The garden was exceptionally beautiful this year, but now most of the leaves have browned or fallen. The roses are the only plants still thriving. Their leaves and stems are green as the summer grass, yet not near as cheering.
Today is October 31st; the day of the Harvest Festival, and the day of my birth. Today, I am sixteen. From now onward, I shall be considered an adult, one who is old enough to marry. I no longer doubt that I will marry, for now I know that I will not.
My mistress, Lady Loreanna, whom I love as a mother and who has said she loves me as a daughter, has guaranteed my freedom. In two months, I will no longer be a slave. Even though I have never been treated as a slave, freedom means as much to me as it would to any other. I have assured my Lady that I will continue my work here with her. I suppose I will do all of the same chores and have all the same duties, but my status will be higher, my spirit more free.
If not for my lady’s decline in health, I might have made a match over the course of the next year; however, I do not blame her. I can remember being the ugly duckling as a child, and, as the years have passed, I have not turned into a swan of any beauty. But, enough of this, journals are for hopes and dreams, not sorrows. So here, I bid goodbye, with a promise to write again.
Pearl closed her diary and settled back into the comfortable library chair. The secluded window seat beckoned, but she knew that she did not have time to succumb to its luxuries. Glancing at the timepiece on the fireplace mantle, Pearl quickly unwound her legs and headed for the door. She ran through the long, shadowed hallways to her room, and hid the diary under her oak dresser, before quickly running a brush through her soft black hair.
Pearl’s mind wandered as she straightened her tangles. What was Lady Loreanna going to announce? The lady had never before wished to make an announcement that she could not send by word of mouth. Pearl had been in the household for more than five years, and she knew the Lady well enough to understand that making public announcements was very unsettling to her.
Placing the brush back on top of the dresser, Pearl hurried down the hallways to the ballroom. The clock in the library started ringing the approaching hour, but Pearl had firmly planted herself on a bench by the twelfth gong. Her friends, Dorthia and Cristeal, were seated on either side of her. Dorthia took time to send her a reproachful look before turning back to face the platform.
Pearl’s eyes searched beyond the platform for the study door and settled on the knob, willing it to turn. Exactly ten seconds past noon, Lady Loreanna opened her study door. Walking to her stand, the lady surveyed her staff. She took in all of the curious looks and took a deep breath while she rested her hands on the curved top of the podium. Plans would be set today, and all the wishes in the world might not be able to keep them from going awry.
Pearl watched her Lady and could not decide if she was using the stand for support or to keep herself planted firmly on the ground. It surprised her to find that she could not tell what her Lady was feeling. Looking closely at Lady Loreanna’s hands, Pearl saw that they were not just holding the wood, but rather, they were gripping the carvings tight enough to turn her knuckles white.
“I do hope that everyone has gathered for this announcement, for it is one that will affect the entire household,” said Lady Loreanna. “It is also something that you need to know if we are going to be prepared in time. Yesterday, I received a letter which literally stole my breath. My son, who has been studying at the University of Colnbidge for the past ten years, will be coming home for his 21st birthday, which falls on November 5th.”
Shocked silence lasted for a few moments before the entire room erupted in barely controlled whispers. Lady Loreanna watched this with an amused glance for a few moments before motioning for silence. She called out the name of the housekeeper, Clarina, and began the tedious process of instructing the servants on their preparatory tasks.
When only Pearl, Dorthia, and Cristeal remained, she motioned them to follow her into the study.