Black Roses | Teen Ink

Black Roses

June 8, 2011
By cieramist GOLD, Orlando, Florida
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cieramist GOLD, Orlando, Florida
17 articles 2 photos 19 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right." ~ Henry Ford

Author's note: I was inspired to write this piece by hearing so many blatantly racist comments from some of my friends—and I decided that there needed to be a different kind of love story, one that made a significant point about racism.

May, 1904

There is no love so weak as one in which the two people concerned had never laid eyes upon each other before meeting at the altar. Nor had they even spoken once in their lives. And yet it seemed in such instances that everyone else had predestined their unity in matrimony with little concern for those actually involved.

Eva Larson rather thought she ought to know. Many times, she had found herself the subject of interest with many wealthy land owners and prosperous gentlemen around the state in which she lived. In almost every one of such cases, Eva had never heard of the man in question, though never a word was uttered from her lips in rejection to such things. Ever since she had been a young child, she had been spoiled and cared for with meticulous scrupulosity in an effort to make her the perfect bride for a man with a decent sum of money. Her mother had made sure of that. Never did Eva mind such treatment, for it was all she had ever known in her twenty years on earth, kept within a strict three mile radius of the family manor in Charleston, South Carolina.

Oakleigh, as the placed was named, was an estate quite worthy of a second glance. If one was leaving the center of town to head north, he would most certainly pass the Larson grounds and would find himself fortunate to behold even a glimpse of the place. The house was a large stone building the color of light fawn and it stood well above the ground with large oaks lining the dirt path that led up to the front veranda as if welcoming all who came. Green ivy had crawled up the walls and clung to the windows, adding a rather ancient look to the grounds. Upon listening closely, one could hear the melodious voice of the fountain as her cool water splashed, gurgled and rippled into the sparkling lake that stretched along the pathway to the gardens behind the house. The afternoon sun sliced through the dense trees and pranced across the surface of the water. On the banks surrounding the stone path, there were many floral specimens, none too elaborate to distract from the natural aura of the grounds but each, in their own unique way, adding to Oakleigh’s near perfection. Every step forward would bring some new sight, each more breathtaking than the one before.

However, the loveliest sight to behold was seated this day on the stone bench in front of the lake. In her hands there was a book, though her fingers had long ceased to turn the pages. Eva Larson was widely acknowledged as the loveliest woman in the region, and rightly so. Around the soft corners of her round white face, she had natural golden ringlets the very color of a drop of sunlight. As breathtaking even as her hair was, the rest of her quite matched its simple beauty and she now sat on the bench with her hands crossed stiffly on her lap. She had been in such a position for many minutes now, just staring into the rippling water before her, dreading the moment in which she must return to the house once more.

Looking up from her book, she glimpsed her little brother Wallace as he scampered up a tree. Beneath him, Agatha and Violet, her younger twin sisters, were eating cakes at the lawn tea table and pretending to be proper young gentlewomen. Eva smiled in spite of herself, remembering the days when she, too, considered the debutante years to be the prime of a lady’s life. Sadly, those childhood fantasies had soon passed and she now scarcely remembered their very existence, the years when she longed for the life she now lived everyday, the life that she was quite certain was not what it was made up to be.

“There you are,” came a voice, startling her.

Eva looked up to see her older sister Mercedes and her brother James walking towards her from the gardens. Hand in hand, they shared a smile before seating themselves on the bench next to their sister. Mercedes’ long chestnut hair was slipping from its bun and blowing in the wind. There was the characteristic smile on her face, the contagious sort that made everyone in the room light up with the same enthusiasm, especially her sisters. James, too, look exceedingly handsome this afternoon. The way that he looked at Mercedes and continued to grasp her small hand gave Eva goosebumps on her arms, despite the humidity of the late South Carolina afternoon.

