Chapter Thirty-Nine: Battle Plans

I reported back to the dispensary.

Blood on my apron was not the end of the world, by itself. Blood flowed in rivers here. It was the Crimea, after all.

But he had marked me. Again.

I threw the apron onto the fire. I would be damned if I was going to let him do this to me. I slipped away quietly to retrieve a fresh apron from the dormitories.

The question became what was I going to do now? Leave? And go where? Back to Cambridge? To London? To Edinburgh?

My heart was still pounding when I arrived back. I settled myself down in a wobbly, worn chair to make bandages and to think. Hours passed.

I had come here, to Scutari, to atone for my sins in service to the suffering. Across the channel leading to the Black Sea, the magnificent Hagia Sofia could be seen at the skyline. But here, in the converted Turkish military barracks that now served as the main hospital, evil reigned. One could not tell from the outside. The complex was a huge white stone square with tall towers in each corner that appeared sterile and efficient. Inside was a different matter. The whitewashed corridors housed hundreds of the mangled and deformed on cots lined up in rows beneath the arches. I had been here for six months, bathing bloodied soldiers, cleaning excrement caked bedpans and chamber pots, making bandages, assisting in the kitchens, scrubbing the floors. We were battling the miasma, the mysterious “thing” that brought infection and death.

“Evie!” I looked up. It was one of my bunk mates, Marjorie “Madge” Henson. Her pudgy middle had thinned out since coming here. One could not eat to silence your hunger when you knew thousands were starving in the cold. She stooped low and spoke in hushed tones so no one else could overhear. “The headmistress wants to speak to you!” I was not surprised. Somehow I knew he would not leave me alone.

Madge tucked a wisp of black hair back under her cap. “What did you do?” she whispered.

I sighed. “I will soon find out.” Standing, I stretched the stiffness out of my back and shoulders, steeling myself for what must come.

I climbed the stairs in the north tower to reach her throne room. On the first landing, I heard footsteps coming down. It was him. He paused to smile lasciviously at me as I passed, making sure he brushed my arm. I wanted to kick him in his most vulnerable region. Instead, I walked past him, careful to smile confidently back at him. Two more flights of stairs. I paused a moment to catch my breath.

I knocked softly on the door.

“Enter!” The sharp, commanding tone made me wince.

The blood had already drained from my fingertips and I could not feel the cold knob as the door creaked open.

And there she was. I had held audience with her only twice before. Once when I had first arrived, begging her to let me stay. We cannot pay you…but we will hold you to the same standards all of the other nursing staff. And once when I had been reported for sneaking out to the docks after midnight. We demand all of our staff to be above reproach. We cannot have someone destroying the reputation of this institution. She referred to herself in the third person, as if she were the queen. But here, in Scutari, she was.

This day, she was in a dark gray wool dress with a full skirt. Wide white cuffs were about her wrists and matched the collar that was fastened at her throat with a plain black broach. Her narrow face seemed pinched; her dark hair was pulled back into a severe knot that was so tight that her forehead seemed even more prominent.

“Mrs. Aspern. Please have a seat.”

I sat in a wooden chair that was only slightly less worn than the one I had just vacated downstairs. I folded my hands in my lap to keep them from trembling. A heavy, dark stained desk sat between us, deep gouges visible across the surface. She had placed a thin sheaf of papers face down in front of her.

“Dr. Jenkins was just here.”

“I gathered that,” I said simply.

“He says you disobeyed his orders and put his patient in jeopardy.”

I remained mute. I was not sure what tack to take. Denial, contrition, the truth?

She continued. “He has been here only five days. He has proven himself indispensable in the surgery and has saved lives that none of the others would touch.”

Again she paused. Again I responded with silence.

“We have dismissed two women this week for being too helpful with him.” She stared at me, her eyes boring holes into my soul. “Do we understand each other?”

I nodded.

“It would be strongly advised to steer clear of Dr. Stewart. If it is a choice between you cleaning vomit or his operations….” She trailed off.

I stood to take my leave.

“Thank you, Ms. Nightingale.” She nodded, then waved her hand in dismissal.

The fact that she, a woman, had been put in charge of any military hospital was remarkable by itself and was a testament to the battle of desperation that had been waged here. Her maintaining that post required numbers. Lives saved.

