she could as her brother pulled tighter.
"Can you breath?" he asked worriedly.
"Am I supposed to be able to?"
Knowing that if she could talk, she could breath, Terrace laced up the ribbon on the back of the corset. After that, he opened Elizabeth's closet and pulled out the violet dress she was to wear at the party. It had a beautiful low neckline and flimsy, whimsical, short sleeves. The skirt flowed out large and billowing and was made of a beautiful fabric Mrs. Mattis had picked out exclusively with Elizabeth in mind.
"Arms up," Terrace ordered as he lifted the dress over her head. He then dropped it down and Elizabeth stuck her arms through the sleeves.
"Better finish dressing," Terrace said as he ran back down the hall to his own room, for he still had to put on his jacket, tie, and his other shoe.
Elizabeth slipped on a pair of white slippers and then went to the mirror to fix her long, brown hair into a simple half ponytail with a matching violet ribbon.
"Are you ready?" Terrace called from the parlor.
As fast as she could, Elizabeth sprayed on a light, floral scent, fastened on a necklace, slipped some earrings through her ears, and dusted a little rouge onto her cheeks, hoping it would hide some of her freckles.
Although Elizabeth was always told to wear a hat any time she was outside in the sun, like all the other ladies did, but she often forgot. Plus, she was outside more than any other woman she knew- either taking Jack to the park, to the lake, or just riding around with Terrace in his boat as she often did. When she could remember her hat, she was sure to wear it, but that wasn't frequently. And Odessa always knew when Elizabeth had forgotten because it showed plainly on her slightly tan and freckled face. Elizabeth didn't see what was so wrong about it, but to all the other milk-white skinned women in town, freckles meant being outside, and being outside meant working, and working was meant for men.
"Don't forget your purse and hat!" Terrace shouted urgently.
Before running out the front door, Elizabeth grabbed a white reticule off her dresser, slipping it onto her arm, and a wide brimmed white hat with a large purple ribbon hanging from the back, which she placed upon her head.
"Remember to lock the door!" Terrace called from his little rowboat as he set the oars in their places.
"I forgot the key," Elizabeth groaned.
"Oh well. Don't worry about it. Everyone's going to be at the party anyway."
It may seem strange that they wouldn't care much about locking the front door of their home, bearer of all their possessions and belongings, but to the other residents of Darcidy, this was not a strange occurrence. Darcidy is a small town found in the North Eastern region of Nordant. Everyone in Darcidy was familiar with everyone else and no one was ever afraid of one of his or her fellow citizens being a thief.
Terrace unwrapped the boat's ropes from the wooden post and stepped into the little wooden rowboat. Though Terrace was one of Darcidy's many boatmen, he was not planning on staying one for long. He had become a boatman seven years ago when he turned thirteen. Men in Darcidy must chose at the age of thirteen whether they would like to follow in their father's career footsteps, become an apprentice to a man whose career they admire, or be forced to live without an income. Terrace was forced to choose apprenticeship, seeing as he had barely known his own father. He became old Mr. Whitting's assistant at the doctor's office. Mr. Whitting didn't just teach him to heal physically, but he also acted as a teacher and gave the young man weekly tests and assigned many essays to write and books to read.
Because Odessa and Marilee's little laundry business and Elizabeth's job as a nursemaid for little Jack Mattis didn't sufficiently support the family, Terrace had to get another job as well. When he was offered the position of a boatman, he quickly snatched the offer.
"Rod!" Elizabeth yelled through the McKellan's window, "Rod, come on!"
She walked back to the boat and sat down on the middle seat, padded with cream cloth with her back facing her brother.
At that moment, the McKellan's door opened and a tall, nineteen year old man walked out.
The McKellans had lived next door to the Jacquins for as long as either family could remember. As children, Roderick, Terrace, and Elizabeth had been the best of friends, always together, always playing. They loved to climb trees, play in the lake, go to the park, or just roam about the city. Now that they were older they still spent every moment possible together, but with all three having jobs they didn't get to see each other as often as they used to. Roderick worked alongside his father at the blacksmith shop.
Now he stood before Elizabeth and Terrace dressed for the occasion in suit, tie, and black newsboy cap. His tie hung loose around his neck, waiting for him to remember to tie it, and his shirt hadn't been completely tucked in yet. Dark blonde hair and sparkling gray eyes peeked out from beneath the edges of his cap. He smiled brightly at his friends and said, "Sorry 'bout that. Hope I didn't make you wait for too long."
"Oh, just come on. Don't waste any more time," Terrace replied with a laugh.
Roderick hopped into the boat and sat down beside Elizabeth.
"Can you fix this tie, Elizabeth?" he asked, "Women always do it better anyway."
"With pleasure," she replied, knotting the navy blue tie and tucking it into his jacket as he buttoned his white shirt cuffs.
Terrace had already begun rowing and they were on their way to the party being held at the Harold's residence. Their nephew Alan had moved to town last week and they wanted him to be introduced to everyone.
"Help Elizabeth with her dress, Rod," Terrace suggested.
"Oh yes," Elizabeth said, turning around so Roderick could see, "Terrace forgot to lace up my gown."
