Raphael stood in the ballroom unsure of what to do. Marcus, her friend asked for her hand to dance and she went with him to the dance floor. It was a waltz and before she knew what was happening, they had completed the dance. He was very friendly with her and brought her back to her mother who was acting as her chaperone. Raphael wanted to go back home. She longed to go back to her world of books. They were her best companion these days.
* * * *
“Did you try talking to him? Did he promise to call on you tomorrow?”, her friend Daisy prodded her after Marcus had left. Daisy was a wallflower like her. They had been out for four seasons now and both of them had not been able to catch husbands.
This year’s season was coming to an end and if they both did not get married, there was a high possibility they would end up as spinsters for life. Raphael looked at her friend. Daisy had curly red hair, brown eyes and a mischievous smile on her face. She was an attractive girl, was headstrong and expressed her opinions openly. This quality made her less popular among the potential suitors. It was generally expected that women should not speak their mind and must never appear intelligent.
“Are you even listening to me, Raph?” Daisy asked.
“Oh yes, I’m definitely listening, Dais. We both talked about the new coach factory that they were building in London for the railways,” replied Raphael.
“What? Is that all you talked? Why don’t you ask him to court you? Ask him to drop in at your house tomorrow. You can go out for a walk to the Hyde Park and spend time together,” suggested Daisy.
Raphael looked at her friend. Daisy had been trying to get both of them together in the last few months. Raphael knew that was not how it worked. Women did not ask to be courted.
“I know he is a nice man, Dais. Nevertheless, you know how these things work in our society. In addition, Marcus is a good friend. I don’t want our friendship to be ruined,” murmured Raphael and wrapped an arm around Daisy’s shoulder.
* * * *
Back home, Raphael recounted the discussion she had with Daisy that evening. Marcus was a very good friend. She had always loved him and would do so. She knew deep in her heart that he really did not have any other feelings for her. He would never look at her more than a friend.
Many girls had hoped and tried to catch his interest. Marcus had barely noticed any of them. Raphael did not want to break the beautiful friendship she had with him. She pulled out the portrait of Marcus from her desk and looked at it lovingly. A tear slipped from her eye. She traced her fingers on Marcus’s features and remained looking at his face. She would never tire of looking at him.
She also knew that he was considered the most eligible bachelor and many mothers were trying to get their daughter’s married to him. The love she had for Marcus would be something she would treasure for the rest of her life and probably take it with her to the grave. Even Daisy did not know about the love she had for him. With a sigh, she pulled out one of the romance books from her collection and started reading. She was soon drawn into the world of fantasies.
Breakfast was an elaborate affair at her home and today was no exception. After breakfast, Raphael started towards the sitting room where her mother was sewing. She looked at the pile of invitation cards that had been sent to her parents for the house parties and balls that were hosted this season. She knew her mother had read all the invitation cards and had accepted most of them.
She made a mental note to ask her mother to let her go to the modiste to place orders for a few dresses. After a few hours, she asked her mom if they could make the trip to the modiste. Her mother readily agreed and asked for the carriage to be brought to the front door. She purchased two sets of evening dresses and one walking dress that day. She was able to finally convince her mother to the pastries shop to get an assortment of chocolates and pastries.
* * * *
That evening they rode to the house party that was hosted by one of her mother’s friend. Raphael had picked up a blue evening dress that went well with the sapphire earrings and chain that she had. After a few hours of waiting for Marcus and Daisy to turn up, Raphael headed towards the table where they were serving lemonade. It was going to be a long night and she felt thirsty.
As she was making her way, she noticed her friend Samuel talking to another person near the doors leading to the music room. Samuel saw her as well and she smiled at him. She got herself a glass of lemonade and walked towards the garden.
“Good evening, Raphael. You look lovely, dear”, Raphael could hear Samuel’s voice.
“Good evening, Samuel”, Raphael stopped and waited for him. “Heading towards the gardens?” Samuel continued.
“Yes, wanted some fresh air,” replied Raphael. Samuel took her hand and guided her towards the bench in the garden. They watched the moon shining like a jewel in the sky. It was silent out there except for the sounds of nature. The breeze was cool. It brought in a sense of calmness to both of them. They were silent for a long time.
