Chapter Eleven: Paying the Devil

On the appointed evening, after the household had retired, I wrapped myself in a cloak and met Emma on the stairs.  We silently left out of the back of the house, and snuck into the dark alleyway. I had traced the steps several times the day before and hoped that I would not become lost in the dark.

In short order we arrived.  He was located in a business district nearby.  All of the shops were closed.  There was a small gate between two shops that lead to a darkened stairwell. I closed the grate quietly behind us and climbed the stairs, Emma following close behind me.  I knew she was frightened.  We both knew very little of this procedure, but there was no doubt that pain would be involved.  I rapped on the door softly.  No answer.  My heart was in my throat.  I tried again, this time louder.  I could hear rustling and footsteps and breathed a sigh of relief.  The bolt slid free and the door cracked open.  When Mr. Jenkins saw that it was me, he opened the door further and ushered us inside. 

The apartment was lit by a number of oil lamps.  There was a table at the center of the room that was covered with an oil cloth.  Several instruments were laid out.  A tenaculum, a dilation probe, a curette.  At least there was not a knitting needle.  Somehow, the clinical appearance of these instruments was reassuring.   

“Mr. Jenkins, this is Emma.”  He had seemed surprised to see her, as if he had still not believed that I was not the actual patient.  I shrugged out of my cloak.  Emma pulled hers tighter.

He turned to Emma.  “Please have a seat and make yourself comfortable.  Ms. Douglas and I have some business to attend to.”  He indicated a large, overstuffed chair that appeared a bit worn but was still in fair condition.  She sat, silently, hands clasped in her lap.  She stared fixedly ahead.  He nodded to her, then took my elbow and led me with a firm grip to a doorway.  He paused to allow me to pass through first, then entered and closed the door.  There was a lock.  He turned it.

“Is that really necessary, Mr. Jenkins?”  I turned to him. 

“So we are not interrupted, Ms. Douglas.”

The room was clearly a bedroom, though it was tiny and dimly lit by a single candle that resided next to a washbowl and pitcher on the dressing table by the door.  There was a small bed in one corner with a worn yellow coverlet, a bare chair in the other corner.  The floor was bare.

I began by digging out the dozens of pound notes that I had pulled from my stocking drawer.  Those notes represented years of savings, my safety net.  I had not had any idea why I was doing it or what I would need them for, but here I was, grateful that I had had the forethought to bring the collection on the voyage.

“I am not looking for money, Ms. Douglas.  Let me be clear.  You cannot pay me the amount of money that I require.  I have, however, found your figure most pleasing for some time and have had quite the many carnal thoughts about you.  To be quite plain, for me to perform the operation on your maid, I require the use of your body for ten minutes.”  I reeled.  What? “Do I have your consent?”  He waited expectantly.

“You want me to do what?” I hissed.

“You heard me.”

I stood for a moment in shock.  Fortunately, I was near the dressing table.  I placed my hand on the cool surface to steady myself.  I needed time to think. 

“Do I have your consent?” He demanded, more firmly.

Emma.  Her plight was in some way my fault, I knew.  As the Bible said, “I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation…”  Was this my penance?  Would this pay my father’s debt? 

I slowly nodded my assent.  I could not speak the words. 

He did not leave me time to even blink.  He was on me in a flash.  He forced me face down on the bed, hiked up my skirts as he deftly removed his belt, parted my legs, and then searing pain flew into my mind as tears poured down my face. 

While it seemed an eternity, he was in actuality through in a matter of seconds.  When he withdrew himself from me, he turned me over.

“Look at my face.”  I refused to comply, silent sobs wracking my body. “Look at my face!”  He grabbed my chin with his left hand and forced me to look at him.  “I am your first apparently but I will not be your last.  There is a solution of alum with sulfate of zinc in a syringe in the top drawer of the dresser.  Clean yourself out with it.  I do not need any bastard children.”  With that, he stood and buttoned his trousers.  I seethed with anger and humiliation.  Someday, he would pay.  But tonight, for now, I would get what I had come here for…freedom for Emma.  I lost myself to the silent sobs again, rocking back and forth on the edge of the bed.  I do not know how much time passed before I realized that he was sitting in the chair in the corner, watching me.

I resolved at last to cry my last tears. I used the syringe as instructed as he looked on.  To be certain I did not want him to have any bastard children either.  I prayed that it would work.  Once my skirts were situated and I had washed my face with cold water from the pitcher, I moved to the door.  He followed.

I stopped dead in the center of the room.  Emma was gone!

Chapter Ten: Proposition

“Thank you for meeting me, Mr. Jenkins,” I whispered in hushed tones. “I will make my request as speedily as possible.”  He was standing before me with a half smile playing on his lips.  I paused, not quite sure how to proceed.

“Go on, Ms. Douglas.”  He sighed impatiently and folded his arms across the dark brown fabric of his suit vest. 

“I have a servant in my employ who is in need of assistance in a rather delicate matter.  I…I thought maybe you would be a position to give me some advice.”

“A servant you say?”  I did not like his tone.

“Yes, a maid!” I replied sharply.

He looked amused.  He pulled out the silver watch that resided in his left pocket, flipped it open, glanced at the face, then snapped it closed and replaced it.

“She is with child and you…she… does not wish to deliver?”  I was relieved that he had spelled it out simply for me, but again irritated at the implication that I was the one in need of the services.  Still, in his defense, I am sure that there had been many ladies of my station who had requested his assistance.  Perhaps he was trying to “help” me understand that it would be OK to be honest if I were actually pregnant as certainly he was going to know in the end anyway. 


“Fine.” He waved off the discomfort with a flourish of his hand.  “I can be of assistance, however I require something of you first.”  He waited.  Was he waiting to hear how much I could pay?

“Certainly I will find a way to pay you.  How much do you charge?” 

“Maybe more than you want to pay, truthfully, but we will see.  Bring your servant to my rooms day after tomorrow.  It is probably safest to come after dark.”  He passed me his card.

“Thank you,” I said softly.

Chapter Nine: The Pursuit

The coach ride to Old Town passed in quiet contemplation.  The wheels jolted the carriage up and down over the cobbles.  It was an overcast afternoon with brooding, dark clouds overhead.  It smelled like rain outside.  I expected that at any moment the sky would open up and there would be one of the brief downpours that seemed to occur almost daily.  I had come prepared with a cloak in case it was needed. 

As I reclined on the plush, crimson cushions in the carriage, the dark paneling seem to insulate me and I tried to relax.  My mind wandered.  It was then that it struck me, like a lightning bolt through the heart and I sat up straight.  Emma was carrying my brother or sister.  This was not just a matter of ending an unwanted pregnancy, this was fratricide in actuality.  Why had this not occurred to me before?   And did this change my stance on whether or not to help her? Why did this have to dawn on me now, as I was embarking upon my mission?

