What to say of married life? We settled into our new life as lord and lady of our little manor and made the requisite tour of the social circuits once I had moved into the tail end of half mourning. The rules of etiquette governing the making and receiving of social calls during mourning were staggering and took precedence over any that governed newlyweds establishing in a community. Furthermore, I could not figure out how long I was to actually be in mourning. With both parents dead so close together, should my sentence be served out consecutively or concurrently? Being a good daughter, I decided to observe one full year. I could do no more.
Socially, we were sought after once I began to venture into public again. My father’s fortune, the factory, social standing…all made making our acquaintance important. But it was painful. I cringed silently inside every time William made a comment that seemed out of turn. People would avert their eyes or shift uncomfortably when he would chime in to speak. It happened frequently, or so it felt, and the shame swallowed me.
William insisted on holding my hand or touching my arm in public. I hoped that it was not merely out of sincere affection. I did not want merely affection. I wanted more. I wanted his touch to signify possession. I wanted him to be a man that I could respect. As it was, his touch irritated me. Behind closed doors, I did not mind it as much. In public, I felt everyone was watching. I did not want anyone to see me returning affection to him. Why that was exactly was difficult to say. No one seemed to be affected but me in the end, but I felt that I was in a perpetual state of mortification, embarrassed to be seen with my own husband.
He, meanwhile, was attentive to my every need, regularly bringing me flowers and little gifts, kissing me on the forehead each morning at the breakfast table as he left for the day. In private I felt ashamed of my feelings. I loved him, yes. But what was missing? What was wrong with me?
Over the ensuing months, we sorted through my mother’s and father’s belongings: papers and clothing, trinkets and mementos. I had put it off for over a year, afraid of what I might find. My father had very little personal correspondence anywhere. He had been careful not to keep anything incriminating around where it could be found. Or he had charged his valet to destroy it contingent upon his death. Interestingly, my mother had apparently saved all of her early correspondences with my father, the stack tied with the proverbial pink silk ribbon. The ribbon itself had become quite frayed, clearly handled time and again. Was it possible that she had still loved him? Did she read and reread his letters in the dark hours of the night when she was alone? Perhaps I held in my hand the key to their lives, somewhere on the pages of this stationary. I considered reading them all one by one, and indeed had the first one out of the envelope, before guilt seized me by the throat.
In the end I decided to toss the bundle onto the grate, ribbon and all…the resulting burst of flame rendered the paper quickly into sparks and ash. It was too private, even for me.
Finally, at the end of the one year period, John helped me to build a nice bonfire out behind the house. I piled on each and every piece of black clothing I owned and watched the material shrink and curl up on itself as it became dark gray smoke billowing to the heavens. I felt my heart lighten and my shoulders straighten as that burden fell away. It was considered bad luck to save mourning attire to wear again for another death. I felt that was likely more a way for the merchants to make more money it their goods were not reusable, but for me, for this time, it felt good to be free.
William moved into my father’s chambers and I took up residence in my mother’s bedroom and sitting room. I had not been sure at first that this was a good plan, but in the end it had felt natural. I was closer to my mother this way and felt that if I spoke to her in the night, she could somehow hear me better this way. She had died here. And every night, as I lay in her bed, I told her that I was sorry.