I understood that I was expendable. At least as far as she was concerned.  But I had a plan.

Chapter Thirty-Eight: Scutari

As I entered the surgery, I could see the physician, his back to the door, hunched over the macerated arm of an unconcious soldier.  The light was poor, requiring supplementation from the flame of an oil lantern that had been placed at the poor fellow’s shoulder.  The rusty smell of old, dried blood hung in the air.  I could see, by the orange glow of the flickering light, drops of fresh blood landing on the floor at the physician’s feet. Plip. Plop. Dripping from the patient’s fingertips. I walked quickly to stand next to the growing puddle, worried about stepping into the blood lest I slip or leave deep red footprints trailing behind me as I moved about.

He was busy suturing the pieces of filleted flesh together, trying to reassemble the poor fellow’s arm.  I also noticed that he was using chloroform, as the patient remained quiet throughout the procedure.  A chloroform mask lay on the table at his head, the faint sweet smell of the gas wafting to my nostrils from the bit of lint wedged within.  The use of anesthesia had been strictly forbidden by the chief of medical staff in the British Expeditionary Army.  I wondered how this particular physician had acquired chloroform given the moratorium.

“I was told to come assist you,” I announced softly as I stepped forward.

He looked up and opened his mouth to say a terse thank you, but stopped short.

We recognized each other at exactly the same moment.  I could feel the blood drain from my face and my heart land in the pit of my stomach.  My fingertips seemed to cease their existence.  If it affected him more deeply, I could not tell.  He had already returned to his sewing. 

I had no idea what I was doing in the surgery as I had spent the entirety of the preceding weeks and months on the wards, making bandages, washing linens.  I had come here as a volunteer, not as a trained nurse. He had to guide me step by step…daub here, snip there, hold this, pass that.  I stole furtive glances at him from time to time while he was engrossed in his sutures.  His furrowed brow.  The firmly set jaw clenching and releasing in rhythm to the stitching.  There were more creases in his features.  Gray was creeping into his beard.  Who are you now?

The man’s arm was gradually looking more human and less like ground mutton.  You are not a surgeon.  Where were the surgeons? They must have been on the battle fields. 

“Cut,” he ordered, presenting the suture ends.

“Yes, sir.”  I replied hoarsely as I snipped, fumbling with the scissors yet again.  It required two attempts to sever the dark thread.  I desperately needed to seem capable, confident, unaffected…but had failed.

 Finally, he placed the last suture and tied it.  I cut the ends.  He put down his instruments and stepped back to examine his handiwork.  The sutures were even and neat, like little ants marching single file up to the shoulder.

“Just apply a dressing and he’s done.”  He finally looked up from the arm to my face.  There was a wan smile there.  I was not sure how to read it.

My heart sank further as I registered the request.  I had not realized it was possible until that moment. I could feel my cheeks flush. I did not want to ask this man for help, but the patient would be the one to suffer and I swallowed my pride.

“I am afraid that I do not know how,” I confessed softly.

He nodded and proceeded to demonstrate the techniques of proper bandage application. At one point his hand brushed mine, producing a shudder.  I was not sure if it had been on purpose, his touching me.

The chloroform began to wear off and the man groaned as I cleaned the area with cold water.  I gathered the instruments and placed them into a metal tray; the clatter was a welcome distraction.

I did not know what to do now.  I stood awkwardly.

“Pain” I quoted Galen, “is useless to the pained.”  He arched an eyebrow in surprise. “How did you come to defy Dr. Hall?” I asked.

“If God can be seen as the great anesthetist when he placed Adam into a deep sleep while he removed a rib, then I figure there is a higher power than Dr. Hall.”  It seemed highly inappropriate, but I wanted to laugh outright.   Nervousness was affecting my reason.

He stepped closer to me. I could smell his stale breath as he looked down at me. He must have brought some scotch with him to this godforsaken place. The hairs at the back of my neck stood up on end. I took a cautious step back.

“What is the matter, Evelyn?”  He grinned.  My breath caught. “Yes, I do remember your name.”

The man on the table let out an even louder groan as I tried to move around the man blocking my path.  He reached out his right hand to stop me, grabbing me about the waist. 

Leave me alone, you bastard!

“If you touch me again, I will scream for help.” 

He moved his hand but did not step back.  “And then say what when I explain to everyone how we happen to know each other so well?”