Upon arrival at Saint Giles, a formidable dark gray stone edifice, the driver assisted me as I alighted.  I managed to catch the edge of my bonnet on the carriage doorframe, which knocked it back off of my head disrupting the braids that I had looped up from the sides of my head to the bun at the base of my neck.  Damn. No help for that now.  I paused beside the coach using my reflection in the glossy finish of the door to tuck everything back into place as best I could, then retied the bonnet’s silk ribbons under my chin as I glanced around furtively to see if anyone else had taken notice.  I was relieved to see that the few stragglers that were making their way into the cathedral were either engaged in conversation with companions or were close enough to the doorway that their backs were turned in my direction.

I navigated the steps and entered through the wooden doors with their ornate hinges. The organist was already warming up as men and women took their seats.  I had a note in my hand to pass to Mr. Jenkins.  I scanned the aisles for him.  There.  He was on the far side, midway up, but not near the aisle as I had prayed.  Still, there was an open pew behind him.  He was sitting with a male companion that I was unfamiliar with.  I took my seat just behind him and to his left so that he would be sure to see me out of the corner of his eye.  He would be required to address me once I offered my hand with the note hidden in my gloved palm.  Given his predilection to lascivious caresses, he would be certain to notice and understand. 

There was a brief silence as the organist and other instruments had completed their tuning and warming up.  I shifted my skirts, hoping to make enough noise to catch his attention.  He turned, almost in slow motion.  He nodded politely at me, a look of vague recollection on his face.  I offered my hand before he had the opportunity to turn back.

“Mr. Jenkins, lovely to see you here!” I whispered.

He took the proffered hand.  Paused. A single eyebrow arched upwards ever so slightly and he palmed the paper skillfully.

“Likewise, Ms. Douglas.”  Another nod and then it was over.

Felix Mendelssohn’s Organ Sonata No 5 in D Major began belting from the pipes.  The music really was stirring but my mind was not the Allegro. My thoughts sprang from Nathanial to Emma to fratricide to cadavers and back to Nathanial again.  Why was this bothering me any more than the laudanum and my friend Jane?  Because it was my own flesh and blood?  Did that make this more of a sin? 

I am in a church for the love of God, contemplating ending another life!

The Ellenborough Act of 1803 had made abortion after quickening punishable by death but it had been amended in 1837 to remove the distinction of quickening.  Any abortion was thusly illegal.  Granted, I was not really doing the deed. That made me feel somewhat better.  I was merely providing the contacts potentially for Emma to do this herself. 

Was there some other way to deal with this?  If she carried the baby, she would be put out of service.  My mother would see to that.  This was not the first time my father had been accused of such a thing.  The burden of proof was on the mother to establish paternity.  Simply swearing it was someone was not enough and certainly not when accusing a wealthy man.  There was the possibility of her receiving medical care at a poorhouse but once the baby arrived, she would have to send it to a baby farm and seek out a new post somewhere.  Baby farms were a hazardous proposition, as once paid the lump sum to nurse and care for the baby, there were no refunds.  It was more profitable for a baby to die, so there was no vested interest in making sure the baby lived or was adequately fed.  She did not have relatives that could care for her baby while she was working.  Adoption was possible, but once she gave birth, where would she go?  Certainly, there were many “fallen women” in service but she would be ruined. 

Even if she had the abortion, what was left for her?  Her reputation and honor would be intact but she could not go back to working in our Massachusetts household.  He had marked her and would be back to claiming his territory once again.  Had she thought of this?  Should she stay on here in Scotland?  Could we find a new post for her?  Or would she want to look for a new post in Boston?  It was risky.  If my father did not want her to leave, he could make it very difficult for her to find work.

And, either way, my brother or sister was doomed.  Either doomed by the abortion itself or doomed by living in poverty and the increased mortality rates and the suffering that brought.  I was having difficulty reconciling my own admittedly charmed life with their bleak future.

What if I left this to God to sort out?  Would God make sure she and the baby were cared for if she made the choice to carry it?  How could faith guarantee that when God’s own people were the ones most guilty of the persecution in the first place? 

I glanced down at the program and tried to figure out where we were in the music.  This was no longer Mendelssohn, I was certain of that, but what exactly it was, I was not sure.  Maybe the Bach piece?  If that were the case, we were nearing intermission.

The note asked Mr. Jenkins to meet me in the old church during intermission.  St. Giles was currently divided into three larger churches and numerous smaller chapels. 

The music played on.  I watched my hands shake almost imperceptibly as I tucked the program into my reticule.  So much was at stake here.  If caught, I was sacrificing my reputation and all future prospects for myself and for Emma.  I had no guarantees that he would even help me or that he would keep my confidence.

Finally, the recital paused. People stirred in their seats around me, voices rising to a hushed murmur all around.  I stood and made my way across the cold, gray floor.  I tried to walk softly, so as to attract as little attention as possible but shoes on stone cannot help but reverberate off of the surrounding stone walls.  I winced at my staccato footfalls and felt all eyes watching my retreat. 

Chapter Eight: A Father’s Love

The remaining part of the night, I sat at my window and watched the stars until the sun came up over the horizon mixing pinks and blues and purples with its own salmon hues.  Time would not stop for my grief, it seemed.  I had cried all night, silent sobs of loss that wracked the body until no more tears could come.  I realized that I had no memento of him:  no love letters, no picture, no gifts.  Nothing but my own memories.  My eyes burned in the cool morning breeze as it blew through the casement. 

He had lied.  Lied about his income/inheritance.  Lied and led me on.  Or did he?  Maybe he used society’s incorrect perception to his advantage.  He had never actually made claims as to his income.  Everyone else had done that for him. 

I wanted to write something.  I was afraid that if I did not pin my memories down onto paper with words, they would float away and I would lose them forever.

I finally crawled into the mahogany bed, laid my head on the pillow, and closed my eyes, allowing my aching heart to rest for a few moments.  I have no idea how long I had slept when I was awakened by a gentle but insistent shaking of my shoulder.

“Miss!  Miss!” came the whisper.  It was Emma.

“Yes?” I answered hoarsely.  My uvula had pasted itself to the back of my tongue.  I winced as I tried to generate enough saliva to work it free.

“Miss Evelyn!” 

“Yes!”  I sat up in the bed and turned to see the frightened face of the girl.  “What is wrong, Emma?”

“Please help me,” she pleaded.  Her face was twisted up in anguish. 

“Yes, yes, I will, but you have to tell me what is going on!”

She burst into tears.  Between her own tears, she told me that she was afraid she was with child.  She had not bled for several months and had recently felt a fluttering.  Her breasts were tender and she was feeling ill in the mornings.  Examining her belly, it was clear that she was indeed pregnant.

“What will I do?”  Scenes of my mother silently, determinedly packing Emma’s belongings, placing them in the street, passed through my mind.

“Emma, who is responsible for this?” I demanded.

