Summer Strings by Erika Johnson

The carriage wheels catch on a crack. Slamming me into my neighbor; a small yet robust lady with a yellow fan. To which she waves frustratedly as the carriage picks up again. Our other neighbors chuckle to each other. 

     “My apologies!” I say. To which she glares and bats her fan furiously. Her red lips scrunching together. 

       I can hear the symphony from as we grow closer to the estate. My heart pounding in my chest, or perhaps it is the rattle of the wheels. I can make out the long draws from the violins, with the ballad of a flute. A celebration indeed, but a frantic occasion for me. My hands tighten around the handkerchief in my pocket. The carriage stops. 

     We are escorted out of it with several others. I lend out my hand to help the lady next to me. She frowns again, but accepts my hand. As soon as she lets go, I take off to the entrance. Scanning the vast crowd for clues of her. Elegant gowns and lavishly dressed men crowd around me. All of us clinging together in the summer heat. Suddenly, the music begins to tame itself. The strings drawing out in a winter melancholy, as the flute sings by itself. Suddenly I am in a small ballroom. With only the slow draw of strings echoing in the halls. She is standing in font of me crying. However, that is not the case. The winter ballroom, with silver and red decorations are now bright and warm. I try and head to the parlor. Cursing myself not to get a letter in before the summer ball. Each room empty, save for one with gentlemen swirling wine and talking politics. To which I shut the door immediately. Frustrated, I sink to the couch in the parlor. I can only hear the long strokes of the violins echos. Heels click next to me, and I look up. 

      “Alone by yourself?” The woman with the yellow fan asks. “You were feverish in exiting the carriage. A lover perhaps?” She smiles. 

     “Yes.” I reply, exhausted from running. 

      “Get on the dance floor, she might be waiting for a dance.” 

      “She hates dancing.” 

       The woman laughs. “Ah, you’ve got yourself a problem there.”

       I take out the handkerchief, frustratedly. She stops a moment. 

      “Let me see that.” She holds out her hand. I hesitate on giving it to her, but then I gingerly hand it up. She runs her short nails over the engraving of doves on the corner. 

     “This is my cousin’s!” She exclaims. Nearly sending me and a few other people out of our chairs. “You’re the lad she spoke about last holiday!” 

      I could see the family resemblance now. Dark hair, light golden eyes, with a light dusting of freckles along her nose. Although the lady looks to be my age, her cousin was daintier, with her long hair down and large eyes. 

      “Come, gallant hero!” She hand the handkerchief back and then holds out her arm. “Allow me to escort you!” 

       I take her arm with relief. A knot releases in my chest as I laugh. We quickly head back to the east wing of the mansion. And I can hear the return of the small flute in the band. The winter comes back, as I walk down the halls with another lady clutching my arm. Back to the dance floor, her eyes dried of tears, and smiling again. After her being abandoned by her lover and left to cry in solitude. In the wake of the small strings, she hands me the handkerchief. Her cheeks a light blush as she promises to see me again. 

     “She is over there.” A yellow fan points to the corner of the crowd. The same eyes and hair stare at me. Hair up in a bun with flowers and a new dress. The organ begins to play as our eyes lock, and I feel her cousin let go of my arm.

     “Go.” She whispers. And begins to turn around. As I step forward, the symphony no longe long and melancholy. But bright as the sun beaming in though the skylights and the windows. However as I begin to step forward the light begins to burn. Standing next to her—arms locked— is a tall man. I could recognize him by the lavish trim and embroidery on his frock. He twirls a wine glass merrily and his lace cuffs dance around his wrist. The girl is laughing with him, clutching his side. Her dress wide and equally extravagant, a deep hue of blue. She turns as catches my eye. Her hand flies to her mouth. I am suddenly aware I’ve been staring and I cower away. Her cousin hasn’t moved, and we knock heads. 

     “What happened?” She exclaims as I push past. Only to turn her head to see the unholy sight of a broken heart and a woman with her old lover. I toss the handkerchief on the floor and stomp on it as I walk out of the ballroom.  


      “You have a nasty habit of bumping into me, and then running away.” She folds her arms when she finds me in the garden a few moments past. 

     I don’t respond. Humiliated and alone I’m crouched between some citrus trees outside the estate. The music simply mumbles in the background. My knees are at my chin and my head is down. She doesn’t say anything either, in fact I hope she feels so sorry for me that she leaves me to rot in this lonely state. I lift up my head and open my mouth to begin this order, but she sits beside me. 

    “I’m sorry.” She whispers.

    “It’s not your fault.” I say. Now leave me alone. 

      “I wasn’t aware that my cousin had gotten back with the earl’s son.” She pushes a few stray hair’s aside. “God blast that man. He’d abandoned her the last party, and now he’s pulled her in yet again.” 

     “Now it’s for the next sorry chap who has to pick up the pieces.” I add. She turns towards me. Her dark eyes fallow the tear tracks down my face. 

     “Here.” She chuckles, and pulls out a pice of cloth. I bat it away. 

     “No more handkerchiefs please!” I demand, but she pushes it to my cheek and laughs. 

     “I don’t carry those gaudy things with me.” She smiles as she whips off my cheek. “I don’t care for unpracticality. It doesn’t suit me.” 

      “What about a lover of your own?” I say. She stops, the cloth still in her hand. 

      “Let’s just say, I know a thing or two about broken hearts.” She smiles sadly. I felt a strange sense of empathy wash between us as she finishes my other cheek. 

    “There now you look better.” She folds the cloth in her lap. I stare back at her. 

    “Why did you help me?” I ask. She shrugs. 

     “Why else? You seemed to be searching for the other half of your soul, not just a dance partner.” She smiles. “That is something you don’t see. It’s much more of a search for what’s in a person’s wallet.” 

      “…Or their family’s.” I add. 

      “Indeed. That’s why I was sent here.” She leans back on the wall. The late sun printing the shadows off the leaves along her face and dress. I never realized how simple her dress is. Very elegant, but not padded at the hips so wide. Simply embroidered in gold, with a deep olive green dye, it reminded me of those dresses on the garden statues. The small goddesses of nature too rich in life, with no need for mortal lavishes. 

      “Your family?”

       “Yes, I am too old they say, nineteen and unmarried.” She scoffs. I chuckle a bit and she turns to me. 

       “What? Is that funny?” She peruses her lips. 

        “No,” I chuckle. “I just don’t feel alone anymore.” 

        Her frown softens. Then she begins to laugh. The music trills in the background. Soft strings draw out the evening melody. The frantic day begins to fade as our laughs mingle with the melody; odd and out of place, like crows in the morning silence. As we come to our senses the shadows are dusting both of us. My stomach begins to growl, then hers. 

      “I’d hate to go back.” I say looking towards the courtyard. 

       “Perhaps we could sneak in.” She sits up. “Make it a game?” 

        We both smile and sit up, dusting off our clothes. 

       “I’ve been already eyeing the pastry table.” She adds. “I hear the Champagne is expensive.” 

       “Shall we, milady?” I begin to walk and hold out my hand. For a moment she stares at me. She then smiles, and her fingers lace over my palm. The summer heat softening as the summer strings sing with the flute.