Sam was her friend since childhood. Samuel, Marcus, Daisy and Raphael always played together as kids. Sam and Marcus had then left to study at Eton while Raphael and Daisy where home schooled just like other girls their age. The childhood friendship bounded them together and they always looked out for each other.
“Who was that person with whom you were talking, Sam?” Raphael asked curiously. Sam turned towards her with a boyish charm. “Oh that was Cam Rohan. Don’t you remember him? He went to Eton with Marcus and me. Cam takes care of his family’s shipping business and just recently travelled back from India. He is also unmarried,” Sam winked at her.
Raphael quickly looked down. Sam and his wife were always asking her to get married soon and trying to play the matchmaker. He was like a brother to her. Raphael knew that the best way to stop Sam from talking further on the topic was to keep quiet. After some time, she urged Sam to return to the room. She wanted some time alone for herself.
* * * *
After a few days, Raphael attended a soiree one evening. The musical staged by the daughters of their host was good. The eldest one played the piano while the other two daughters played the violin. After appreciating the young girls on their musical talent, Raphael was busy chatting with Daisy and other friends when she spotted Cam.
He was standing in a corner and observing everyone. He seemed to be someone who did not like mingling with people. Raphael understood that very well. He met her eyes and smiled. She smiled back.
She continued her conversation with her friends. Daisy wanted to go the ladies’ retiring room and they made their way to the room. “Whom were you smiling at Raph?” asked Daisy quietly.
Raphael raised a brow. “How did you notice? You were busy talking to Evie and Caroline”.
“I never miss what you do, my dear friend. So tell me whom did you smile at,” demanded Daisy.
Raphael knew that she would never be able to get away from her question. Her friend was as stubborn as she was.
“That was Cam Rohan, a friend of Sam and Marcus. They went to Eton together”, Raphael continued.
“I see. Were you introduced to him?” Daisy asked eagerly.
“No. What about you? Ah, never mind. I know the answer by just looking at your face,” grinned Raphael. He is handsome and he kept looking at you,” exclaimed Daisy. Raphael ignored her comment. “Dais, why do we always talk about men?” asked Raphael.
“You do know we need to get married eventually, Raph. And there are not many good men who are unmarried”. Daisy shrugged as if that should explain everything.
Raphael shot Daisy an amused and knowing glance. “Well, you should ask Sam for an introduction. He was the one who was telling me about this guy”.
“Am going to ask him to do that”, replied Daisy happily. “By the way did you notice the dress that Stephanie was wearing today? The cut was too low,” asked Raphael trying to steer their conversation to some other topic.
They continued their conversation and Raphael thanked God silently. There was no more talking about Cam Rohan.
When they were back to the room, Cam Rohan was nowhere in sight. After dinner, she left with her parents and Daisy. They had to drop off Daisy since her parents were not able to make it to the soiree that evening.
* * * *
After a few weeks, there was another ball that they had to attend. The couple who hosted the ball were close to Raphael’s family. Raphael was dressed in a cream-colored satin dress. Daisy was not able to make it since she had to attend her cousin’s wedding.
Marcus, Samuel and another family friend had already danced with her. “I hate coming to these balls. All the mamas are after me,”complained Marcus.
“Well, that is because you are the most eligible bachelor here,” Raphael and Samuel responded in unison.
By then, Sam’s wife came over and he left to dance with her. Marcus updated Raphael of the new reforms he wanted to move in Parliament when it began in a few months. She heard his ideas and gave him a few suggestions. That was another reason why she loved Marcus. He treated her equally and asked her for her opinions.
“When are you going to get married, Marcus?” asked Raphael.
Marcus raised a brow. “In a few more years. Iam just two and twenty. I still have a lot to do in life. I do not think Iam still ready for marriage. Why are you asking me all of a sudden,” Marcus looked at her curiously.
Raphael smiled warmly at her friend. “Because I am your friend and if there is one guy here who is eligible to be married, it is you. You will make a fine husband”.
Marcus was tall, lean and handsome. He had a charm that made everyone like him instantly. “Hmmm. What about you?”prodded Marcus.
Raphael inhaled deeply. How could she tell him that she was waiting for him to propose to her? “Are you asking?” Marcus stared at her not knowing what to say.
Raphael let out an impatient exhale. “I was only teasing. To answer your question, well, I have not found anyone interesting. Last week Sir Thomas asked for my hand. Can you believe? That man is married three times and is my grandfather’s age”, sighed Raphael.