“Please, miss, I cannot say.”  She recoiled, suddenly wide eyed with fear, her red hair wild around her head, her tears flowing with a fury again.

“Tell me, now.  I will tell no one.”  I tried for some time to reassure her.

“I cannot tell you!” she continually replied. 

There are times that I am more or less dim witted.  It was then that it dawned on me, the realization sinking like a boulder into the pit of my stomach.  I grabbed Emma by the shoulders and forced her to look me in the eye. 

“Did my father do this to you?”  The stricken look that crossed her face said everything that she did not.  “How?”  I demanded. 

She sobbed even more, tears staining her face further.

The story poured out of her after that.  He had come into her room in the middle of the night within a month of her arrival at our house in Cambridge.  She had told him to leave, but he would not hear of it.  He had told her how beautiful she was as he had held his hand over her mouth and pulled up her nightgown.  While he forced himself into her and fondled her breasts, he had whispered into her ear that if she ever said anything or ever refused him, he would turn her out into the streets.  He had made weekly visits thereafter, always in the middle of the night.   Knowing that there was nothing left for her aside from prostitution at this point, she had complied. 

“I did not know what else to do Miss Evelyn.  I know I am damned to hell for this.  Please help me.” 

I wrapped my arms around her and rocked with her as she sobbed.  I had no idea how to help her.  I had heard rumors of abortions but how and where?  This was the question.  Who could I even ask? 

“It is not your fault, Emma,” I had said.  “I am sorry that this has happened to you.”  There was nothing else I could say.

Finally, as she pulled herself together, Emma pulled away.

“I have tried everything miss!  I…I have jumped up and down for hours.  I have drunk every potion I can get my hands on…even the ones that leave you vomiting so violently that you pray for death.  Nothing has worked.”

“Don’t worry, I will figure out something.”  I tried to sound as confident as possible.  I was not sure I was very convincing.

“Thank you,” she sniffed. 

“Here, wash your face.”  I handed her a face cloth, and poured water from the pitcher on the dresser into the basin.  When we had her blotchy face somewhat cleared up and her hair tucked back into place, Emma left with the promise again that I would help her somehow.  What choice did I have after all?  It was my own father who had done this and therefore by some degree my responsibility, was it not?

As the shame over my father’s misdeeds continued to whirl around in my head, I realized at the same time that I was increasingly angry with my mother.  If she had not removed him from her bed, he would not have had to go elsewhere.

I collapsed back into the bed after Emma had left and mulled over what I had just learned.  Mr. Brierly would have known what to do…if I could have asked him.   As it was, I had no idea where to even start asking questions discretely about such things.  I did not dare to ask my mother.  I had no female friends whom I trusted here. 

Hours passed.

There was only one individual that could offer me any hope of knowledge of such things.  It was an acquaintance of Mr. Brierly’s that I had met some months ago.  I frantically searched my memory for his name.  Who was he?  Who was he? He, too, had been studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh.  He was an Englishman and a good deal shorter than Nathaniel.  He had jet black hair to his shoulders, dark eyes, and wore a beard and mustache.  I remembered an off handed comment I had overheard him make during a conversation at an intermission at the Assembly House.  Something about the Royal Infirmary and a cure for interrupted menses.  He had said it with a wink to his comrades and his look had left me with the distinct feeling that he knew something of this first hand.  Later, when he had been introduced to me, his manner of taking my hand while bowing seemed innocent enough on the surface, but his fingers had covertly traced the underside of my palm in the most salacious way and said, “I hope that I may be of service to you in the future, Ms. Douglas.” I had made it my business to steer far clear of him in the future. 

Mr. Stuart Jenkins!  That was his name. 

I had caught glimpses of Mr. Jenkins at several orchestral presentations since then.  It would seem that the gentleman liked music.  I would have to seek him out.  There would be a performance of John Stanley’s organ concertos Sunday afternoon, just two days hence, at St. Giles’ Cathedral.  He was certain to be present.

There was a peace that developed out of having a mission, a plan.  I did not have as much time to mourn my loss of  Nathaniel while my mind was occupied with helping Emma.

Nathanial.  I realized that I had started using his Christian name.  Being in the presence of a dissected human body does tend to take your relationship to a new level of intimacy. 

I went through the motions of the next two days in preparation for my chance encounter with Mr. Jenkins, pausing now and then to acknowledge the gaping wound in my chest, as it could not be completely ignored.   On Sunday, I had Emma lace me into my corset tighter than usual.  I had carefully selected the dress:  a pale, blue muslin that I felt complemented my complexion and caused my eyes to stand out.  Gloves, hat, stockings, dainty little shoes.  Well.  Not dainty little shoes.  If there was one thing that I wished to change about me, it was the size of my feet.  Fortunately, they were generally hidden beneath the long skirts and petticoats that were the fashion.

I attended services at St. George’s as usual, pretending to listen attentively to the sermon whilst sitting next to my mother.  I cannot say what the clergyman spoke on, aside from the fact that I am certain it pertained to some moral shortcoming that was perceived to be rife throughout the congregation.

During our light luncheon on curried chicken, I informed my mother of my intention to attend the organ concert that afternoon.  Mother insisted between bites that she wished to accompany me, despite my protests, but thankfully she retired to her bedchamber with a headache just prior to the time for our departure.  Strictly speaking, young women were not permitted to attend functions without the presence of a chaperone, preferably an older, married woman.  However, as I was attending church in the afternoon, protocol dictated that it was acceptable for me to attend without such a chaperone provided I did not compromise myself by discoursing with a gentleman in a nonpublic place.  I had planned in great detail how I would communicate such a delicate matter to Mr. Jenkins in public. 

I took the carriage.

Chapter Seven: The Parting

The body was shrouded in white linen, lying in state on the wooden table at the center of the lecture theater.  Rows and rows of seats rose up into the darkness over our heads.  As we circled the table, floorboards popped or groaned softly beneath our feet with each step.  He drew the cloth back slowly across the form and eyed me intently, watching for any sign of the squeamishness for which my sex was so notorious.  My nostrils filled with the acrid smell of mysterious chemicals and decaying flesh.  I nodded somberly to him.  By the dim light of the single candle he had lit, he began to unravel the mysteries of the sinews and muscles and organs, the excitement rising in his voice as he spoke.  I pulled off my gloves.  My hand was drawn almost unconsciously to the pale, silky skin that was still intact over the body’s left shoulder.  It felt cold and waxy beneath my fingertips.  So this was what death felt like.  The chest cavity lay open, the entire anterior portion removed, no doubt to a furnace somewhere. 

“Here is the heart and here, the lungs,” he was saying, demonstrating for me the springy, spongy nature of the lung tissue itself.  The top of the skull had been removed, exposing the two hemispheres of the brain.  The face had been completely dissected, rendering the body something less than human.

“Was it once a man or a woman?”  He paused and looked up at me again.