Now, as the reader has already been briefly introduced to certain members of Eva’s relations, it may become necessary to discover more about the rest of the family and their individual dispositions before the narrative of the story continues. Some could attempt to explore the character of each through a long and detailed discourse, however, as it may be seen as more fitting to keep it quite succinct, the eight members of the Larson family shall each be examined in concise brevity.

Mercedes consistently found herself to be the subject of her mother’s disdain and criticism, mostly due to the fact that she had been adopted into the family when she was a young girl. She was the only daughter of Mr. Larson’s half brother, who had died a premature death with his young wife in the disastrous earthquake of eighty seven. At the age of eight, she had come to live with her aunt and uncle at Oakleigh, only to find herself subject to the wretchedly veiled derision of Mrs. Larson, who feared that Mercedes’ simple beauty could threaten the future of her own daughter. Such, however, was an absurd notion, indeed. Mercedes, in stark contrast to her perpetually beautiful sister, was rather plain in appearance and accepted it as one does something they know can never be altered. She was exceedingly thin with long gangly arms that hung awkwardly at her side and big hands that could never hold a needle straight. Now, true, she usually didn’t care how she looked and would not mind such things as dresses, gowns and satin shoes, but deep down inside, hardly even recognized by herself, Mercedes longed more than anything to just be accepted for who she was. She would thrust herself into her books and studies of nature, for they were the only things she felt she could turn to when everything else in her little world failed. During these increasingly frequent happenings, Mercedes would stay home with James and read or just content herself with talking. These times had encouraged a shy affection between the two, who would seek consolation in each other.

James, the eldest, was a fair and debonair young man and was universally affable to all who knew him. He spent much of his time in Oakleigh’s library, where he would teach himself to study languages such as Greek and Hebrew, as to be able to read the ancient texts in their original dialects. As everyone, especially Eva, held great opinion of his generous courtesy and kindheartedness, it became especially evident through the way that he truly cared for Mercedes. The murmur of their prospected engagement was the recurring gossip amongst the town ladies, though Mrs. Larson refused to believe the attachment that bloomed just under her nose. However, with the fear that their mother would threaten to keep him away from his darling Mercedes, his adrenaline and passion seemed to be slowly fading away like the perceptible flow of wind.

Eva, as the reader has already discovered, was blessed with a seemingly effortless but impeccably coordinated beauty that was scarcely human in nature. The only misfortune that was bound to bring any harm to Eva’s privileged situation was having a disposition to think particularly higher of herself than most. Though she saw it little, she was scarce the one to blame, for her mother’s ardent adoration and unceasing attention to her every detail, even as a young child, had left her curious as to why she was her mother’s favorite. True, she would never admit it, and she very often found displeasure in such, but the preconception had sprouted just the same. This danger, however threatening, was perceived little and by none save Mercedes, whose sometimes disagreeable consciousness of her family led her to be overly sensitive.

Agatha, who was only fourteen, was by far the most foolish girl in the family and very likely the whole town. Though she was rather comely in appearance and stature, she was by no means her sister’s superior. Still, she was pretty enough and liked often to be the center of attention, especially if the attention received was from some wealthy admirer. Her eyes, her loveliest asset, were a brilliant shade of bright green, the sort of color that makes one think of spring after a short rain shower. She spent most of her time worrying over the latest fashion and dragging Violet along with her. Over all, Agatha lived her life wrapped up in the world of petty concerns and desires, only worrying about what sort of dress she should wear and how not to get her shoes dirty.

As for Violet, she liked much to follow in Agatha’s footsteps, and, though the same age as her sister, she would never dare to second guess anything that she said. She very much liked to wear a dress that matched Agatha and the two would often fantasize about growing up and being proper young women. This, far more than other things, was what kept Violet lagging behind in her innocent immaturity and perfect unreserve, for she truly found no fault in her folly. However, apart from her sister, she was quite proficient in the arts and was always drawing or painting some new creation. Mr. Larson found Violet to be the sweetest creature who ever walked the planet, though even he could not question her obtusely obvious childish behavior and scrupulous attention to frivolous matters.