“Leave me alone,” I muttered, then pushed past him and out of the room. I looked down at my apron.  His bloody handprint was there.  I quickly untied the white smock and wadded it up in my arms.  I prayed I would not get caught out of uniform. I walked until I believed my footfalls would be out of earshot, then I ran. As I ran through the maze of corridors, all of my fears came to life.  I had not thought about this man in years.  I had buried him, expunged him.  But here he was.  In the Crimea?

Stewart Jenkins.

Chapter Thirty-One: Confinement

Time moved on.  I had learned from the death of my father and my mother that this was always the case. It is amazing how quickly the mind deconstructs and reconstructs events to preserve a degree of self.  I spent several days in self loathing before my conscience found a way to liberate me:  It simply stopped thinking about the fact of the infidelity.  Rather, I managed to wrap that fact into a tiny kernel and bury it into a narrow recess, glued shut to prevent escape.

In the weeks that followed, William and I attended several dinner parties and balls.  I learned quickly the great skill my mother had displayed so well, acting.  I planned out meals, ran the household, made social calls.  I read Vanity Fair by Thackeray and A Tale of a Tub by Jonathan Swift.  It was difficult to remain focused on the words and for the most part, I simply stared fixedly at the pages, letting my mind wander to Nathanial in some form or another.   I would have been bored senseless had I not had my fantasies to occupy my mind.  Days passed one by one.  I ventured out one day along the river bed but stopped short of the woods themselves, afraid that entering that place without him would destroy the mystical spell of the memory, replacing it with empty ordinariness.

The sickness came on suddenly one morning.  The nausea washed over me, swelling in waves as I vomited over and over again, heaving while kneeling over the chamber pot.  Each day it was the same.  I found myself praying that God would heal me or take my life.  I did not care which, so long as it was quick.  It went on for days.  No fevers.  Just the overwhelming nausea.  I could hold nothing down it seemed.  The housekeeper made chamomile teas and poultices.  They did not help.  She brought magnesia in milk, and magnesia in tincture of Columba with distilled peppermint water.  It was no help.  Lemon juice in water.  No help.  William was beside himself.  Like the man he was, he needed to fix whatever was wrong.  But he could not.  More days passed.  The doctor was called.

Dr. Edward Quince was a tiny, wizened old man with spectacles that he never actually looked through, only over.  His dour face made it appear that he had been sucking on the fruit which also bore his name.  He never smiled, but rather spoke with a high pitched voice that was punctuated by a series of characteristic, “Hmmm’s.”  Sometimes it was a question:  “Hmmmm?”  Sometimes it was a long, drawn out, puzzled sound that signified pondering:  “Hmmmmmm….”  Often it was accompanied by an uncomfortable clearing of the throat, meant to bridge the silence after an awkward question to a female patient:  “Hrummmmph!”

Never one to actually examine a patient, Dr. Quince prided himself on diagnoses by history alone.  This seems an odd thing now, but the man was educated in the time when stethoscopes were unheard of, and he regarded them with suspicion.  One might examine the urine or feces, but touching a patient was considered unnecessary.  Certainly to touch a woman was not only unnecessary, it was also indelicate.

Upon entering my chamber, escorted by William, Dr. Quince approached my bed and made his uncomfortable, “Hrummmmph!” followed by a little cough.  He walked around me, then stopped.

“How long?” he asked.  The question was addressed to William, as if I were not actually in the room and able to speak for myself.  Perhaps it was his way of acknowledging that I did not feel well and may not wish to answer?  I resolved to give him the benefit of the doubt.

“Uh, twelve…fourteen days…?”

“Hmmmm….  I see.”  He walked around the bed to the other side.

“When was her last menses?”  He was again looking at William.

“Oh!  Well, I….uh, I….not sure….really,” he trailed off, then shrugged.

“Hrummmmph!”  He stood waiting expectantly.  “In that case, please ask her, sir.”

Before William could speak, I answered.  “Please tell the good doctor that I am NOT with child.  If he cannot actually give me a workable diagnosis and something that can help, he may leave.”

Dr. Edward Quincy slowly turned his disdainful gaze upon me, peering through squinted eyes over his lenses.  There was a long silence.  At long last he addressed me.