“A woman,” he replied simply.

“Who was she?”  He searched my eyes carefully, a look of warning on his face, as if to say don’t make her into a person again, not after all of this.

“She was one of the nameless poor.  Her family, no doubt, could not afford a burial.”

“One of the nameless, faceless poor, then?”  I winced at my sad attempt at humor, but he seemed to understand. 

“Yes.”  He grinned.  I wanted to ask if she had any children, a husband, where she had grown up and how had she died, but I did not dare.  He would not know the answers anyway.

“What will happen to her after this?”

“The law requires that her parts be saved and that she be buried in a common grave somewhere.”

“Do they really do that?”

“I would have no way of knowing for sure.”

“What do you think about the resurrection of her body on Judgment Day?  Do you believe she will be whole again?”

“I do not know.”  He was as aware as I that the general public feeling was that her body would not be whole, whether it was well founded on sound theology or not was irrelevant on the stage of public opinion.  It was one of many reasons why this whole subject was dreadful to anyone, but especially to the poor as they essentially supplied these rooms.  It was not that very long ago, either, that Burke and Hare had murdered dozens of victims and sold them for dissection on this very table.  After a few moments, he added, “I am not sure that I believe in a Judgment Day.”  No judgment day?  Did that mean that he did not believe in God?  How could he not believe in God?  This was not the time or the place for such a discussion, but I made a mental note to bring it up on one of our walks.

He drew the shroud back over what remained of her upper body, then blew out the candle and slipped it into his pocket.   He cleaned his hands on an old handkerchief.  I could not see what he did with it after.  In the dark, his hand rested at the small of my back and guided me firmly to the door where he then used the key to turn the lock.  I pulled Emma’s borrowed cloak tighter around me, attempting to hide my own face.  The hope had been that her coarser cloak would be less likely to raise eyebrows if seen on the streets at this late hour.  As we stepped out into the damp night of the alleyway, he removed his hand.  His touch, however, burned there still so intensely that I felt all of my blood flow reverse and rush to that single point, leaving me suddenly lightheaded.  Sensing my faltering step, he steadied my arm and pulled me against his chest.  Surely he thought I was finally overcome from the experience.  But don’t you worry, Mr. Brierly, I am quite callous when it is required of me.  I could feel his heart pounding.  I tried instantly to imagine what that heart inside looked like as it moved inside of his own chest. 

“Wait here for a moment,” he whispered.  We stood there together, cloaked and safe in the cool night air.  Finally, he spoke.

“What I have to say I could not do in there and I fear I will have no further opportunities in the near future.  I have examined this problem in a million different ways and from all possible angles, but the conclusion that I must reach never changes.”

I waited, an unknown source of dread welling up from within.

“I cannot give you what you deserve in life.”

There it was.  The truth of the moment.

“I will never be approved by your father as I am.  My life’s work is science, not industry.  I will someday have a modest living but not to the degree to which you are accustomed.  I do not have the inheritance and income that everyone has been led to believe.  I am guilty of that fabrication.  Any choice that you make with me will guarantee your family’s wrath and society’s scorn.  You have my life, its body and soul, Ms. Douglas, but I can give you nothing aside from that and perhaps knowledge, like this.”  Here he gestured toward the lecture hall.  “But these few things, while they seem enough now, will not content you for long.”

I opened my mouth to protest, but his raised hand stopped me.

“They will not content me for you, then.  I am not selfish enough to presume that your hurt will not be my hurt.  I lie awake at night and ache for you in ways that a man should not speak of to a woman.  Before I do something that will curse you forever, I must leave while I still have control enough over my faculties to do so.”  He paused here for a moment.  I could feel his breath at my ear, strong and deliberate.  I turned to face him.

“You do not understand.  I spent the entire voyage here knowing what was expected of me, but not knowing how I would ever be able to consciously choose to marry, realizing that marriage means intercourse and intercourse mean pregnancy and pregnancy means childbirth.  I cannot put into words the suffering I have witnessed.  How could any man be worthy of that?

“Therefore, you must understand that when I choose to say the word ‘love’ to a man, I am not simply speaking of some young girl’s trifling.  For me, love is the realization that I am willing to suffer, to die if need be, in order to be touched by you.  Scorn does not scare me in the slightest because quite honestly, I love you Mr. Brierly.”  His grip on my arm tightened.  I wished I could see his face.

“Evelyn, I do not wish you to believe that I belittle your sentiments, but there will be others for whom you will feel the same.”

“What if there is not?”  I whispered harshly.  “Are you prepared to leave me tonight to face the rest of my life alone, without love?”

“Do you understand that I have no choice?” He said it slowly, deliberately. I left him with the sound of the rustling of unseen leaves for a moment before I replied.

“Yes.”  And with that, there was nothing more left to say.  I did not want to understand it, but I did.  He believed he was doing his best by me and I would be unable to convince him otherwise now that he had made up his mind.  He must have believed it was his penance in some way, perhaps for lying about his wealth?

“Thank you,” he said.  He pulled me tighter, pressing me against his chest again.  He held me there for some time.  At last, he kissed the hair that lay on my forehead, then quickly and silently turned to lead me back to my mother.

After winding through dark alleyways and vacant streets, he stopped at the back gate of the garden.  Crazy thoughts were crashing through my mind.  I could not let him go without some sort of fight.

“Some day you will regret this, Mr. Brierly.”

“I already do,” he replied.

“Please…” I began, but his lips on mine both silenced me and sealed our fate.  I could feel his longing and desire and willed with every fiber of my being that he could feel mine, that he would remember it somehow and carry it with him, a stake through his heart. 

He pulled away suddenly and motioned with his head toward the door of the house. 

“Go,” he insisted, the word forceful and sharp, a harsh whisper emanating from his shadowy form.  Anger welled up within me and boiled over, red hot and dangerous.  I wanted to hurt him as he was hurting me.  I had no conscious control of my arm as it lifted, the palm of my hand connecting with his cheek with a force that staggered even me.  The noise caused me to recoil and I heard his breath suck in sharply.  There was the strange sensation of having no feeling aside from the hundreds of needles that spread along my fingers in the seconds after the impact.  I regretted it instantly but did not know how to take it back.  I could see the dim outline of his hand moving along the place at his face that my hand had just left.

“Go,” he rasped through clenched teeth.  “Go.”  I could hear the anger in his voice.

I turned and obeyed.

Chapter Six: The Bridge


Generally a young lady’s first season (running from April to early fall) was intended for playing the field so to speak.  I was on a much tighter time frame, however.  My father, while quite wealthy, could not afford to keep two households going for more than this one season.  My mother expected me to present my card to every young man that I danced with.  Truth be told, I had not done so.  I had only given out one card.  Ever.  To Mr. Nathaniel Brierly. 