“Will kill him if he places even one finger on you. I hope your father gave him a piece of mind before rejecting the offer,”growled Marcus.
Raphael laughed. “Yes, he did. Papa would have hit him if mama had not been there. He was so angry with him. So you see am stuck. Waiting for my prince charming to come find me,” she smiled wistfully.
“Raph, promise me you will not agree to anyone’s hand without consulting with me. Iam a member of all the famous clubs and am privy to the lives of most men around here. I can tell you who is a good guy and who is not,” replied Marcuswith great feeling.
Raphael sighed. The problem with Marcus was he was a great friend who was always looking out for her, trying to protect her. However, he would never desire her. One day, she had to let go this obsession that she had of Marcus. It was going nowhere.
* * * *
“Well, this is a surprise. Hello old fellow,” Raphael heard Marcus say while she was lost in her thoughts. Raphael’s eyes followed the direction of Marcus’s nod. She looked at the person who was approaching them.
“Hello Marcus, long time since we met.” Cam Rohan greeted Marcus. He looked at Raphael and that is when Marcus made the introductions, “Am not going to do the usual thing, no formal introductions. Cam, this is my friend Raphael and Raphael, this is Cam”.
Raphael nodded and bowed gracefully to Cam. Cam took Raphael’s gloved hand and laid a scrupulously polite kiss on her knuckles. “So, how is the new bill coming up, Marcus?” asked Cam.
“I still have to talk to a few more people and then get all of them to vote for it,” muttered Marcus. After their small talk and assuring himself that Raphael was in safe hands, Marcus moved to dance with one of the young debutantes who had been introduced to society just a few days back. It was a favor that one of his friends had asked him and he could not say no to it.
They were finally left to themselves and Raphael did not know what to say. “I thought things would have changed when I was back. But I was wrong, nothing has changed,” observed Cam.
Raphael looked at him and bit back a smile. “And why would you think it must have changed. It is not that easy to give up tradition.”
That started their conversation and Raphael soon found herself enjoying the conversation with Cam. It was easy to talk to him. “Do you want to dance with me? Should I put my name on your dance card?” asked Cam. “No, you don’t have to. Not if we are going to be friends,” laughed Raphael.
It was easy to dance with Cam. He anticipated her moves and made small talk all the way through the dance. “Don’t they make a great couple,” Sara asked Samuel while looking at Raphael and Cam dance.
“Yes, I hope they like each other and we hear wedding bells in the next few weeks” Samuel smiled fondly at his wife. “Raph needs some time, Sam. She needs someone who loves her unconditionally. I hope he is that person.” Sara pulled Samuel towards the refreshment counter.
The rest of the evening went on very well although Raphael missed Daisy and wish she was there. Cam was a great conversationalist. They stayed up a little late and Raphael was actually reluctant to say good-bye.
* * * *
“What kind of person is he, Raph and don’t tell me he is just a friend. You seem to blush every time you talk about him,” prodded Daisy.
She had just been back to London and had immediately rushed off to her best friend’s house to hear all about what happened in the last few days. She had never seen her friend talk so much about a gentleman. “I told you all that happened. We danced, talked and then he left to meet up his other friends”. Raphael did not know why it made her smile.
After that dance, she had met Cam a couple of other times and they had talked like old friends. Cam was a different person when he met the ton and different when he was with Raph and other close friends. The ton prodded him on his travel to India, on how his business had grown in the last few years. He tried to oblige them by answering their questions. Raphael knew he hated these discussions since everyone had an ulterior motive while talking to him. However, with her and a few close friends he was himself.
He had accompanied his mother and two sisters for many balls, dinner parties since his father was not in London. The two sisters had just been introduced to the society a few months back and were always the center of attraction. He had introduced Raphael to his family and they had promptly ignored her. Raphael understood that well. His father was a duke. The duchess was from old school. She was bent on etiquettes and did not socialize with people below their rank or status. Apart from the brief greetings, she rarely met his family. They moved in different circles.
“Welcome to the world back, dear,” Daisy bit the cookie that cook had just made. That brought Raphael back to the conversation.
“I was just woolgathering. Did you receive the invitation that we received from the Duke of Cornwall. A week of horse riding, great food, music, card games, walking through the country side, etceteraetcetera,” Raphael would have gone on if Daisy had not interrupted her.