Wallace was ten and liked greatly to think that he was a man and not a boy. None could match his enthusiasm for the animals on the estate, of which there were six: three horses, two dogs and one cat. In his spare time away from school, he would climb the many trees in the front walkway until Mrs. Larson caught him, or he and James would take a ride through the acreage. His carefree spirit and reckless youth had cost him countless times, but he would never mind and would be scrambling up another tree not a moment after his mother had turned her back again.

Now as for Mr. and Mrs. Larson themselves, it was seemingly evident that their matrimony was, by all particular uses of the term, quite disagreeable. From a very early age, Mrs. Larson found herself trapped in a great disparity with her husband and neither felt the obligation to be any more than civil. She would spare no unnecessary excursions and the two would by no means reconcile the areas in which it was evident that their marriage needed revision. Her odd humors had struck him from the first day as a wedded couple and since then Mr. Larson had sought intellectual and domestic solitude in regards to his wife. It was with tender recollection that both looked back on their long deceased youth and yearned for the days when they were not bound by law and duty to someone so utterly unlike them. The children had long known that mutual attachment was gone and near forgotten between the two and the only thing keeping them together were their own six rosy faces—and their good reputations around town. Needless to say, their marriage was by no means a pleasant one, lending Mrs. Larson to take most of her comfort and joy in her children as she failed to find what she sought in her husband. In concordance, Mr. Larson was well devoted to his work and his two sons, and even the many books that lined the library.

To make a rather broad story conclusive, it should be apparent to the reader that a childhood at Oakleigh was hardly something to covet. Behind the velvet curtains and golden cornice, there was just another family in a large house too grand for its own good. They were a pretty ordinary family, or so Eva liked to think, for there was nothing particularly special about any of them. They had their heartaches. They had their joys. Mercedes and James knew more than any else that they had their pain and anger, but that even the irrational sense of the word could be quenched by the bond of a family. Even a dysfunctional family, one that thrived on aristocracy from ages of ancestral sovereignty. Even such a family was better than none at all.

“What have you been doing out here?” Mercedes asked, drawing Eva out of her thoughts. She glanced at the poetry book in her hands. “I don’t know how you read that sort of thing,” she said with a sigh. “I hardly understand it at all.”

Eva gave Mercedes a little smile.

“It’s very soothing,” she said simply. “Besides, you’re hardly the one to talk, considering you find it interesting to read books on botany in your time of leisure.”

James laughed. “I find it peculiar, Merce, that you don’t take my texts of Hebrew as an oddity and yet accuse Eva for reading mere poetry! And look at what you have in your hands, too. My, we are a strange breed.”

Mercedes smiled, fingering the book she had in her lap, which was entitled A Pictorial Guide to Understanding the Physiology and Genetics of Gymnosperms by Doctor Russell E. Selwyn. She found little reason to explain her increasing interest in the study of nature, for she had expressed in it great detail many times before to her family, particularly James, who never understood one word of botany.

There the three sat for just a moment longer, neither wishing to break the beautiful stillness of the late South Carolina afternoon. At last, however, they all stood and began to walk towards the house. On their right, they passed by Wallace’s tree and the table where Agatha and Violet sat holding their dainty cups with their pinky finger extended.

“Hello, Eva!” said Agatha, looking up from her cup of tea. She smiled and waved at her older sisters, her bright green eyes filled with their usual enthusiasm. “Mama was looking for you earlier, so you had better get on inside the house.”

“And she didn’t look happy, either,” agreed Violet. “She walked by here and asked if we had seen you and we said that we had not. Then she hurried back inside and called for Gerdie. I’m surprised you didn’t hear her calling.”

“Do you recall what she happened to want?” asked Eva, her voice betraying the dismalness she felt.

“How should we know?” Agatha groaned. She poured more tea and sugar into her little cup and began to swish it around with a spoon. “But she is in one of her moods again.”