 At home in our borrowed house I sat waiting to hear the bell ring.  I was on edge, my anxiety wracked body wound up so tightly that a spring was most certainly going to pop out of place somewhere in the near future.  Two days passed.  Then three.  He never called.

I hated him again.

My appetite came back.  I was finally able to sleep.  We began planning the strategy for the next ball. 

At breakfast on the fifth morning, as I was sitting at the table eating toast with a liberal smattering of marmalade, John appeared with a silver tray.  There was a single white envelope centered upon it.  He presented it to me with a flourish.

“Mistress Evelyn, a letter for you by morning post.”

My heart pounded.  From whom?  I was afraid of the answer, but at the same time hopeful.  My hands shook as I opened the wax sealed envelope with the carved floral letter opener that also lay on the tray.


            Ms. Douglas:

            I request the privilege of visiting you this afternoon at 4 o’clock ,if that would be convenient.


            William Aspern


I looked up at my mother, confused.  She was staring intently at me.  I passed the paper to her and watched her face as she read.  She betrayed nothing.  He should not have done this.  I did not give him my card!

“Well?” I asked.  She sighed.

“By all means, have him come.  Send a response poste haste!”  She had passed him my card somehow.

I penned a letter back to him.  Then tore it up.  Clearly it would appear too eager. I was not certain that I wanted to communicate that just yet.  Finally, I merely penned the words, “You are welcome at my home at 4 o’clock,” and then signed my name.  It was sent by messenger. 

What to wear?  What to say?  I had not done this before.  Should there be refreshments?  A gentleman calling on me.   I wanted to ask my mother what I should do, how I should behave.  But how to ask her?  I was not accustomed to asking her or anyone else for help.  It would be a sign of weakness, surely, and would give her a position of power.  I could not have that. 

I resolved to muddle through this myself.

Staring at my wardrobe, I struggled with what to wear. I felt like a piece of meat, trying to make itself more appealing.  Lean or fat?  Marbling?  Yes, please.  I had so much to choose from.  Sometimes the choices themselves are too much. 

How do you make someone love you?  Perhaps that is not possible.  I wanted love.  Maybe not so much, but being in love?  I did not understand at the time that this was not something that could be contrived.  It was.  It existed.  In spite of myself.  In spite of him. 

As four o’clock approached, I had a drink of brandy to steel myself.


Chapter Five: The Veil Is Lifted

Mrs. Eggleston left after looking over my card.  Perhaps she was taking names, determining who should be persecuted in the future for not following her plan?  Perhaps she was going to hit up the remaining few on my ticket to ensure they followed through?

It must have worked, for the next fellow showed up on cue looking rather flushed.  As we took our turns around the room I scanned faces, looking for Mr. Brierly.  It was dimly lit despite the candelabra glowing in the mirrors and flickering off of the crystal.  He was not dancing.  He had either left or was lurking in the shadows.  Hopefully, he had left.  I felt myself relax to some degree and even started to enjoy my dancing partner.  I made a mental note to recheck his name on my card as soon as possible, as I was embarrassed to admit that I could not remember at this point.

At the end of the dance, I thanked the man, who turned out to be a Mr. Gregor McMurray, and allowed him to escort me back to my seat.  I set out to find Mrs. Eggleston. 

“Ah, there you are, my dear!” she exclaimed when I had managed to negotiate the crowd.  Her tone seemed to imply that she was the one who had been doing the searching, but I found her in the refreshment room with a plate of cold roasted chicken in her hand.  She had made herself quite comfortable and had clearly been there for quite some time. 

“Please tell me about Mr. Brierly.”

Shockingly, Mrs. Eggleston giggled like a school-girl.  She leaned close to me and proceeded to whisper conspiratorially.  I could smell the alcohol on her breath.

“My dear, he is glorious isn’t he?”  The giggle again.  “The rumor is that he has a small fortune, a reasonably good match.  He has been eyeing you since your arrival, though.  He has asked an awful lot of questions of a good many people and truthfully, that may be why your card is difficult to fill.  On some level, you seem to be spoken for even if he is only flitting around on the periphery.” 

She paused long enough to place a large bite of chicken in her mouth.  With my mind reeling, I used that moment to stand and excuse myself.

I found my mother sitting beside Mr. Brierly who was engaged in conversation with an elderly gentleman that I was not familiar with. He excused himself when I arrived, standing a few paces back.

I realized that he would not speak to me unless I first acknowledged him.  Protocol in Victorian society was strictly guided by rules.  Many rules.  I caught his eye, nodded at him, and smiled.  He bowed.  He was a gentleman after all?  He chose this moment of all times to begin observing ballroom etiquette?

“Ms. Douglas,” he said as he moved to stand to my right.

“Mr. Brierly.”

“How have you enjoyed the evening?”

“It has been pleasurable,” I replied demurely, though I am afraid I did not sincerely mean it.  But first rule of small talk…never say what you really mean.

“My dancing companions this evening have told me that you are from Massachusetts.”  I would have been startled that he had been asking his other partners about me, had I not just spoken to Ms. Eggleston.

“They are well informed.”

“It is quite beautiful there this time of year.”

“Indeed it is, Mr. Brierly.”  I squinted at him, most unladylike.  “Have you been to Massachusetts, sir?”

“I have.  Though it has been some years ago.”

“Whatever for, if I may be so bold to inquire?”

“Certainly.  I was the ward of a distant cousin for a very brief time after my parents died.”

“Oh!  I am sorry.”

“Sorry that you asked or sorry that my parents died?”  I was not sure how to respond.  Both.  Fortunately, I was saved from answering in the nick of time. “Forgive me, but would you further honor me with another dance?”  He stood, bowed, and proffered his hand which I accepted as a contra began.  We assumed our place in line across from each other, performed the required niceties, and proceeded to dance the reel.  By the end, I was sufficiently warm and out of breath, a fine perspiration had accumulated on my forehead.  Mr. Brierly guided me out of the ballroom to one of the adjoining rooms .  It was garish with hideous bright green patterned wallpaper.  It appeared to be a sitting room by day.  Though the adjoining rooms were also quite filled with people, they had not been heated by the physical activity of dancing and were hence, much cooler.  As we sat, I studied him further.  His waistcoat was new, a glossy black with well fitting trousers that matched.  His shirt was simple, crisp white with gold studs.  He wore a dark green silk necktie and the required white gloves.

“What do you do, Mr. Brierly?”

“I am currently a student at Edinburgh University.”  What a beautiful grounds.  The buildings there exuded brilliance! 

“What are you studying?”  I said it almost too eagerly, and checked myself.

“Medicine, specifically obstetrics”  A wave of jealousy washed over me. 

“I see…,” I replied quietly.  Another wave of jealousy.

“You are most exuberant about the subject.”  He raised a single eyebrow.

I focused my attention at a painting just over his left shoulder, attempting to avoid eye contact.  A very old gentleman with deep wrinkles and a large red nose stared brazenly back at me from the dark frame.        

