The evening of the Carter's party was dusky and "romantic" - the former my definition, the latter my sister's. I could tell that there was a certain giddiness to Maria as we were dressing in our bedroom - for once she didn't criticize Lillian's dressing skills. The maid seemed relieved at this, I reflected, and that made her less nervous around my critical younger sister, the result being an especially good job with Maria's extensive hairstyle. This, of course, put my sister in a lovely mood, and so we all dressed with an air of peace and contentment.
I had chosen for the evening my pearly gray taffeta, thinking to myself that it would never do to get dressed up more than that - the evening was not to be a formal affair. My curls hung around my face particularly well, to which Lillian cooed in satisfaction.
My sister, of course, was the dictionary definition of "plumed." Her hair, twisted into a bewildering amount of tiny braids, was knotted and kinked until is could be no more knotted or kinked. She wore her sea-green dress, with the matching ribbons, and Lillian seemed satisfied that there would be no changing of gowns today. I watched in amazement as the maid pulled, seemingly out of thin air, a handful of white ostrich feathers and placed them in Maria's hair, to my sister's satisfaction.
"But... Maria.. did Mama say-"
"Oh, Eva, don't spoil my fun!" Maria interrupted quickly. "Mama will be perfectly happy if I look my best - she does not care what elements I use to obtain that beauty."
I interrupted no more, but instead stared rather dully at myself in the mirror. Compared to my sister, I looked plain and dowdy. I had no feathers, no pearls, no braids. My only form of jewelry was my simple cross pendent. Mama constantly showered Maria with clothes and beads and jewelry of all kind, in the hopes of her making a "splendid match." Having expressed myself to be utterly against any of Mama's forms of matchmaking, I was simply "pushed to the side" sometimes to make room for Mama's second - and very willing - subject: Maria.
With a straightening of my shoulders, I reflected that I did not want to be made into a doll. Besides, I was not going to this gathering to find a husband, as Maria seemed intent on doing. I was going to have fun. My sister had swept out of the room to present herself to Mama, and I followed her, suddenly feeling much better.
The evening party was a "great success," in every manner. The food was delectable and the talk was very entertaining. But something happened toward the end that seemed a bit strange. Maria was playing cards with a few of the young gentlemen, but she seemed pensive in spirit, constantly glancing at the door as if expecting someone to enter. When no one did, and the hour grew late, I nudged her to leave. Mama and Papa were putting on their cloaks, and it was clearly time to go. With a reluctant sigh, she rose and put on her cloak - but not willingly.
The days continued like this. Maria would stare out of her bedroom window each and every day, only to be pulled away for meals and such. Her interest in gowns and ribbons seemed to wan, and she grew paler and more serious after each passing day. I began to feel a deep concern for my flighty sister - what could possibly be wrong? I knew it would do no good to ask, for all my efforts at unearthing this secret were in vain. And I had still never discovered why Maria had fainted on the day of our arrival...
The morning after the Carter's party dawned golden and rosy. The sky was a lovely soft blue, and the few clouds floated around airily, like downy puffs of cotton. The gorgeous climate seemed to beckon me out to take a stroll down the streets of London. I realized with a pang that I had never done this once, for we had been so busy with our unpacking that the idea had simply never occurred to me.
"I am going to take a walk about town today, Mama, if that is alright with you," I said at the breakfast table.
"Oh, yes, yes, of course, Eva," Mama replied hastily, while buttering a biscuit. Then she turned to Maria. "What ails you, dear?" Mama asked questioningly. "You have not been yourself as of late. Is something the matter?"
"No, no, I am perfectly fine, Mama," Maria replied vaguely. "You shouldn't worry about me."
At this I turned from my plate of eggs to stare at Maria. This certainly was new. Since when did my sister care whether Mama worried about her or not?
"All the same," Papa said quietly. "You haven't been yourself lately, my daughter. Are you sure you do not wish to join your sister on her outing?"
"Yes, Maria, do come along," I added quickly. "The fresh air will do you well."
"No, no, I don't want to go. I have some stitching I wish to complete this morning."
Realizing that Maria seemed intent on staying home once more, I sighed quietly and left the table to retrieve my bonnet.