The morning dawned clear and crisp. It was the Wednesday, 2 November, 1847 to be exact. My wedding day. Here I was, now seventeen years old. I felt like I was in my thirties. The ivory gown was laid out on a nearby chair and I had stared at its shadow all night long from my bed between fitful sleeps.
I dressed hurriedly, refusing assistance from anyone aside from Agnes and I sent her away as soon as I could. I did not wish to see my mother, or anyone else for that matter. It would require me to seem happy and excited, a pretense that I knew I would not be able to maintain for long. This process was one that must be endured. I was irritated with myself, but little could be done about that now.
For an hour I sat staring at my reflection in the hazy mirror. People over the years had complimented me on my eyes or sometimes for my skin and figure. I did look pretty with my hair done up, the jewels that were William’s gift to me around my neck. Was it sinful to think I was beautiful, I wondered? Pride. Clearly, what I possessed had not been enough to keep Mr. Brierly. Perhaps this perceived beauty was really nothing at all.
“Miss Evelyn?” the maid said softly at the door, followed by a sharp tapping.
“Yes,” I sighed, knowing what she would say next.
“They are ready for you. Downstairs.” She turned the knob on the door, but it was locked.
I sat quietly.
I could climb out this window…
I would lose everything.
“I will be down in a moment, thank you.” She hesitated for a minute or two, unsure what to do. Eventually, she left. I could hear her footfalls on the stairs. Let them wait. It could not go on without me anyway.
Standing, I quickly pinched my cheeks, straightened my petticoats and fluffed out my skirts. I took a last look at my image in the glass, my last look at the only me that I had known. Who was this Evelyn Aspern? It was time to find out.
I unlocked the door and stepped into the hallway. I felt my legs taking me downstairs where my mother was waiting. I nodded coldly as I passed her at the door to the parlor. Once she was at my back, I put on the demure, pleasant smile that I had rehearsed upstairs. Mrs. Eggleston was in attendance, as were a William’s parents and about a half dozen of my mother’s other acquaintances. The room was filled with white flowers of every type imaginable tied with mulberry ribbons. A wishbone was hanging from the ceiling above the priest’s head, an odd touch that I had seen at weddings as a child back home. It seemed out of place here.
My father, of course, would not be giving me away. We had discussed at length who would present me to my future husband, but in the end, I elected to walk alone. My mother frowned, as she usually did at unconventional things, but at last agreed. Her charge had been to get me married and if that was what it took, so be it. The gossip potential at this point was minimal, since she would be leaving in short order for Cambridge and it was likely that I would never set foot in Edinburgh again. William did not care, so long as I was happy, even if his parents considered it to be bordering on scandalous.
William was standing before the mantelpiece, dressed in a frock coat of deep mulberry, the noontime sun glinted off of his dark brown hair. His full beard was impeccably well groomed. He positively beamed with pride. His best man, Alfred MacDermot, stood to his left and was dressed in a similarly cut blue frock coat. His countenance was much more somber. What was he thinking, I wondered? All eyes were on me as I progressed from the doorway to stand with William. I focused on my feet to keep from tripping or thinking.
There was no organ march. No cheering. No crowd. I felt a hollow emptiness. I wondered if I would miss all of that more acutely in later years.
I took William’s left hand and stood beside him as we exchanged our vows. It only took a few short minutes. Will you promise to honor and obey…? I will. He placed the narrow gold band on my ring finger. There, it was done. We turned back to face the room. William leaned close to whisper, “Thank you,” softly in my ear. I squeezed his hand in acknowledgement.
“May I present Mr. and Mrs. William Aspern!” There was light applause, muted by gloved hands. I marveled briefly at the sound of my existence being whittled down into three little letters and a period uttered by someone else’s lips. My mother hugged me and I felt the tears welling up in my throat. I forced them back. Other individuals filed past, congratulating William. The bride was never congratulated herself, as it was implied that the honor was already granted her in marrying the groom, which meant that I stood by him awkwardly, not sure what to say or do.
Eventually, everyone filed out of the room migrating to the breakfast table. William offered his arm. “Mrs. Aspern, would you do me the honor of accompanying me to breakfast?” He smiled at me.
I was now to embark on the perpetual charade that was to be my life. I prayed silently that God would somehow give me peace.
“Certainly, Mr. Aspern.” I took his arm, smiling back at him.