The wind rushed in through the open windows, whistling a sharp note that fell to a soft melody. The white flowered curtains stopped its waltz, but its hem still moved like billowing waves. My eyes caught the bushes where flashed the ruby-colored raspberries. For a moment, I thought they were roses, the comforting sight of them making me smile. The flicker of hope vanished.
The birds' joyous chirping brought back my smile, and I quickly crossed the bedroom to stand in front of the windows. Closing my eyes, I let the warm wind gently stroke my cheeks and play with my hair. My mind flew back to our farm, beyond the forests and rivers, away from the noise and the people of the city: three days of hard travelling from where I stood. Again, like ever so often back home, I was standing on my balcony where the stems of the roses clung, spiralling upward. When I reopened my eyes, I expected to see the familiar land that would stretch like an emerald carpet in front of me and the pale, yet purest blue sky meeting it at the horizon, but I all saw was the garden of our new house. There was a fountain at its center, a small waterfall on the right side, and along the paths made of grey stones were all kinds of vivid colored flowers. The garden was circled by small bushes of raspberries, and the eccentricity of it made me laugh.
If Mother knew the thought that crossed my mind, she would certainly say that it wasn't ladylike. And if she could ever read my mind, she would be horrified, for my thoughts largely surpassed the limits of those of a well-educated demoiselle. Mother has always taken great care in teaching her three daughtersGrace, Claire and me, Amabellethe manners of a lady. From our early age, we had to learn how to behave properly, which demeanor to adopt in which circumstances, and the etiquette rules, all lessons we had to abide by. My sisters and I would try in numerous ways to seek escape, but Mother was tireless in accomplishing this task. We were daughters of a farmer, and really, what would this knowledge serve to us?
When we were young, Mother would tell us about her meeting with Father as our bedtime story; it was Grace and Claire's favorite. Her eyes would brighten up, and a faraway smile would cross her lips.
Mother came from a wealthy family, and has always known that she was to marry a man who shall have the qualities highly regarded by her dear parents. That is, this man had to be a gentleman, and who shall, when they will be married, give her happiness, and her, in return, shall give him children and accomplish the duties of a wife. And Happiness comes with a wealthy husband of a good family background, lavish gifts to give and to receive, a high social status and a luxurious house with a well-trained household of domestics. This was the happiness that Mother longed for, and the only one she knew of, that is until the day her path crossed that of Father's, and were to be bound forever.
Father was working as a bookkeeper for Grandfather. They met on the night Grandfather, who was impressed by Father's merchant skills, decided to invite him for dinner. At first glance, Father has fallen under Mother's spell, though she had done nothing but look at him in a most certainly shy and ladylike way.
Mother told us that he later said he was stricken by her beauty, mesmerized by the joy of life in Mother's eyes, taken aback by the radiance emanating from her. During every course of dinner, Father stammered stupidities, though he wanted to impress Mother, which only made her laugh. She said that it was the first time she ever met a man of so kind a heart, with yet, so much intelligence. He was spirited and humorous, though headstrong and modest. But Mother loved Father just as he was: she loved how he would try to get her attention in the silliest ways, make her laugh, and her most cherished feeling of all, make her happy.
They would often meet under the pretext that Mother needed Father's help to judge the poems she wrotethey were both great lovers of literature. Soon, Mother discovered that it was only with him that she could find happiness. Unfortunately, her parents weren't of the same opinion.
And here comes the dramatic yet happy ending: they ran away together, and found refuge in the country land. Mother would always end the story with the same sentence: "We lived happily ever after and had many children." At this point, Grace would add: "Beautiful children." And in her usual habit, Claire would follow with her own comment: "Sweet-looking children."
I would stay awake long after Mother has kissed us on the forehead and graciously walked out of our bedroom, quietly closing the door. Without doubt, Grace and Claire would be lost in their mushy rêverie, but already, questions popped out in every corner of my head. Although Mother's story revealed the reason why she accorded such a grand importance to the education of her three daughters as ladiesbecause of her own backgroundthere was this part of the story that I never quite understood, a part that seemed too much unrealistic for me.
Father fell in love with Mother at a single glance, because of her beauty. This thought infuriated me and was the reason why I didn't like the story. After all, only a person's interior beauty counted. Wasn't that what my parents have always told me? In my child's mind, I would then question myself: "Could our interior beauty be reflected upon our looks?" Then, if this was the case, that would make Grace and Claire interiorly beautiful, but not me.
Grace was born on a morning of winter, cradled in its arms while the winter wind was chanting a lullaby, and the world was covered by a white and shining cape. Branches were frozen by glass-looking ice, and delicate snowflakes were dancing a ballet. When Mother finally took her firstborn into her arms, she was startled by my sister's white skin, like the pure yet cold snow outside, her pale blue eyes like the winter sky, and her faintly pink colored lips. It was then that Mother decided to name her Grâce, for already, she seemed to possess the grace and enchantment of winter.
Unsurprisingly, my sister grew into an elegant and refined young lady. Her hair fell like a magical drapery that was as dark as the night itself, but that had yet the brightness of the stars. She had eyes of the color of an icy blue sky, where you could read no torment or fear, but only the cold tranquillity of the winter sky. On her nearly snow-white skin, her lips of a pale pink shade and her healthy cheeks were the unique signs that denied her from being a creature of the tales.