"Well, what did you do that for, Terry?" Roderick asked with a laugh as he slipped the white ribbon through the holes of Elizabeth's dress and tied them in a bow at the end of the opening.
"You call me Terry again and you'll have to walk to the Harold's," Terrace joked.
He'd always hated being called Terry, a name the elder citizens of Darcidy called him because they weren't fond of his strange name and insisted he be called something more reasonable. Roderick, along with many others Terrace knew closely, liked to call him Terry in jest, hoping to make him a little mad. Terrace didn't mind it much, for it was all in good fun.
"There it is!" Roderick exclaimed, as they came upon the Harold's large white house.
It was the biggest house in town, besides Mr. O'Connor's mansion. Three stories towered up to the blue sky and puffy, white clouds floated above. A large porch wrapped around the entire building and a group of children ran upon it, shouting and playing and laughing. While another group of guests sat talking, seated on the large benches cushioned with red striped pillows. The large green lawn had been decorated festively for the occasion; a large table with hors d'oeuvres sat on the side of the yard and waiters made their way around the joyous people with trays full of cheeses, fruit, and drinks. Benches and pillows were set underneath the large oak trees and a gathering of guests sat there, taking comfort in the shade provided by the leafy branches above. Beneath the trees, women were allowed to remove their hats. Therefore, many young girls sat beneath the oaks with their hats on the ground beside them and their beau at their side.
"Oh dear, there's Odessa and Marilee," Elizabeth said sadly.
As soon as she spoke, the twosome looked up at the lagging boat, said a quick good-bye to the woman they had been speaking with, and began walking towards the waterway where Terrace had rowed the boat.
Elizabeth and Roderick picked up their things and stepped out as Terrace tied the vehicle to a wooden post with robe.
"Hello, Mrs. Jacquin, Marilee," Roderick said with a tip of his hat.
"Good afternoon, Roderick," Odessa replied impatiently, wishing Roderick would leave them so she could scold her tardy children for their late entrance.
"Why, Marilee, your dress is so becoming, the navy really brings out the color of your eyes," Roderick complimented, hoping it would soften Odessa's blow on his friends.
Marilee blushed, "Thank you very much, Roderick."
"And Mrs. Jacquin, why you seem to be defying time. As each day passes, you look to be getting younger before my eyes," Roderick lied.
Elizabeth hid her smiles from Roderick's hopeful flattery behind her hand.
Odessa smiled and nodded at her neighbor, "Thank you kindly, Mr. McKellan."
"Oh no," Roderick smiled, "The pleasure is all mine."
Odessa waited for Roderick to leave, but he didn't move an inch, knowing that if he did so his friends would surely be scorned. After a few seconds had passed and Roderick made no sign of leaving, Odessa figured that he had heard yelling at past occasions plenty of times and she saw no reason to wait for his absence now.
"Do you two make an effort to be unpunctual, or am I mistaken?" she asked rudely, peering at Terrace and Elizabeth.
"Odessa, I . . ." Elizabeth started unsurely, but Roderick interrupted.
"Please, Mrs. Jacquin," he said, "Don't be mad at Terrace and Elizabeth. It's all my fault. I lost my hat and your helpful children volunteered to help. They would have been on time, ma'am, I swear, if it hadn't been for my carelessness. Please don't punish them! If anyone should be punished, it should be me."
Knowing that Odessa would never punish Roderick, Elizabeth and Terrace went along with the fib and waited for their mother to respond.
"Thank you for your honesty, Roderick," Odessa said slowly as she suspiciously glared at her children, "But I won't be punishing you. That is up to your own parents. Now you all run along. And, Elizabeth?"
"You'd better keep on that hat unless you're in the shade. That rouge doesn't help hide your freckles much."
"All right, Odessa," Elizabeth promised quickly as she ran off after Terrace and Roderick; they were already making their way towards a waiter carrying a large tray of lemonade.
With one tall glass each, the threesome sat down on the steps of the porch- Elizabeth on the top step and Roderick and Terrace on the steps below her, gazing up at the smiling young girl.
She surveyed the many faces spread all about the yard. Old and young, everyone seemed to be having a good time. Everyone except Odessa and Marilee, that is. But that wasn't strange. The only friends they had were each other and during parties such as this they were rarely seen speaking with anyone but each other.
As Elizabeth's soft brown eyes traveled through the crowd, one particular face caught her eye. A fairly tall man with an average build, she suspected he was probably in his early twenties. His jet-black hair was combed neatly to the side and a thin black mustache sat above his soft pink lips. He was dressed well in a crisp black suit and clean white collared shirt with a tie, just as all the other men wore.
He peered up at Elizabeth just as she was inspecting him from head to toe, and smiled. She blushed and turned away, but looked back to see him pointing to her and whispering something to Michael Harold, who was standing beside him.
"Who is that man?" Elizabeth wondered aloud.
"The one with the black mustache?" Terrace asked. Elizabeth nodded.
"I'm not positive, but I think that's Alan Hayes, the Harold's nephew and our new Darcian," Roderick answered, "And he seems to enjoy looking at you, Elizabeth."
It was true. Alan could barely take his eyes of her.