Daisy laughed. “Ok, I see you don’t want to talk about Cam. Fine, let us talk about what we are going to wear the next few days at Cornwall. Oh, by the way, I received a letter from Marcus. He said he will be gone to talk to a few more people for his new bill and would join us after a few days at Cornwall”.
That made Raphael look at Daisy thoughtfully. “Marcus sent you a letter?” asked Raphael. “Yeah”, Daisy was busy finishing off the second chocolate cookie. Raphael just stared at her. She did know that Marcus was also Daisy’s friend but she had never thought that they would be close. She had never given much thought to it. Was she missing something here? Daisy would have told her if she had feelings for him. You still have not told Daisy (her conscience told her).
* * * *
As soon as Raphael got her room at the Cornwall estate, she started looking for Daisy. She spotted her immediately and they found that they both had adjoining rooms. A week of being in the countryside always made her feel better. They had already planned for morning walks, horse riding. The days went by and they both enjoyed the stay.
Cam had come in with his family and she felt closer to him. She introduced him to Daisy. Going by her friend’s expression, she knew that Daisy liked him as well. Raphael and Daisy participated in all the silly games that were played by the girls of their age. The food was elaborate and delicious.
Raphael was not an early riser like Daisy. However, one day she had wanted to simply walk in the woods surrounding the estate in the early morning. She quickly finished her morning ablutions and put on one of her favorite dress that was simple and comfortable.
She took the trail that she and Daisy had taken the previous day and just took in the sights. The birds were chirping and she could see the butterflies around the flowers. “I didn’t know you were an early riser”. Raphael knew who it was even before she turned around. Cam stood casually, leaning towards one of the big trees. He was dressed casually in just a crisp white shirt and grey trousers.
“Hey, good morning,” greeted Raphael. “Good morning to you,” Cam walked towards her gracefully and extended his hands. They were quite large and her hands felt so small when he took them in his.
They resumed walking. They talked about different things and she liked the friendly banter that they always had when they conversed. Raphael pulled Cam towards the wishing well.
She pulled out a penny and asked him to make a wish. “This is so silly, Raph” Cam looked at her. “I know it is silly, but don’t think too much. Make a wish, Cam,” nudged Raphael.
“No man, I am not falling for this,” grinned Cam. “Oh come on. Ok, let me make a wish for you then,” smiled Raph warmly. She wished that he found a person who loved him dearly and tossed the penny in the wishing well. Cam was amused and they walked further down the trail.
After some time, they decided that they needed to take a rest and Raphael plopped down unceremoniously on a tree log. Cam looked at her and asked, “Do you want to marry?”
“Well, of course. Doesn’t everyone?” Raphael asked curiously. And just like that, they looked into each other’s eyes.
It seemed as if the world came to a head stop right then. They were both struggling with some emotion but did not know how to express it. They heard a noise and that broke the trance. No more words were spoken. They quickly got up and made their way back to the house.
* * * *
Back at her room, Raphael could not wonder thinking of what happened in the woods that morning. Daisy noted that something was up and Raphael was too glad to talk to Daisy about it. “I think he has feelings for you, Raph,” Daisy told her excitedly.
“Oh come on, Dais. We both are from two different worlds. And he is just being a friend”, Raphael responded quickly.
“Fine, if that makes you feel better. But I have seen how he looks at you when you are not looking at him on different occasions,” Daisy informed her.
The problem was Raphael did not know what was happening with her. She liked Cam and was drawn towards him. However, she felt that she was letting down Marcus. Both Marcus and Cam had different personalities. While Cam never did well with being around many people, Marcus was very outspoken and loved to talk to people. While Marcus took his title seriously, Cam never even liked it.
She always had serious conversations with Marcus whereas Cam made her laugh and say silly things. They argued and indulged in friendly banters.
She knew she was in love with Marcus, but where did that leave her with Cam. Did she really love Cam, was she just infatuated with Marcus. The questions kept popping up in her head and she just did not know what to do. She was so confused. All she knew was that she cared for these two people and they were important to her.
* * * *
The season was ending in two months. As was usual, Raphael was dancing with Cam. He asked her to meet him out in the garden. Surprised, she made her way to the garden.
