She hadn’t been to the country before and yet she felt she belonged. The whirlwind of activity that kept her dancing from house to house and left her gasping for breath in London had been a mere distraction from the dull, lifeless people there: the simpering young men and the girls adorned in rich satin and silk in fashionably bold crimson and burgundies as though the brightness of the dresses could negate the vapid nothingness of the pretty young thing beneath.
Like a carousel she couldn’t stop, the dances, teas and operas hadn’t stopped when her world had crumbled around her. When disaster struck her family. When her mood was black but life around her insisted on technicolour. When people crowded her, wanting a piece of the drama that momentarily marked her out as the person to know and she choked and spluttered on their sympathies.
Here she could breathe. The air felt sharp in her lungs and her face, still swollen with sorrow, sought the sun wherever she was – by the window, in the carriage, walking through the ample grounds of the grey stone country manor. And with so much open space it was easy to find – no longer was she straining to find light between buildings, the sun found her wherever she went. And if it hid behind the vast clouds, the rain fell as though to quench her thirst only.
But today was warm and bright. Seeking solitude, she left the manor and ventured into the hills beyond the walled garden. The vibrant colours of the meadow shamed the garish blood-coloured ballrooms and finery of high society, which had mocked her towards the end.
As she lay, stretched out in the full blaze of the sun, the long, thick grass tickled at her arms and ankles. She felt so vital and alive for the first time since her father’s perplexing death. The feeling that she was on the cusp of something big – and delightful – would not be shaken. She hitched the hem of her black mourning skirt up to her knees, freeing her white-stockinged calves from the oppressive heat. She propped herself up to check no one was there to see before flopping back with her hands behind her head. She sighed deeply, letting the sweet smell of wildflowers and grasses intoxicate her with a giddiness she had long since forgotten. Before closing her eyes she noted the sweet pastel blues of nearby forget-me-nots. No, father, she wouldn’t but it was time she let go.
She was still young. How had she overlooked this? She felt the decades dropping from her body, a new verve pulsing from her heart to her fingertips. The world had so much to offer. And so much to offer to her. Her heart seemed to swell to fill the pure, untouched meadow surrounding her. She was suddenly filled with love and gratitude for her mother who had noticed the sickly pallor in her daughter and sent her away from the city to stay with her aunt in the Oxfordshire countryside.
Today she had packed a picnic basket full of bread, honey, milk and strawberries to sate her sweet tooth, and a novel whose title would have horrified her aunt and set out on her own before anyone else woke up. Sweet anticipation pulled the corners of her mouth into an irrepressible grin.
Life was calling her back.