“Unfortunate, then, that you are such an attractive woman for I daresay that you would make a fine physician were you not.”  While the words themselves could be mistaken for mocking, I could see that he was most serious. How do you know such a thing so soon after meeting me?

I fell madly in love with him at that moment.  I had a large lead weight in my chest that made it difficult to breath.  A good cry would probably help, but I was not sure how.

If someone were to ask what drew me to him ultimately, I would be hard pressed to pin down exactly what that would be.  I hated his arrogance, but then I was drawn to it, too; his single minded pursuit of me despite the surrounding social constructs.  It seemed to imply that if he were willing to work so hard to get to this point that he would then do anything and everything in his power to hold onto me, to protect me later should it be required.  He was terribly handsome.  He was so brilliant that it was intellectually flattering to be able to hold his attention.  I adored the way my hand fit into his so perfectly and the unabashed way he met my gaze head on, never averting his eyes.  I was in love with the idea of him, without even really knowing him.  It started here, this day, and has haunted me every day for the rest of my life since.

Chapter Four: Masquerade

I was still new to this world, both the physical world of Edinburgh, Scotland (for what amount of study can truly prepare one for a place such as this?) and the ephemeral, gauzy world of fetes and society balls.  I had never excelled socially, despite the best lessons in how to fake it, and in this world I felt paralyzed.

Mrs. Eggleston, who was to be our hostess for the evening, had taken it upon herself to introduce me around to all of the eligible bachelors in attendance.  I believe that she had picked me early on to give attention of this nature due to my abysmal performance at the previous two balls when I had dance a total of four times all night.  A special project, if you will, like one of her many charities.  She was an American living abroad here.  In fact she had lived in this city for decades.  She was widowed and wide and worrisome.  But I endured her because I knew I could not suffer another ball without something further to show for it or I may as well pack all of our trunks myself and head back over the Atlantic.

Tonight, I had selected my gown most carefully, my mother’s tasteful eye boring down warily upon me.  I had decided on a red and green floral silk brocade on a champagne colored silk faille.  The deeply pointed waistband further accentuated my narrow waist and the neckline scooped daringly but not indecently.  I had a total of three petticoats with their ruffled flounces.  The matching low heeled pumps could only be seen on rare occasions peeking out from beneath the lace.  Long white gloves covered my arms in order to prevent the act of actually touching anyone.  A professional hairdresser had been employed who managed to pile my stubbornly straight hair in seductive ringlets that cascaded from the top of my head and down the back of my neck to my shoulders.  It was an unusual style for the period but tasteful, something that would garner attention without raising eyebrows.

We arrived, mother and I, shortly after 9 o’clock and after changing our shoes and removing our cloaks in the assigned room, we had immediately sought out Mrs. Eggleston.   Her gray hair was arranged most fashionably, restrained by an intricately carved ivory comb at the back of her head, most suitable for her age.  Her gown was a muted silver that blended well with her hair.  She moved with a deliberate grace despite her girth, introducing us around the room.  Mr. James Barwell, from a good wealthy family but cursed by an oddly shaped nose that seemed to make a right angle toward the left side of his face.  Mr. Stephen Connelly, a tall, and very skinny businessman who dressed meticulously and effeminately.  Mr. Henry Latham, a British man that was darkly handsome, aloof and mysterious.  Mr. Enoch Bradley, a dour and sallow complected fellow with a pinched face.  And they went on…Mr. Leith Argyle,  Mr. Archer McDonell, Mr. Thane Stewart, Mr. Maxwell Morogh…and on.  It was no time at all when my card was almost full, but Mrs. Eggleston was not yet done.  She continued to make the rounds until I had been introduced to every eligible gentleman in the room, young and old.  At last, we stood before a rather tall fellow, well dressed in his dark suit.

“Mr. Brierly, please meet my young friend, Ms. Evelyn Claire Douglas.  She is all the way from America for the season.  Ms. Douglas, this is Nathaniel Joseph Brierly.”

“I am honored to make your acquaintance.”  There was something about the accent of a Scotsman that seemed to make all of them infinitely more desirable.  Why?

Victorian protocol being what it was, when introduced in a ballroom all that was permitted was a bow.  Most of the gentleman would bow at the waist, their eyes to the floor.  But not Mr. Brierly.  He managed to maintain eye contact, staring at me as he bent low…a most brazen, disconcerting thing.   He was tall and slim, standing well over six feet and appeared to be near thirty years of age.  Dark hair, long of course, curled gently at the nape of his neck.  Full sideburns were his only facial hair. 

“Shall I have the honor of dancing this set with you?”  He asked.  His voice was deep and confident, bordering on arrogance.  I hated him instantly.

“I…I am sorry, but I have promised this dance already,” I heard myself stammering.  I had not promised it in actuality.   I looked around, heart racing, desperate for someone to provide an escape route.  But I was alone aside from Mrs. Eggleston.  My mother had left some time ago, relieved that I would at least be busy tonight, and was gossiping in the corner with one of the other mothers. 

“Nonsense.  I see nothing written on your card.”

“You have not looked at my card, sir,” I replied, coldly.

“I do not need to, Madame,” he replied firmly, and took my hand, ushering me to the dance floor.  My hostess, relieved that she could at long last move on to the several other wallflowers present, relinquished me to him, ignoring my pleading eyes. 

The first dance was a waltz.  In the excitement of procuring partners, I had purposely not filled that slot.  The waltz, with its modified closed position that allowed the gentleman’s hand to rest upon the young lady’s waist, was considered by my mother to be salacious enough that young, unmarried women were not to dance it.  There would be hell to pay tomorrow.

Mr. Brierly bowed.  I curtsied.  He held out his dove gray gloved right hand.  I accepted it reluctantly.  My only hope, I realized, was to feign a fainting spell before my mother caught sight of me.  But that would be suicide of another kind.  I had no choice.  His touch made my skin crawl. We did not speak.  His left hand rested gently upon my waist, open palmed, respectful, as he guided me around the room, spinning here and again, in time to the music.  His hazel eyes were intense and seemed to wander all over my person, making me self conscious.  The music itself, in that candlelit room, was powerful, if not magical.  Or perhaps it was the intoxication of actually being noticed.   I was glad to be dancing.  It was something in which I knew I excelled, waltz or no.  It did not require conversation, a skill which I found exceedingly difficult.  I had always told myself that small talk seemed such a waste of time, but I dismissed it as such because I disliked the way I always felt when engaged in it…stilted and awkward. 

I could feel his shoulder muscles moving under my gloved hand and through the sleeve of his black suit coat as we waltzed about the room.  Firm and strong.  My mind wandered.  What would it feel like without my glove?

“Ms. Douglas, what brings you to Scotland?”

“What?”  I was shocked that he was trying to hold any kind of discussion during a dance this fast paced.

“What has brought you to Scotland?”  He said it slower and louder, enunciating deliberately.