“Madame, if you do not wish to accept the inevitable, then fine.  Hmmm?  We will discuss that no further.  In lieu of an acceptable diagnosis, let us focus on curing your symptom of hyperemesis.  That is agreeable, is it not?”  He turned to William.  “She will need leeches applied to her lower abdomen and laudanum.”

Leeches have largely gone out of fashion now.  I cannot describe the sensation of having six leeches sucking away on my abdomen until they gorged themselves and fell off, sated.  There was no pain or sucking sensation, merely an awareness of their slimy presence.  The laudanum doses left me sedated, unable to feel nausea because I was unable to register the feeling…or anything else for that matter.  I could not focus my vision to read.  I could do nothing but lie in bed in a stupor sipping broths.  I lost two weeks like this until finally it was felt safe to take away the opiate.  My dose was decreased gradually until at last I emerged from the fog.  William had insisted on sitting with me almost exclusively.  He had kept me dosed, fed, and bathed.  I vaguely remembered his voice reading aloud to me as I drifted in and out of consciousness, though I cannot remember what words he read.

Had the nausea left me?  Yes, for the most part.  Now and again I felt the same queasiness creeping up, but managed to push it back somehow.  I was reluctant to admit that I felt better.  Dr. Quince had succeeded in that, even if he had been wrong about pregnancy.  My eyes were sunken.  I had lost a considerable amount of weight and what little muscle I had was largely wasted away.  But…I was still living.

I slowly resumed my activities managing the household, gradually regaining strength and weight.  The month of December arrived cold and icy, and with it came Christmas.  We held our typical celebration, complete with roast goose, oyster stuffing, figgy pudding, and even a tree decorated with nuts and sweetmeats.  This was the one time of year that I felt a hollow realization of the emptiness of our lives without children, for what is Christmas and Saint Nicholas without children?  It had been over five years that William and I had been married.  I knew the lack of children had been whispered about extensively.  But I was not ready.  I was not ready.

Hogmanay would have been celebrated next had we been in Scotland.  William missed its traditions.  He sang Auld Lang Syne at every opportunity.  If he could have gotten away with it, he would have burned juniper branches throughout the house until we all choked to death, then had all of the windows thrown open to allow in the fresh, cold air of the new year.   A new beginning.

After the new year, I felt a fluttering deep within.  At first I thought that it was constipation or gas.  But more and more it occurred until at last I could no longer ignore it.  The nausea, the painful breasts, the swelling abdomen.  The truth dawned like a horror.

I had a tumor.

I kept it secret from William for a few more weeks, until I could no longer hide my increasing girth.  When I confided my fears to him, William called again for Dr. Quince and again the dour faced man looked over his wire rimmed spectacles at me and “Hmmmm’d,” as he circled my chaise.  He stopped and looked across me to William.

“Sir, she is not dying from a tumor.

“From what then?”  William asked.  The fear had not left his face.

“She is not dying at all.”

“Not dying?”  He sounded hopeful.

“Hmmmm…”  The doctor nodded thoughtfully.  “She is with child.”

There was silence.  William and I stared at each other.  He took my hand.

“Impossible,” I said.

“Are you certain?”  William smiled.

“Most certain.”

“Impossible!” I said again.

We had been married for years with regular encounters in my bedroom, and had no children to show for it.  The old women had stopped asking when I would become pregnant, instead a look of pity washed over their faces whenever they looked upon me.  They, and I, had assumed that it would never happen, a fact that had allowed me much comfort in the end even as it brought them a subject of scornful gossip.

Dr. Quince turned his gaze upon me once more.  His spectacles slid further down his nose as he did so.

“Hmmm.”  He snorted.  “You will remember, madam, that I said as much a number of months ago.”  He paused to let that sink in.  “Your confinement will be in early May.”  It was said with finality, like a sentence of death.  I felt William squeeze my hand, lingering there, then he let go and led the doctor out.  He returned some minutes later.

“Evelyn?”  He put his hand on my shoulder then sat down next to me.

I felt panic welling up from within.  If this were something that I could run from, I would be running, running fast and hard.  Doing the calculations in my head it was clear that I had conceived in August.  In August!

“Is it so bad to have a child that you would rather have a tumor?”  There was laughter in his eyes.