Just then, Mrs. Larson came towards them from the front terrace, fastening a brooch on her gown as she walked. James instantly let go of Mercedes’ hand and said that he had work to attend to in the library. The two girls exchanged glances as their mother hurried towards them in a very unladylike manner.

Now, Mrs. Larson was perfectly aware that a grown woman should never be seen running in any circumstance, which was exactly the reason she chose to walk with a quickest, liveliest step as she considered appropriate. With a look of great vexation carved into her stone features, she waddled to where Eva and Mercedes stood as fast as her stubby legs could carry her.

“Evangeline! Come here this instant!” she said, her voice wheezing from her hurried pace. When she reached them, Mrs. Larson stared at Eva with dissatisfaction and snatched the poetry book from her hands. “Good gracious, child, what have you been doing? Why are you not dressed? Lady Hopkins, the famous dressmaker, shall be by any moment to fit you for your gown and you must look your very best!”

Passing the book to Mercedes, she took Eva by the hand and began to lead her towards the house. Agatha and Violet watched helplessly as Mercedes hurried after Eva.

“Gerdie!” Mrs. Larson called, dragging her daughter up the front steps of the manor and into the front hallway. “Come, quick! Help Eva find something suitable to wear and pin her hair back up in a new bun. And make haste about it!”

Eva sent a fleeting glance to her sister as the maid bustled from an upstairs bedroom and hurried down the steps to grant her mistress’ request. Mercedes just smiled meekly and gestured for Eva to follow Gerdie up to her bedroom chamber to dress for Lady Hopkins’s arrival.

“She should be here any moment,” said Mrs. Larson when Eva was out of hearing range. She turned sharply on Mercedes and gave her a harsh and critical look from her dark thick hair that hung in loose strands against her shoulders to her simple cream walking dress and boots. “You have been a bad influence on your sister,” Mrs. Larson said, tightening her lips into a thin line as she very often did when she was exasperated. “Filling her head with this sort of nonsense. She is a grown woman, the sort who shall marry well, as I did.”

Mercedes stared hard at her mother, but said nothing.

“Do you not hear me, daughter?” said Mrs. Larson, stepping closer and snatching the book back from her hands. She held it far out in front of her as if it was unclean in some way. “Eva has a fragile mind. I only want her reading what is best for her with the sort of future she is going to have. I want her reading histories, plays, novels even, but not this sort of intangible nonsense. Have I made myself clear?”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Mercedes with a nod. “But-”

“Now, that’s a good girl!” said Mrs. Larson sweetly with her face scrunched up into a little smile. She reached out and pinched Mercedes’ cheek, blowing her a little kiss. “There’s my dearie! Now, go and get ready to greet Lady Hopkins when she comes by here. She is from England, you know, and has fitted many wealthy duchesses and ladies and now has fitted almost every woman in the region. I want our Eva to look the most spectacular of any one of them.”

Mercedes rolled her eyes, glancing up towards the balcony where she could just see the closed door of Eva’s bedroom. Blocking her mother’s words out of her head, she couldn’t help but wonder what was going on up there, desperately wishing that she could be with her sister at the moment.

Meanwhile, Eva was sprawled on her stomach over her bed as Gerdie began to fasten the laces on a new corset which Mrs. Larson had ordered. With each tug and gasp for breath, Eva felt the now familiar jab of pain into her ribcage and quickened breathing as she struggled to make her waist as tiny as possible.

“I don’t think it’s going to fit!” she groaned, gripping her quilt as Gerdie continued to tighten the laces. “I can’t breathe—make it looser!”

“I can’t, miss,” Gerdie replied, tugging even tighter. “Mistress’ orders.”

Eva grit her teeth.

“What is the occasion for, again?” she asked, biting her lip. Gerdie had never before fastened the laces so tightly and the pain was almost unbearable.

“The dressmaker is coming by,” said Gerdie simply. “Mrs. Larson wants you to look your nicest.”

“And why is that?”