“I heard you the first time,” I replied, but did not answer his question.  To find a husband?  It seemed a silly thing to say. Surely that was obvious. 


“A ship, sir.”  It slipped out.  I could not help it.  I cringed inwardly.  He did not laugh, or even respond for that matter.  Those three words hung in the air between us for the remainder of the waltz.

At the end of the set, he bowed.  It was then that I realized that I had danced the entire piece.  I glanced around, trying to locate my mother, panic settling into the pit of my stomach.

“Thank you,” he said, bowing.  I turned back to him and curtsied.  He offered his arm to me, which I accepted, and he escorted me to the ring of chairs lining the ballroom.   After a final bow, he moved off.  No other comment or attempt at conversation.  No offer of refreshment.  No request for another dance.  He simply disappeared.  I hated him all the more.

My mother was at my side almost instantly, glaring.  I felt the dread building. 

Opting for first strike, I leaned over and whispered, “I know mother, the waltz, it will not happen again.”

“You know better than to behave in such a way.  One tiny wrong decision can derail any hopes of a good match!”  Her eyes flashed. 

“I understand.”  It was what she wanted to hear, so I gave it to her.  I could see that she was far from satisfied but she moved away to join a conversation between Mrs. Eggleston and the great Mrs. Milligan

In short order, the second name on my dance card appeared, a Mr. William Aspern, bowing and smiling, offering his gloved hand.  I was once again escorted back to the dance floor.  Mr. Aspern was considerably shorter than Mr. Brierly.  His dark brown hair was cut rather short and his wide face sported a rather long goatee and a pair of eyeglasses that made his even darker brown eyes appear small and black.  All through the dance, Mr. Aspern remained silent.  He stared at me, his eyes never seeming to leave my face, never saying a word.  He was solicitous, however once the dancing was done, fetching me a small glass of sherry after leading me to a chair.  He tried to make conversation, but realizing I would rather not engage, he chose to sit silently by my side until my next partner came to collect me.

I danced. 

At some point, later in the evening, Mr. Brierly arrived again at my side and guided me to the floor without discussion.

“I…I…. really cannot allow you to do this,” I stammered as I began to follow his leading.  “I have another name on this card, sir.”

“This time, you are being truthful, but as the card is only a guide and not a law, I feel that it is within my boundaries to claim another dance from you.”

I held my tongue, despite the fact that I wanted to say something sharp and hateful.

“See, you do not protest further and therefore give your consent.”  He arched an eyebrow at me as he circled around.

The dance proceeded with the same structured turns and spins as all of the others before it.  Very little passed between us in the way of words.  I watched his face and how his body moved.  At long last, it was through.  And then…


“Would you prefer to sit for a while, or to take some refreshment?”  He offered me his arm at the end of the piece, which I took.

To answer such a question is difficult.  To admit that I would indeed like to be escorted to the refreshment table by him seemed presumptuous as we had not met before this night, but would then saying that I would rather sit imply that I was not really interested?  I wasn’t interested.  Why did I care?  But then he had offered.

I chose the sitting, afraid to spend more time with him.  I did not like him but I surely liked the fact that he was paying attention to me, though I was not sure I liked how he was going about it.

He delivered me to a chair beside my mother and after bowing to me, nodded respectfully to my mother.

“Is there anything else that I can do for either of you?” he asked.  His eyes, the deep hazel that they were, seemed to bore through me.

“No…thank you…,” I stammered, “thank you…very much.”

He bowed again, and left.  I watched him walk away.  He stopped at the end of the room, his back to me, and spoke with Mrs. McClure and her lovely daughter Rose, who giggled incessantly.  I watched him bow to the Ms. McClure and move off to the dance floor with her in hand.  Sadness settled in the pit of my stomach.  I realized that I was merely an obligation to fulfill, the correct response for a gentleman to make when introduced to a young lady without a partner.  I was relieved that I had not agreed to walk with him.

I sat for several more sets.  No one appeared to dance with me despite their names on my card, although I could not help noticing that Mr. Brierly did not sit, even for one quadrille.  My mother continued to converse with the other married women around the room, hoping to gain further introductions to the homes of the town’s elite.  My mother was much more skilled than I at the social graces.  I took the time to observe the candlelight reflections in the gilded floor length mirrors, the myriad of colors of the ladies’ gowns and the gentlemen’s overcoats swirling together in time to the violins. 

Boredom was overwhelming me when I became aware that someone had just sat in the seat beside me, vacated by my mother.  It was Mrs. Eggleston. 

“Ms. Douglas, after all of our earlier work, you are still left sitting here alone?”  She was dubious.

“Yes, I am afraid it is so.”  Why was I so alone?  Just when I felt that I might be able to come out of whatever shell I had been placed into, something happened to remind me that I was awkward and unskilled and uninteresting. 

“Let me see your card.”  I passed it to her, reluctantly.

Chapter Three: Preservation

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.

Chapter Two: Society

The year of 1846, my friend Jane had her coming out in Cambridge society and in short order had a large compliment of suitors.  She spared no details of the parties and balls that she attended in her large collection of new gowns of Parisian silks and Italian laces.  She listed the attributes and drawbacks of all of the young men that sought her.  Some were too tall, some too short or too fat.  One had an odd high pitched laugh that grated on the nerves.  I was overcome with envy, listening to her exploits.  Tales of candlelight, mirrored ballrooms and fine crystal, military officers in full regalia…all left me breathless and dreamy. 

Upon my sixteenth birthday, it was announced that I would accompany my mother to Edinburgh, Scotland the following year for my coming out.  An odd choice one might think when if you could afford it families sent their daughters to London for the season, and yet my father had planned it in great detail in his mind.  There were no proper Scotsmen to whom to wed me located in any reasonable vicinity.  Edinburgh currently was the center of the intellectual world.  Where better to capture a future heir of sufficiently elevated breeding stock capable of carrying on his legacy than the land from which he came?  I was surprised that my father entrusted this pursuit to my mother, but he believed that he could not be spared from the business and felt that my mother would ultimately look after my best interest as her daughter, that best interest being securing a mate that could run the cotton mill and continue to provide a generous income for me. 

That same season, Jane settled on a handsome, dark haired young lieutenant named James Rush.  Her father could offer no objection, as the fellow was generally well liked, was the proper station, and had a substantial income from his family’s estate.  He was clearly besotted by her.  I was relieved to hear that she indeed loved him.  He had inherited a large estate just outside of Cambridge and thus, she would not be going far from me, leaving me overjoyed.  We spent many hours in the weeks that followed agonizing over the future events of the proposed wedding night, yet strangely very few hours agonizing over the future itself.  Neither of us had been given any instruction whatsoever aside from the raucous stories of the illustrious former governess.  Despite my mother’s clear grasp of the field she had offered no information to me, and it was with fear and trepidation that both of us looked toward that night.  Her wedding was a small, but elegant affair held in her home and attended by a select group of family and friends.  She was lovely in her white silk gown.  A light supper followed and then we said our good-byes, Jane whispering that she would tell me everything when she saw me next.  As she was bundled into the black, shiny carriage for the ride to her new home and the two dappled horses started out, Jane winked at me once then waved farewell through the window.