“I had to tell you this before I tell anyone, Raph. In the last few months, I have come to realize how close you are to me. Believe me when I tell you that I have never been this close with anyone other than family. You mean so much to me.” Raphael looked at him expectantly. What was he trying to say?
He had been in her thoughts the last few weeks. She still could not conclude on what she thought about Cam and Marcus.
“I am getting engaged and will be married by end of this month,” continued Cam unaware of Raphael’s distress. Raphael just looked at Cam. Did she hear it right?
“She is the daughter of a family friend. My parents introduced us a few days back and I think she is nice. Mother wanted me to marry her. I wanted to introduce you to her. Have invited her for the dinner party tomorrow,” Cam chatted happily. Raphael gaped at him.
If it had not been for the darkness, Cam would have been able to see the sorrow and the helplessness that showed up on Raphael’s face. What more could she say.
Moreover, it was not as if he had hinted about his feelings for her. So why then did it feel like her heart had been ripped into two? She congratulated him and asked about the girl who was going to marry him.
Cam gave her all the details but she did not really listen to him. Finally, he took her back to the ballroom promising to come home to give her the invitations.
Daisy was furious when she heard about it. “How dare he tells you that he is going to be engaged to someone else?” she demanded.Daisy then pulled in Marcus and gave him the news. Marcus did not understand why Daisy was furious and Raphael seemed so dejected.
* * * *
Raphael met the girl whom Cam had been engaged to. Georgia was a sweet person. She was beautiful, young and was a duke’s daughter. She had even asked Raphael to be one of the bridesmaid on the wedding.
Daisy wanted Raphael to march up to Cam and tell him that she loved him. “Dais, I don’t even know if he loves me,” exclaimed Raphael. Although Daisy liked Georgia, she was a loyal friend of Raphael.
Finally, they did go to the wedding but Raphael refused to be the bridesmaid. It was one thing to go to the wedding, but being a bridesmaid was a very different thing. It hurt her to see them exchanging their vows.
Marcus and Daisy were right beside her offering her comfort. After the wedding ceremony, Marcus took her to the Hyde Park after the wedding. It was comforting to walk around without saying a word. They fell into companionable silence.
They found an empty bench and sat on it. “I hate to see you like this, Raph. Tell me what I can do to make it go away. To get back my old friend?” he tucked the strands of hair that had fallen out of her hat behind her ear. She looked into his blue eyes and the first drop of tear fell on his hand. He wiped it away and held her while she cried.
* * * *
The next few days went in a flurry. Cam and his wife had left for their honeymoon and Raph spent her time going to the parties and dinners.
None of them held any interest to her. If that got her heart shattered, Marcus proposal to Daisy in a month, made her die a second time.
Daisy refused initially but when Raphael knew about it, she urged her to say yes. If anyone knew Marcus well other than her, it was Daisy. They fit perfectly well. She knew that if Daisy ever knew that she was in love with Marcus, she would decline the offer.
She never knew why Marcus had never had any feelings for her. She also knew that there was no reason why someone fell in love with another person. It just happens. It could take a few seconds or a few years for a person to fall in love with another.
She was happy for both of them. This time she did not hesitate to be the bridesmaid for Daisy. She wanted her friend to be happy. Ironically, they got married in the same church where Cam had got married. She saw the man she loved and her dear friend get married. It hurt so much but she was happy for both of them. They looked the perfect couple.
She stayed by Daisy’s side throughout the wedding and got emotional when the wedding vows were said. After Marcus and Daisy left the church, Raphael finally decided to leave.
After she had said good night to her parents and her maid had helped her out of the dress and change into her nightclothes, she shut her bedroom door and finally wept. She could not hold on to her emotions any longer. She remembered all those good moments that she had shared with Marcus, Daisy and Cam.
It seemed that she was not worthy of any man’s love. Both of them had only considered her as a close friend and nothing more. May be that is how it was meant to be. May be she was just not meant to find love.
She could never be angry with them for this. If that was her destiny, who was she to fight it. After hours of crying, she finally picked up one of her favorite romance novels and started reading it.
The book pulled her into a completely different world that had a happy ending – the hero and the heroine fell madly in love with each other, got married and lived happily ever after. She loved the happy ending novels the best. Then she fell asleep with a smile on her face.
* * * *