For a certain novel I am writing currently, actually the prequel to that story called Intertwined Destinies, I wrote a short scene sort of the young Diana experiencing what might be called a ‘first love’ :D.
[The Glamorous First]
In 1801 . . .
Said Diana to Peg: “To-night shall be interesting.” It was their very first “going-out”—a step into the world of a woman in the Old Dominion. To-night they would take a peek at society, as they had never truly done before—never done before as grown girls. Their mothers and fathers had assented, so, the impending fall hayride presented itself as a suitable opportunity to enter the plantation circles and gatherings. Gentry folk in Virginia always reveled in the fetes and seasonal occasions where dancing never seemed to end, girls and gentlemen amusing themselves and each other till long after the sun had set and twilight had come, till they danced by the light of the moon in the long grasses of a farm meadow, till only the crimson, glowing harvest moon provided the chaperoning radiance by which they whirled and laughed gaily.
October made for the whimsical, mystic evening, a gold-and-cerise dusk with the trees swaying lithely to the wind, the smaller saplings like compasses, turning and twisting in that wind, till at last the breezes quieted and only crept by beneath the creamy moon as it rose to its summit. When the sun was beginning to slant eastward through the boughs and bush at Oak Orchard Diana slipped from the house and stood on the porch, a shawl draped about her elbows. Somewhat tremulously she stared out at the lawn, at the road down at the end of the drive. Soon she would hear the rumble of the hay-filled wagon, hear the clatter of hooves on the ground, the laughter, talk, and gallivanting youths on their geldings, shrieking, tittering girls. Fifteen was an age of novelties, Diana realized with awe.
Peg soon joined her there on the porch, smiling blithely, apparently without a doubt or fear. Her pale face glowed faintly in the golden light of the evening, the slender white neck holding aloft her head with its crinkly tresses of auburn, little delicate ringlets falling about her finely molded ears. Peg with her transparent arms and willowy form… looked beautiful. Diana had caught a last glance of herself in the looking glass—had seen a creature that hardly amounted to this sight…this ravishing, fair sight!
She gave a little sigh and tried to imagine how the evening would turn out. She loved to dance—she always had. But she had only danced with Johnny before this, or with Matthew and Robert, and Julian; never at a party. That fact somewhat unnerved her, it had in fact all the afternoon. Nary had a day passed thus, nary had Diana been held by such fear…and yet she waited for the sound of wheels and thunder of hooves with bated breath. Presently they came into her hearing, then the wagon, its riders, and the young men on horse into sight. Jethro joined them—he would accompany the girls on the hayride to escort them, and see them home. Mother had commanded it, thus it was so. Diana didn’t mind so much—only she hoped that Jethro would not make a hobbledehoy of himself, and mortify her in front of the rest. The wagon drew close, Diana’s eyes shone, her smile upon her lips told of the immense thrill that tore through her maiden soul, as might a merciless breath of cold air, causing her to shiver slightly.
“Pray, present yourselves with the utmost decorum,” said Mother from behind, and Diana turned, raising her cheek barely, for Mother to kiss her.
“’Tis a pity that Katharine could not accompany you to-night,” added Mother, ruefully. “She might have seen after…”
“Oh, oh ‘twill make no difference,” replied Diana with haste, “Katharine must not be bothered”—a trifle haughtily—“we are both quite well enough to see after ourselves. Don’t fret, now!”
“Johnny was to come, but he went with Father to Orange. And Hetty has a headache which makes her feel ill. And Matthew never does care for these fetes. He always manages to slip away at the last instant with Sam.” Mother looked anxious somewhat, but she hadn’t much time to ‘fret’.
The wagon stopped now in the yard, and the riders followed along closely, a great cry rose up of gaiety and mirth, the youths upon their mounts waving their hats, sons of commonwealth gentry, sons of the gentlemen farmers, and daughters of plantation masters, all gathered for a festive outing to the largest Roselind Hall meadow, a place commonly used for such events. It edged Roselind’s apple and peach orchards, where lovers might walk along the long, shaded arcades of trees with branches and boughs interlaced overhead. And a little brook ran close as well, where some of the fellows would fish and then roast their catch over a bonfire made of dead branches and gathered leaves and twigs. Songs would be sung, a fiddle brought out and partners made impromptu on the spot…a romantic evening, thought the novices, with agitating thrills that seemed beyond the common on this significant day. Diana trembled momentarily, hesitating with compounded shyness and excitement. The hay wagon was nearly filled, but there appeared to be room enough for the two girls and Jethro to sit with their legs dangling over the end. Mother retreated to the threshold of the doorway, beaming as she waved.
Diana and Peg were hoisted onto the wagon and settled on the end, Jethro springing on lithely, and the party withdrew from the yard, rumbling down the drive, riders following, everything merry and bright, the night a beautiful creature as it settled upon every tree, hill and spot of ground. The sun had fallen low by the foothills when the revelers reached the Roselind Hall Meadow. Elizabeth seemed the center of every goings-on, swirling round, vital and effervescent. Diana hung back, was by contrast timid and quite mute, unable to think of much to say, even with the girls. She had never been one quite comfortable enough to freely converse, but she hated herself when her tongue refused to comply—when a young man stood beside her during the bonfire, she uncertainly glancing askance at him with a little tremor of spirit, folding and unfolding her hands, an old habit that always began when she felt nervous.