“The mistress has her ways unknown to me,” Gerdie said. She paused for a second before giving the laces one last tug and finishing it off with a thankful groan. Relieved that the pain was now beginning to alleviate, Eva watched as Gerdie reached with a stiff hand for the gown which was laid across the easy chair. “Your mama has said that she wants you to wear this one, miss, and that she wants you all done up nice and pretty.”

Before long, Eva found herself sitting in the parlor across from a young woman she had never seen before, a woman by the name of Lady Hopkins. Clad in a rather simple gown with black lace stitched down the bodice that flowed gently to her heels, she sat with a regal authority. Across her broad, angular shoulders there was draped a thin white shawl that was fastened with an orchid brooch. Eva sat there with a rigid comportment, her arms laid lightly upon her lap. After several hurried minutes of frenzy, Gerdie had managed to get her dressed and looking decent before the arrival of their guest.

Mercedes sat next to her with a cold look quite the opposite of her usual congenial hospitality. During the several moments of idle chatter between Mrs. Larson and their visitor, she said naught a word, but only sat there, occasionally reading from her book on botany. Eva couldn’t help but wonder if her mother had ordered Mercedes to say nothing. The last time there was a notable guest, who happened to be a wealthy gentleman, Mrs. Larson wouldn’t even allow Mercedes to come downstairs, in an attempt to keep all of the attention on Eva.

Poor Mercedes often found herself the subject of her mother’s disdain, and, though Eva would try her best to talk to her mother about it, nothing ever seemed to change. Today appeared to be one of these such occasions.

“It is quite ironic that you asked me here today,” said Lady Hopkins in her dull, sullen voice as she sipped from a cup of tea. “Just yesterday, an order of fabric was delivered from London for gowns belonging to Mrs. Merrick and her daughters from across town. I fitted them just last month, you see, and they all ordered evening gowns suitable for outdoor wear in the summer. It was a new cut with breathable lace around the bosom and neckline. I presume the shipment was ordered for an occasion such as your own, Mrs. Larson.”

“Oh, I am sure!” Mrs. Larson replied, sending a quick glance to Eva, letting her know that she was not at all pleased that Mrs. Merrick had managed to order dresses before herself. “Everyone does seem to come to our parties, you know. However, this one is to be the nicest one of all. The subject of this festivity is why we have asked you here, Lady Hopkins, for we are in need of a new gown for the occasion. It is to be, in essence, a second coming-out party for our darling Evangeline and it will be in celebration of her twenty-first birthday. And,” she pulled out a coin purse from the folds of her dress. “I would be very much interested in knowing what sort of gown Mrs. Merrick ordered from you, for, as I am sure you know, we want our little Evangeline to look like nothing short of a princess.”

Lady Hopkins raised her eyebrows as Mrs. Larson placed a silver dollar in her gloved hand.

“Very well,” she said with tightly pursed lips after a moment of hesitation. She pulled out a little black leather journal and passed it to Mrs. Larson. “Here is my catalogue of orders. In it, you will find the design, materials used, price and measurements of the Merrick family order from last month.”

Eva watched the incorrigible look of hopelessness on her sister’s face as Mercedes stared with a numb expression at her mother. Meanwhile, Mrs. Larson was thumbing through Lady Hopkins’s catalogue of purchases, murmuring about how Eva’s gown was certain to be the finest of any one the dressmaker had ever created.

After a moment of speculation and murmuring to herself, Mrs. Larson looked up from the notebook and addressed Lady Hopkins once more. “What style of gown would you think is best for my darling? I want it to be absolutely stunning.”

The women then began to talk about Eva’s statuesque figure and her delicate features and the textile pattern that would best highlight her brilliantly blue eyes.

“Her obvious sublimity amuses me,” said Lady Hopkins presently as she arose from the chaise lounge and walked slowly towards Eva, examining every inch of her. She twisted one of Eva’s golden curls around her thin, bony finger and began murmuring to herself about different sorts of fabrics that could play well off the wonderful blonde ringlets. “And so does her perfect stature and figure. It is of an unparalleled nature and I cannot denote my joy at the privilege of dressing her. She is by far the loveliest I have seen.”