“Please do not make fun of me, William.  I am afraid.”  And I was.  I was terrified.  I had seen so much death and suffering attached to childbirth.   Why would it be any different for me?  And, there was the fear, or was it hope, that this was not William’s child after all.

The days and weeks passed.  There was something wrong.  I could feel it.  I heard women speak of their baby’s movements, and this baby did not move as I had expected.  The nausea never left completely.  I had a deep set and abiding fear that dwelled within me.  I was told that this was normal, that having a child changed your outlook and created fears that you never knew existed.  But this was different.  I knew it.

My ankles and fingers swelled.  I was a bloated whale and it seemed my girth was even greater than I was expecting and there were murmurs about the possibility of twins.  Dark patches appeared across my swollen face, affectionately referred to by older women as the “pregnancy mask”.  When I looked in the mirror, I was horrified by what I saw.  And the fear grew.

For William, it was as if a light had been switched on.  As if becoming a father was the one thing that God had set him on this earth to do.  He made sure that I wanted for nothing, doting on me to the point of smothering suffocation.  He ensured that the nursery was appointed with the best that money could buy…a lovely bassinet, toys, a nurse. He was clearly filled with joy and anticipation and I worked hard to hide my trepidation from him.  Years of marriage, however, had allowed him to understand every subtle nuance of emotion from me, and ultimately I am afraid, I was unable to conceal the truth sufficiently.  Still, he was kind enough not to speak to me about it, rather working to distract me from my anxieties.  That intense need that men have to fix everything and make it right, often times only serves to make things worse.  It was his way of coping, so I bore it silently.

Chapter Thirty: Feeling Pain Again

That evening, dinner conversation was dominated by William asking for any news from Edinburgh.  I had not realized how much he had missed the city until then.  It had been his home, after all, I supposed.  After the meal, I retired to my chamber, leaving the men to their cigars and scotch.  I was weary but could not focus on sleep.  As I dressed for bed with the assistance of the maid, and then brushed out my hair, I realized that I was not feeling that feverish longing that I had carried around with me for so long.  It was replaced by a calmness, a peace. Strength. Could it be that meeting again had cured me?  I sat in my nightgown for an hour or two, reading the collected works of Edgar Allen Poe.  I was on his short story “The Masque of the Red Death” and read until I had finished it, my eyelids eventually leaden with sleep.

I had just crawled beneath the covers and reached to blow out the flickering flame of the lamp when I heard the familiar tapping on the door.  I sighed.


When the door opened, I was startled to see Nathaniel standing there.  He closed the door quietly behind him and stood leaning on the door.   Suddenly, I was no longer sleepy.  I sat up in the bed, careful to keep the bedclothes pulled up to my shoulders.

“I beg your pardon!” 

He was clearly bleary-eyed drunk.  “Your husband toasted your skillful response this afternoon one too many times.  I believe he is passed out cold in the floor of the library.”  He laughed, then swayed ever so slightly.  Nathaniel did not seem that far away from passing out in the floor himself.

“I see,” was all I could manage.

“Evelyn.  I…”  There was a long pause. He took an inebriated step forward. “I am…sorry…I will leave,” he said hurriedly, his face flushed.  He stumbled a bit as he stepped back and reached behind with his left hand to grab the doorknob.  There was another moment’s hesitation, then he opened the door and started to back out.  I did not know what to say, so I let him go despite wanting to plead with him to stay.  I sat there a moment after the door clicked shut, listening to him enter his own room down the hall, then blew out the light. 

The next morning at breakfast, William was chipper as ever.  If he had been unconscious in the floor of the library from injudicious use of alcohol the night before, one could not tell.  I had no idea how he could do it.  Perhaps it was his Scottish blood? 

“Good morning, my dear!”

“Good morning.  How was the remainder of your evening?”


“Have you seen our guest this morning?”

“Ah, yes!  He was up quite early, said that he was going to take a stroll around the park.”

“What are his plans?”  I was ready for him to be gone.

“He is to be here for the next week, then on to Hartford.”

“Seven days?”  I buttered my toast, incredulous.

“Certainly.  I thought I might show him the factory this morning, though if he does not return soon, I will have to leave without him…”   He took a last bite of fried egg and swig of hot tea with milk, then jumped up.  “I’m off, my darling!”  He kissed me on the cheek.  “Have a good day, do not get into any trouble…”

“What do you mean?” I asked, surprised, a sudden panic washing over me. 