“’Tis a fine fire they have there,” said the fellow gallantly, catching her glance. The conflagration lit the hazel of his eyes with a brilliant flaming effect. They penetrated Diana, and she wavered momentarily. She knew who he was. Amos Parke’s cousin had come a-visiting for a fortnight with his family—George Custis, of the prominent Arlington Custises and Washingtons, related in some tangled way—characteristic of the large Virginia families—to George Washington, himself.
Diana glanced back at the fire, a strange new heat in her cheeks. Then she took the chance to look at George Parke Custis. He owned a magnificent height—dignified height…her head came to his shoulder! Hair of dark reddish auburn, which told of his English-Scottish lineage . . . eyes of silken golden-brown, sunburnt skin—also distinctive of a plantation farmer—and all of this breathtakingly good-looking. Diana wondered if she would be presumptuous enough to call it . . . dashing . . . or romantic—didn’t it belonged to the cousin of Virginia’s Father?
George Custis didn’t leave his place next to Diana Wayland. He remained there till Frank Barlow brought out his fiddle and struck up a swinging tune, the crying music carrying on the wind and engulfing everyone in its gleeful cadence. George Custis smiled at Diana; she smiled back, her heart shaking violently in that rapturous, immortal moment. She knew she had changed to a deeper, rosier color, but it didn’t matter. George Custis leaned forward, extending his hand. His eloquent eyes never left hers. Diana wanted to break out madly with her bliss. Fairfax had become known for her families—the Parke’s had remarkable relations—the Custises especially. Diana thanked the divinities that Amos Parke was a cousin of George Custis. Should it not have been . . .
George Custis grasped her hand softly, for one brief moment, and straightened. Diana feverishly hoped… oh no! she couldn’t dare hope for that!
Andrew Young whisked her away in the twinkling of an eye the next instant, laughing, saying that he wouldn’t have dear cousin Diana sitting out during the dance. The dream shattered, and Diana almost hated Andrew for cutting in like that. She saw George Custis dancing with Fanny Martin—pink and white Fanny Martin with her flaxen coronet of hair and pale eyes, and she wished that Andrew would fall into the creek. “’Tisn’t fair!” Diana thought savagely. Those glorious moments had passed, and she moved through the reel with bland thoughts, feeling cold and morose. George Custis didn’t look her way for a while afterwards till near the end, when Frank played a last dance on his fiddle. Everyone lined up for a square dance—Diana found herself across from George Custis. He looked directly at her and smiled that beautiful smile, that bewildering grin she responded to by dropping then raising her thick black lashes in a moving way.
He stepped close to her during the dance and Diana felt his closeness every second, heart pounding, breath coming in short gusts. She didn’t dare meet his eyes again. Then it was over.
George Custis found a white ribbon on the grass before he mounted his horse with Amos, and rising, he stared at Diana, who had been standing just nearby, pretending to watch the dying embers of the bonfire, pretending to listen to Elizabeth pore over the evening, held it out to her, asking in a low voice if it was hers. Diana nodded, hoping her hand wouldn’t tremble when she reached out to receive it. “You’re Diana Wayland, are you not?” he inquired softly, towering above her on his mount.
Diana nodded, sensing every vein in her warming, the blood rising to her face with quicksilver-like intensity.
“What an empyreal name!” George Custis spurred his gelding and started away, but his last words imprinted feverish joy in the girl with the sublime moniker.
She drifted near Elizabeth, hardly feeling the chill wind that had picked up with a ravenous force, the fire-glow showing bright cheeks which the gale had not induced. Elizabeth had Peg and Diana stay at Roselind Hall that night—Diana said little . . . unusually little.
“Amos Parke’s cousin was there,” said Elizabeth during the drive to the Hall. “Did you see George Custis? He comes from Alexandria! What must he have thought of to-night, I wonder . . . such a city he has come from. Is he not a gallant?”
Diana had thought courtly would better suit him. Aye—he had courtly air and mien, aristocratic brow and demeanor. No one could match it, quite simply. No Fairfax gent could ever equal George Custis. That may have had bias, but ‘twas true. Diana didn’t bother to contradict herself with rebuking logic. George Custis had real blood, had blue-blood in him, for that matter.
And the next day this courtly fellow came by with Johnny and Father, who had been riding home from Orange County. They had met him on the road and invited him home to dinner, very kindly, as was the gentleman-famer’s way. George Custis assented and was seen riding with Master Wayland and Johnny. Diana had been sitting in the garden oak when she heard the riders enter the yard, and deftly slipped down from her perch, flying on her bare feet to the gate and passing through it, rushed into the path of the three men, gasping when she saw the visitor. She did not see Father or Johnny, and she became very rosy, recalling her appearance, and instantly recoiling as it struck her what a picture she must have made! Bare-footed and wearing plain gingham with a plain white frock, hair braided, and quivering with mortification, unable to say a word. And George Custis of Alexandria stood right before her, his splendid, eloquent eyes observing her—and on his visage he donned what Diana thought to be a very polite expression.
There appeared no other discretion for her to execute but that she might merely flee and hide herself in eternal shame. “How well of you to greet us,” said Father mercilessly, grinning as though fatefully amused.
Diana icily nodded, maintaining her equanimity with potent vitality. “Good-day,” she managed with a faint smile, and vanished round the corner of the house. She retreated to her room by way of the back door, avoiding anyone in the halls and corridors, and fell upon her bed sobbing wretchedly, the cloud of doom and misfortune thickening about her.
© R. E. Williams