It was many weeks before I was able to see her again.  I traveled to her new husband’s estate by carriage for an afternoon tea at her invitation.  She had ceased to exist as Jane Smythe.  She was now Mrs. James Allen Rush.  Mr. Rush was away with the regiment and she pined for him throughout my brief visit.  By that time, it was well known that she was with child.  All conversation with her was about the impending arrival of the new little one and little else.  My curiosity about the wedding night, and my own fear of it, was not to be sated. 

My wardrobe for the upcoming season was slowly arranged under my mother’s most critical eye: new stockings, new corsets, new petticoats and crinolines.  Several traveling suits made for our voyage as well as a number of lovely ball gowns and day dresses.  New shoes and hats rounded out the ensembles.  Such finery held so much promise!  In a last push, my father insisted that I immerse myself in Scottish history.  I was forced to learn about William Wallace, Bonnie Prince Charlie, Mary Queen of Scotts, the Highland Clearings… He bemoaned the fact that there was no good haggis to be had anywhere here, a fact that I must confess I was quite happy to hear once I had learned of its ingredients.

Our departure date was to be several weeks after Jane’s confinement and she sent a letter in her flowery hand requesting that I be present with her.  She would have a doctor in attendance, an idea foreign to me as all of the births I had witnessed had been to women too poor to afford such a thing.  James had been called away again she said in her letter, and it was not clear that he would be able to be present himself.  As mother and I packed for the few weeks we would spend with Jane, I was filled with dread.  I had not the heart to inform Jane of what was to come bringing this child into the world.  She had no one that could tell her of such things and had, I was afraid, entered into it with a substantial amount of ignorance and naiveté, despite the fact that her own mother had died doing the very same thing.  I was not sure if this was a blessing or a curse. 

When we arrived at the estate, the housekeeper showed us in.  I was greeted by a rather bloated, puffy version of my beautiful Jane who could only be described as blissfully happy despite her delicate condition.  We spent the next several days reading together and again enjoying each other’s company.  However conversation never could be swayed to the topic of my chief concern:  marital relations.  I had the distinct feeling that she did not wish to discuss it and could artfully direct the conversation in the opposite direction the instant I started to broach the subject without seeming too overt.  It had been almost two weeks since our arrival when I was stirred from sleep by a rather insistent knocking on the door of my bedchamber.  It was one of the maids informing me that Jane’s labor had begun and she was asking for me.  I quickly threw on a robe and followed behind the upheld lamp, led by the maid to the birthing room around the corner that had been set up with all of the necessities. 

“The doctor has been sent for, ma’am.” The maid nodded in the direction of my friend who was on her left side, groaning.  I quickly sat down on the bed and wrung out a fresh cloth in the water basin on the table beside us.  The cool cloth as it touched Jane’s neck caused her to open her eyes.  There was terror in them as she gasped for air and then closed them again, clutching at the bedclothes as the next contraction rolled over her.  She was burning up with fever.  It was then that I realized that there was an inordinate amount of blood on the sheets already.  My heart in my throat, I grasped her hand as my heart tightened. 

“Fetch my mother, now.” The maid left obediently.

My mother arrived a short time later, taking in the scene.  It was now five o’clock in the morning.

“How long has this been going on?” she asked the maid.

“Since shortly after retiring for the evening, ma’am.”

It was over an hour before the doctor arrived with his bag.  He was a thin, wiry man with wire-rimmed spectacles and a high, furrowed brow.  He discretely slipped his hand beneath the sheets, then pulled it away just as Jane arched her back and let out a blood curdling scream of agony.  He made eye contact with my mother and shook his head as he washed his hands in another basin and motioned for her to follow him out of the room.   I also came, leaving Jane with the maid at her side.

“The baby is no longer alive.  I don’t know how long it has been so, but it is likely to have been a number of days,” he said in a low voice.

“What do we do?”


My mother nodded understanding.

I was outraged.  “What do you mean, nothing?” I whispered harshly.

The physician turned to look down at me.

“There is nothing to be done.” He placed extra emphasis on the horrid word.

“Can you not do something to dull the pain?” Bless my mother for asking.

“I can give her some laudanum, but only a small amount.”

“She has fever.” I said simply, something inside me knowing what this meant.

“Yes.  The infection means that she will likely not survive this,” he replied simply.

Another loud moan pierced the silence from within.  I hurried through the door back to her side.  The moan was drawn out and the pain clearly left her breathless.  “Evelyn, something is wrong.  It’s not right,” she panted.  I nodded. 

My mother returned with a small bottle in her hand, the laudanum.  She dosed what seemed like a tiny aliquot into a spoon and placed it at Jane’s lips.  Jane grimaced at the taste of the bitter liquid, but seemed to rest a bit afterward.  A number of hours passed with Jane stirring every few minutes, moaning, then seeming to rest.

“Her husband must be sent for.”  My mother had said, rising from a nearby chair much earlier.  “I will see to the arrangements.”  She and the maid had not returned. 

I moved back to the bed, brushing back Jane’s hair from her damp forehead as she writhed again, clearly in pain.  The fire crackled in the grate.  The clock read midday.  I was helpless to ease her suffering aside from the laudanum.  Jane had failed to pass the stillborn body, and it still lay wedged, festering within her.  I longed to ask someone how long this could go on, but I was afraid to leave her alone.  What if she died alone in this room? 

Shortly before nightfall, James arrived.  I could hear what could only be his hurried footfalls on the stairwell, coming down the hallway, pausing for a few seconds with his hand hesitating on the door itself.  I stood as he entered and backed away from the bed.  His jaw was set as he strode across the carpeting, but I could see the shock dawning in his face as he took in the sallow remnants of the woman he loved, fading away before him.  What does a man do when faced with a love like this?  I now know that he falls to his knees at her bedside, his body shaking with great, silent sobs, and with his shoulders bowed with the weight of his grief takes her hand, pressing it to his cheek.  I stood there in the corner for some time transfixed, afraid to stir but at the same time feeling great volumes of guilt for witnessing such a private moment.   Jane groaned loudly and thrashed a bit, clearly not recognizing James through her pain.  There was a strangled sound that escaped from James’ lips at this, rousing me into action.  I stepped toward the bottle of laudanum.  My hands shook as I poured a large amount into the spoon and bent to press it to her lips, gently lifting her head.  When she had taken it, I poured another spoonful and gave it, too, and a third.  Finally, I stopped and backed away.  James stayed by her side, whispering soothing things to her as the minutes ticked by until she finally passed.