Mrs. Larson could hardly suppress her happiness at hearing this. Mercedes only gave Eva a warm smile and continued studying her text.

“How wonderful!” Mrs. Larson interjected. However, Lady Hopkins continued as if not a word had been spoken.

“As to a fabric shade? Pink,” she said, more to herself than to anyone else. “Yes, I do think that a pale rose silk would add a lustrous glow to her pale complexion and would also highlight this lusciously blonde hair of hers.” She turned around and took out a tape measure from her bag. “Shall I proceed to measure both of the girls?” she asked, gesturing for Eva and Mercedes to follow her upstairs to get the measurements for the gowns.

Mrs. Larson shook her head. “Only Evangeline,” she replied. The sisters exchanged a silent word to the other as they parted. Motioning for Mercedes to stay where she was seated, Mrs. Larson stood and followed the lady upstairs and into Eva’s bedchamber.

Once there, Gerdie began to unbutton the back of Eva’s gown and, taking her by the hand, helped her stand on a little wooden stool. There Eva stood wearing only her corset, chemise and petticoat, wishing desperately that this could be over as quickly as possible. Presently, Lady Hopkins approached her and, taking her measuring tape, wrapped it around the smallest part of Eva’s shrunken waist.

“Impressive. This is the smallest that I have yet seen,” she announced, holding the strip up to the light from the window. She proceeded to measure the rest of Eva’s slender, svelte figure, occasionally nodding in approval at the dimensions she recorded in her logbook. After taking note of the measurements, she knelt before Eva and took out several yards of sample fabric to test coloring and fabrics again her skin tone. From behind, Gerdie gathered the shimmery mass of silk and tulle and assisted Lady Hopkins in wrapping it around Eva’s shoulders until she was surrounded in the billows of her future dress. The soft pink material made her appear more like a rosebud plucked from a garden than a young woman and Mrs. Larson was immensely pleased with Lady Hopkins’s choice.

Thoughtfully, the famous dressmaker stepped back and examined her work. For a few moments, she said nothing. She walked around Eva in circles, eventually finding a bit of trimming that she liked and finding it rather suitable to create a train of lace and tiny pearls down the back of the gown’s bodice. When Mrs. Larson inquired the necessity of this, Lady Hopkins explained that it would highlight the shapely proportions required of a true Victorian gentlewoman. At this, Mrs. Larson had no reply and was intent just to watch the seamstress in awe as she continued.

“A fan will be needed,” Lady Hopkins said at last, never once taking her eyes off of Eva. “And gloves, naturally. White lace ones. And she shall need a collar of pearls just around the neck, for the buttons in the back of the gown shall be made of pearls, too. They are the height of fashion, you know.” She stepped closer and tapped Eva’s right arm. “Here, there will be a large flower appliqué of a glittering silver fabric on the shoulder and there will be a satin bow that will tie the outfit together. Along the hem here,” she stooped down and gestured towards an imaginary train behind Eva. “There will be tiny glass beads sewn into the stitching. When she walks, it will be as regal as the Queen of England, if I do say so, myself. This shall be the finest gown I have ever had the pleasure of making, Mrs. Larson.”

Eva’s mother could hardly suppress her excitement at hearing this. She stared up at her daughter and beamed her little round smile, her cheeks turning a vibrant red.

The women quit the room to discuss the matters of pricing, shipment and fabric as Gerdie now assisted Eva in getting dressed for dinner which was to be served in merely an hour. Still clothed in only her camisole and other undergarments, Eva was soon fitted in her cream coutil which was heavily boned around her hips and then a lacy petticoat was slipped over her slip and tied firmly.