As for Claire, she came to the world on a spring afternoon, while the sun was setting down and painted the puffy clouds in shades of red and yellow. She was welcomed by the chorus of the birds, the flowers bowing in reverence to a warm wind and the luster of new life in the green midst outside. She had eyes as clear and bright as a square of blue sky, a peach colored skin and cheeks of a warm and lively shade of red. Plunged in the rays of the sun, she radiated life and color. She was given the name Clairethe French word for "clear"for she was as luminous and pure as spring.
And unsurprisingly, her laughter has the sound of a rivulet of bells. In her eyes sparkled the rays of the sun, and she carried with her the energy and light of life. She had fair and glossy hair, and on her face showed the blend of her two different personalities: a headstrong and willful girl and also a lively and kind-hearted young lady.
However, I was an exception to all this beauty, and there was nothing in particular that rang for my arrival. I wouldn't be surprised if Mother added to my birth a bit of glitter to make it less dull. I was born neither in the morning nor in the afternoon, but right at noon, when, supposedly, the sun was to be high in the sky to spread its warm rays. Nevertheless, it was a cold day of autumn, and a blinding fog still hung outside, trace left by the rain that had lasted the whole night.
Mother said that on the day of my birth, time itself slowed down its course: the nearly translucent droplets outside seemed like crystals hanging in the cold air. Golden and ruby-colored leaves covered the grass and paths in different patterns. Although the clouds hovering in the sky were grey and dark, they slowly made way for the sun, as if a mighty being was welcoming my birth.
Whether time slowed down or notthough I've always thought that Mother must have suffered greatly if it hador if the clouds really made way for the sun or if there were beautiful leaves rather than leaves soiled by the water turned to brown because of the earth, I certainly wasn't representative of that day according to the description of Mother.
My first hair was of a fair colorone could have made a link with the golden leavesbut with years, they quickly changed to brown of their own willwhich I think, it's certainly due to the fact that the leaves were brown indeed. However, Mother would say that although my hair is brown, they are a warm color and even have a tint of auburn. At this comment, Grace would always say that it was certainly due to the mixing of the golden and red leaves with the brown dirt. Even so, my eyes seemed to have been cursed by the same fate: they were a dull brown to which Mother has given the name caramel.
Fortunately, though my features weren't as beautiful as Grace's and Claire's were, they were what Mother would call "charming", Father, "lovely", and my sisters, "pretty". That is, I have never been able to judge when comparing myself with my sisters. And I rather not, preferring to be charming, lovely and pretty than anything else.
I was named Amabelle after my aunt. She was the only member from Mother's family who kept in contact with her and Mother carried her dearly in her heart. The nameof Latin rootsmeant amiable and loving, and I molded myself to suit it as best as I could, just like how my sisters' name suited them. In other words, I grew up into a caring young lady, kind-hearted and sweet, mostly thinking of others and rarely for myself, or so it seemed to my entourage. As soon as I left childhood, I dutifully applied myself to be a model daughter, never questioning the words of Mother, and always following her instructions. If I was not a beauty, then I shall be the loveliest lady.
Although my sisters and I were taught all there was to be taught about ladies, we were still daughters of a farmer, a reality that was, as unfortunate as it may be, inescapable. We did our daily chores such as cooking, cleaning, scrubbing, washing. We helped our father, took care of the geese, pigs and hens, and we milked the cows. As hard as those tasks seemed to be, they were part of our life and built our small world.
During all those years, though we lived happily, my parents cherished a common dream that they've kept for themselves: to return living in the city. They both loved the crowd, the noises and light, and the glamor that the city brought.
I believe that Mother must sometimes miss her life as a lady. Back then, she had nothing to worry about but what clothes to wear, how to fill her days and which rumor to believe. I believe that Father also look back at his youthful days, when there wasn't so much hard work awaiting him daily.
For all these long years, they've put aside a part of the money they've earned. It was a letter from Aunt Amabelle writing to us to come back that changed everything. Acutally, it wasn't the letter or even Aunt Amabelle that suddenly changed the course of our life; along with it was a letter from Mother's family's lawyer. Grandmother left the world not very long ago and was now followed by Grandfather. Their deaths greatly struck Mother, and for days, I saw her weeping quietly.
Mother left the city as a young lady, and now twenty years later, she was to come back with her initial statue restored; as the only child of her family, she inherited everything. The following weeks were spent packing. Although Mother was still mourning for her parents, there was a new liveliness in her; her smile wouldn't leave her face, and a sparkle was always in her eyes.
"You won't have learned all the lessons I've taught you for nothing!" she said cheerfully. Later on, while we sat in the kitchen, drinking our tea, she looked quietly at us and murmured: "Living in the city has its own rules. You will have to follow them closely. You might find it hard at the beginning, but with some time, you'll get used to it. Moreover, you're all coming of age."
On the last sentence, Mother looked at Grace, and she smiled back at her. I threw an inquisitive glance at Claire, but she only laughed. "We'll certainly find a winter prince on a black stallion for you, Grace," she said, giggling, at which, I nearly choked on my mouthful of tea, and burst out laughing. When we were little, we all dreamt about our prince charming, and Grace would never fail to look outside the window, far away, her eyes dreaming and a smile hanging on her lips.
Mother gave Claire and me a reprimanding look. "Hush, go back to your packing, girls!" Claire and I laughed and ran upstairs, while Grace yelled at our backs, forgetting all her manners. "Wait 'till I get you, bitches!"
"Hush! Go back to your packing!" yelled back Claire while stifling her laughter.