The chandelier swayed gently, like a tree in the breeze. It was like a tree in many ways: dripping in crystal leaves and golden vines. The chandelier was also lovely, like a tree. But, there is one thing that greatly separates trees from chandeliers: trees are natural givers, while chandeliers are artificial takers.
Chandeliers are not the only adornments that are artificial takers. There are blue Chinese vases, imported silk curtains, oxford crystal champagne glasses, and so on. There only seems to be artificial takers in our mansion, on 367 Bellevue Avenue, in Newport.
Some may think it would be wondrous to live in such a fashion. What isn’t to love? Everything. It brings no luxury to the owner, but the satisfaction of knowing you can afford the most expensive items in France. These items hold no substantial meaning. They only leave voids in bank accounts, and longings for money. Well, this is exactly the case of my family: the Cummings. My parents spent so wildly, their bank account dwindled, and they sank into desperation. The only way to safely regain their losses is to marry off their only daughter: me.
“Ruth, darling, Mr. Astor is here to call on you,” my mother says, rushing into my bedroom. These days my mother, Eleanor, is always frantic when Mr. Jacob Astor calls.
Jacob Astor is an heir to one of the richest men in society. He is the man to marry if your parents financed poorly, and did not care much for your future happiness. He is arrogant, condescending, and cynical. However, he is unfortunately handsome.
“Mother! He is not someone I would like to spend my afternoon with, nor the rest of my life. He will want to walk, as always, and you know my skin does not fare well in the sun. I’m just too pale. I’ll … I’ll get freckles and you know how unwanted skin imperfections are, especially when you are trying for a marriage.”
“Oh Ruth, it is to rain today. He will not wish to walk. Besides, you are this close,” she snarls, spacing her index finger and thumb slightly apart to demonstrate, “to gaining his proposal. Now get on. Your suitor is waiting,” she finishes, dragging me to the parlor.
We reach the parlor. I place my hand out for the usual greeting when, in one, fast, sweeping motion, Jacob dropped to one knee, gripping my hand. Then with exaggerated compassion and dramatics says, “May I have your hand?”
My worst nightmare has come true. He has asked for my hand in marriage. What had my parents said to him, did to him, offer him? Had they exposed their bankruptcy? No, they wouldn’t. Not a soul knows our financial situation. What could have made this man ask for marriage? Surely, the only reason would be for my glorious height. Jacob himself is like a skyscraper; towering, and willowy.
It happened so fast, overtaking me with panic: the proposal, the planning, everything. Each waking hour I am reminded of my dark fate. All I hear are congratulations and gossip about my upcoming wedding: where my dress is to be imported from or what sorts of flowers shall adorn the pews. I have grown sick of it. These days, I have taken to staying in my room. From sunrise to sunset, I stare at the peach colored walls. How I wish to be in an open field, in the warm south, eating a peach. Free to let the juices drip down my chin. Free to take as large a bite as I desire. Free to not wear a corset. Free of the burdens of high society. What could be bad about a simple life? The glitz and the glam mean nothing.
Time seems to be one continuous loop. I see no morning, and I see no night. Soon, I see my reflection in the mirror. A lace veil flows down my shoulders. A silk collar rises to the middle of my neck, a jeweled bodice runs the length of my torso, and they are all so stiff, so stifling. My mother lingers behind me, peering over my shoulders. “Just think of the trips to Paris, the fine clothing, the jewels. Jacob will pamper you. You will be the talk of the town!”
“But mother, as I recall you are the one who wants the jewels and the trips across the Atlantic. You can no longer have these fineries. As I see it, you are trading my happiness for a new fortune. All you do is spend, and then cry to your husband there is no money. You are not only broke, but you are broken!”
“Ruth Cummings I am not a broken person. If anything you are the broken one for not seeing the sensibility in this marriage,” my mother replies evenly.
“You are ridiculous! I am sorry for your loss of money, and your soul. One day we
shall meet again, and I hope to see you back in one whole piece,” I turn and run from my bedroom. I run from the echoing halls, and the life I was to live.
Eventually I reach the beach. It’s empty. Only the gentle lapping of waves fills my ears, and only the salted air stings my nose. I’m alone or so I thought.
“What do you want, you . . . ,” my voice is broken off when I turn to see Jacob.
“Oh, I don’t want anything. I heard you earlier, not to be offensive, but you have quite the mouth. However, I came to confess that I wasn’t very pleased with this marriage either.”
“Oh. I am not very sure you understand . . . ,” I respond confused.
“I understand. Your family is in debt, and your mother wanted my money. My parents forced me into this as well. Our marriage would have created the most superior family. My money, your reputation, we would have owned it all. By the way, if I were to ever marry you it would be for your height.”
“I knew it,” I laugh.
“So here we are. If you are to return home you would be disowned by your parents, and I most likely shunned. We have lived under society’s eyes for too long,” he pauses and then leans close. “What if we were to steal away, at this very moment? Now, I am not implying that I will become your betrothed, but this can just be our little act of defiance to our parents. We can then part ways.”
“Sounds splendid,” I beam. Linking arms, we stroll into the early evening sun to seek out the steel beast that will carry us to a free life.
These days I find myself in sunny Georgia, staring; at a tree swaying gently in the wind. The tree is dripping in bright green teardrops and snaking vines. The tree radiates natural beauty. Staring at it further, I remember the chandelier in my bedroom that always swayed slightly. There is one thing that greatly separates trees from chandeliers: chandeliers are artificial takers, while trees are natural givers; giving me my freedom, and . . . peaches.