“It is to be a lovely dress,” said Gerdie dreamily. Eva seated herself at her vanity table and the maid began to rearrange her bun again as she very often did before the family dinner was served. “I daresay it shall be the loveliest I have ever seen in my life.”

Eva smiled at the soothing sound of Gerdie’s gentle voice and willed herself to be back outside in the gardens, reading her book. Gertrude Beatrice O’Connor had been a family maid for as long as she could remember and had always taken particular care of Eva, helping her to dress, bathe and fix her hair. She and Mrs. Larson were always discussing new ways of styling Eva’s long golden blonde hair or of minimizing the size of her waist even more by keeping her in corsets that exaggerated the curves of her small body.

But now, more than anything else, Eva just wanted to see Mercedes.

Just then, as if summoned by the mere thought, Eva’s older sister poked her head through the door of the bedroom. Mercedes walked forward and wrapped her arm around Eva, planting a soft kiss on her cheek.

“How are you feeling?” she asked at last. She nodded for Gerdie’s dismissal and began to assemble Eva’s curls by herself. Her nimble fingers moved swiftly over the blonde strands, for they had become adept with practice at braiding, brushing and fixing her younger sister’s curls, her mother’s greatest pride.

“I’m better,” Eva said with a sigh. She leaned back in her seat and watched Mercedes’ reflection in the mirror before her. “But I do so wish that mama would not make such a fuss over me as she does. It is rather tiring for me. The ritual of dressing for dinner alone is quite exhausting.”

She stood and Mercedes lifted the heavy gown that Gerdie had laid out for Eva to wear that evening. As Mercedes held the bodice open, Eva threw open her arms and plunged into the folds of her gown. For an accent piece, her sister then tied a simple bow of tulle around her neck and they stood together, hand in hand, staring at their reflections in her large mirror.

“You look beautiful, Eva,” Mercedes said at last with a smile, giving her own untidy bun a weary tap. “Papa will be home soon and won’t he be surprised to see how much his precious little daughter has grown up in his absence?”

“It has only been a few weeks, Merce,” replied Eva. She began to adorn her gloves and other articles of jewelry that were sitting in wait on the vanity table.

Mercedes continued to watch Eva ready herself for the evening meal. The sun was now deeply hidden in the South Carolina woods and only a faint glimmer shown through the window, softly illuminating her room. For several minutes, neither girl said a word, for each was intently thinking something to themselves. The silence of dusk was too powerful of a moment in the day for the deepest feelings of one’s heart to be forgotten for even an instant. It was often during this hour of dressing that Mercedes and Eva would spend several precious moments alone, talking to each other and offering words of encouragement. Today, however, each seemed too engrossed in their own troubled thoughts to break the symphony of eventide.

“What do you think mama will do about you and James?” Eva asked at last, letting loose the one question she had been pondering most of all.

Mercedes shrugged and sat down on the bed.

“How am I to know?” she said in reply. There was a dreariness in her voice that Eva had never heard before from her sister. “Mama pretends not to know, but she most definitely is aware of us and our plans. James is intent upon marrying me with or without her blessing, though I know that it would break her heart for me to go against her like that.”

“What has papa said?” asked Eva.

Mercedes shook her head and said that she didn’t know if he had come to any decision yet. When Eva asked if Mercedes was feeling alright about it, she knew that the look in her sister’s eyes betrayed the tender smile.

For a long moment, Mercedes sat on the bed watching Eva finger the beaded hem on her sleeve. There was a new look in her eyes, one that Eva had never witnessed before—it was an expression of raw determination and obstinacy that seemed to radiate from every feature on her face.

“You look so beautiful, Eva,” she murmured at last, more to herself than anyone else. “You have no idea how blessed you are. And how cursed. How cursed this whole family is...and even how this world is.”

Eva didn’t say anything in response to this, for she hardly understood what her sister even meant by these words. Mercedes left her no time for questions. With a kiss on her cheek, she was gone from the room to ready herself for dinner, leaving Eva alone as her room was plunged into the darkness of the South Carolina night.

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