It was thusly that I set off to meet my future in Edinburgh. My friend, Jane, now gone, with nothing to show for her life but a handful of memories, a marble tomb complete with bittersweet poetry carved between angelic cherubs, and a stricken shell of a husband. My conscience weighed upon me. I had acted rashly. One person’s suffering had been bad enough, but I could not bear to watch the suffering of two. I was frightened by what that meant. Was I not strong? Would I be eternally damned for those extra spoonfuls of laudanum?
We had booked passage on a magnificent Cunard ship named the Cambria that left from Boston and sailed to Liverpool. From there we would have to travel by rail to Edinburgh. The crossing by ocean liner was expected to take two weeks.
The ship itself was breathtaking. I marveled at the skill of humankind to create a vessel this large that was sea worthy. I should have had more trepidation. After all people died all of the time on crossings of this kind, but my own death was far from my thoughts at this point. I knew somehow that this was not how I would end. Dying in a shipwreck did not seem fitting enough as a form of divine retaliation for what I had done.
We brought two servants with us. One was John Marcum, a middle aged steward who had no family to speak of. He had worked for my father for over twenty years and had been charged by him with our protection. He made a formidable picture, standing just over six feet with thick, muscular arms and legs. He wore a long beard across his deeply creased face that was a color of brown that ultimately was a shade lighter than the hair on the top of his head. Gray had just begun to creep in. He always wore black. When at age five I had asked him why, he had replied soberly that it was to mourn his mother. She surely had been dead for many years, as I do not recall him ever wearing any other color throughout my lifetime.
The other servant was a sweet, homely Irish girl of fourteen named Emma who had become my personal maid. We had taken her on several months prior as a favor for one of my father’s friends. Reportedly he had been unable to keep her on after his own daughter had died of cholera. She had already become a dear friend to me. Her deep red hair was an envy of mine and her Irish lilt added to her charm. I had asked her to teach me a few Gaelic words, but she had pointed out that Irish Gaelic was different enough from Scottish Gaelic to not be much of a help to me.
The passage across the Atlantic was uneventful after the first few days of illness had passed that acquiring one’s sea legs requires. The food was fair. I did a good amount of walking with Emma on the deck, strolling past the other gentlemen and ladies and children headed for their own new lives, or perhaps returning to them. I was always protected from the sun by wide hats, parasols, scarves. Its mystical complexion ruining powers would scuttle my season before it started. Weather permitting I would often sit in the shade of the deck with a cup of tea, lost in my thoughts. A few other passengers ventured to engage me in conversation from time to time, but quickly gave up as I was clearly not in the mood for discourse.
My mother took note of my brooding, attributing it to the usual grieving that accompanies the loss of a friend, and brought it upon herself repeatedly to lecture me about the necessity of maintaining the appearance of gaiety, as no man would want to wed a woman with a perpetually somber countenance. “Evelyn, you simply MUST smile more!” she continually implored. I always thanked her for her concern, and as usual would then return to my tea and my thoughts, continually revisiting the subjects of death, guilt, and laudanum in the recesses of my mind that she and no one else could see.
We made port in Liverpool and boarded a train for Edinburgh with our vast collection of trunks and the handful of servants in tow. Travelling by train was not a new experience for me, but after such a long voyage it was particularly tedious.
My father had arranged apartments in the New Town just off of George’s Street. We arrived at the new Waverly Station on March 12, 1847. As we worked to secure several carriages to transport us and our belongings I could see the newly erected Sir Walter Scott Memorial just beyond the station with it pointed, gothic spires stretched to the heavens. Our temporary residence would be in a townhouse located in Charlotte’s Square with its distinctive Georgian architecture. The season started in less than a month and there was much work to be done, securing the right connections.
Our accommodations were more than satisfactory, I was relieved to say. The drawing room, just off of the creamy marbled entrance hall was dominated by a great carved mahogany mantelpiece and a heavy crystal chandelier that hung from the ceiling. Clearly it had been recently renovated as it retained little of the uncomplicated and regal Georgian décor. The walls were covered with elegant salmon wallpaper with gold detailing, the ceiling with a contrasting bright blue paper and matching gold detailing. The ornate plasterwork molding ran the length of the room with its swirling leaves and tiny thistles. There were two green patterned camel backed sofas flanking each side of the fire grate, as well as a gathering of carved, stuffed chairs by the great windows that stretched from floor to ceiling. The windows themselves were draped with thick, navy-colored silks with gold tassels that ran the length of the folds. The floor was carpeted with a thick wool pile in a blue, green, and red geometric pattern that left the head spinning. In fact, I could look out of the drawing room windows across the square with its trees and green space to see the tall spire of St. George’s Church, a part of the recently formed Free Church of Scotland. There were several paintings of venerable Scottish royalty or variable ranks that continually stared at me from their frames about the room.
To reach my bedroom on the second floor one had to traverse the gently winding staircase from the entrance hall. A skylight lit the way from above (how does that fair in a hale storm, I wondered). I was delighted to see that the room contained a canopied bed with ornately embroidered yellow floral motifs on white linens and that the windows were capped with matching cornices. The walls were striped with ivory and pale yellow while the mantelpiece was painted white and supported a massive gold framed mirror. Two daintily carved chairs sat opposite each other before the fireplace. A dark wooden writing desk occupied the wall between the two windows, stocked already with fine writing papers and envelopes. A young woman with jet black hair grimaced at me from her portrait above the desk, her pale blue silks and lace draping her slender, pale shoulders. A dark brooch with the word RECUERDO was pinned to her shoulder and I silently wondered as to its meaning. Memory. Whose memory?
Mother’s room was located across the landing and was appropriately much more somber, with its dark wood and burgundy velvet trappings.
The servants’ quarters were on the third floor up a narrow, dark staircase. I did not intend to venture there very often if I could avoid it.
In short order, I had unpacked with the assistance of Emma and my mother. The evening had not even closed as my mother began to plot her strategy…
In hind sight I understand now that my mother’s urgency, her obsession and attention to detail were not about her love for me, but rather the pursuit of self preservation. Once I married, if something happened to my father she would play second to me and to my husband. My father would not likely have provided an income for her after his death, such was their relationship. It was crucial for her to find an individual whom she could mold, persuade, even bully if needed in order to secure her own future in the relative comforts to which she had become accustomed.
Yes, there was much work to be done.