He laughed.  “I mean to say, be careful about mentioning foreskins in sensitive company today!”  Then he was out the door.

I ate the rest of my breakfast in relative silence then met with the cook about the remainder of the meals for the week, since we would have the extra guest.  Midmorning, Dr. Brierly had returned, according to the rotund, red-faced housekeeper, Ethel, but I believe that he was avoiding me as I saw no trace of him.  I was not sure whether to be flattered by his actions last night or offended by the assumptions that that action had made about my character showing up in my room while I was dressed only in a nightgown, so to be honest I was happy with this arrangement for the time being. 

Lunch was taken on the terrace.  It was a glorious day, the crisp breeze just cool enough to stimulate but not biting enough to be prohibitive.  The bright sun beat down at the same time, seeming to warm the skin from within.  Dr. Brierly did not appear so a tray was taken up to him by the staff.  I read the remainder of Poe while enjoying a curried chicken salad, my favorite luncheon fare, that I was assured by the cook was prepared from the same recipe as one would find in India.  The china had intricate brown designs traced on the surfaces, scenes of birds and trees and castles.  I did not believe people in India ate cold chicken salad off of china plates, but it was tasty nonetheless.  After the dishes were cleared, I moved out to the grounds for a walk of my own and resolved to stay out until late afternoon when I was sure William would have returned.  I hoped to be spared any awkward moments with Nathaniel.

In fact, several days passed in this way, our only coming together occurring in the evenings across the deep, rich mahogany dinner table with me retiring early to leave the gentlemen to their play.   One day, William took him hunting, the next day to the cotton mill.  Another was spent by Dr. Brierly walking the countryside alone again. 

It was not until the day before he left that he broke his silence about the incident in my bedroom.  I had secretly been hoping that he had been so blessedly tipsy that he could not remember the exchange.   We passed each other on the wallpapered landing.  I was going upstairs, he was going down.

“Evelyn?” he asked.  I stopped, my foot hung in the air above the next step, frozen.

“Yes.”  I looked back over my shoulder as I pulled my foot back and stood firmly upon it again.  He was still there with his back to me.

“I must apologize to you.  My intoxication got the better of good judgment the other night.”

“Well, yes, I would agree.”

 “I was thinking that it might be better for me to simply ignore the episode since you did not say anything to your husband and perhaps we could put it behind us, but I do not feel that we can.”  He turned at this point, but still did not make eye contact, his gaze focused on a point just beyond my right shoulder.  He cleared his throat uncomfortably.  “Or rather, I cannot.”  His brow was furrowed and he almost scowled, finally drawing up his eyes to mine. 

“So, what does that mean, really?”  I asked genuinely.  I rested my hand on the balustrade hoping to draw support from the cool wood beneath my fingertips.  How do you respond to a man who says this?  I had no practice.  I could feel heat rising up in my cheeks.

“I am not sure,” he replied and shrugged. 

There was silence for a time.  He spoke again just as I was on the verge of deciding to return to my sojourn up the stairs.

“Would you perhaps do me the honor of taking a walk with me to the river?” he asked at last. He held out his hand and gave a great chivalric bow at the waist. 

It would be a long walk, but I realized that I longed to spend time with him, that delicious tingle of daring rippling over my skin.  Where did that earlier feeling of peace and strength run off to, I wondered? Technically, as his hostess, it was reasonable for me to take a walk with him wasn’t it?

I took his hand and dipped ever so slightly in a mock curtsey.  He stepped aside and gestured me to lead the way back down the stairs.  I did obediently and he followed close behind.  I paused at the parlor as I tied on my bonnet and wrapped up in my shawl in order to tell the housekeeper where I was going and with whom.  I watched her face for any signs of reproach, perhaps put there by my own hypersensitive guilty conscience, but there were no shadows that passed over her features.  I was not sure at the time why I should feel such disquiet, as I had not done anything untoward myself, nor was I sure that I would even if presented with the opportunity.   I have since learned that one’s conscience often times knows things about one’s character that we ourselves do not even realize.

The September day was pleasant enough.  The sun shone brightly, large cotton-filled clouds lolled overhead.  A stiff breeze rustled the leaves in the trees, their colors had only just started to turn their bright oranges and burgundies and all of the shades of gold.  I kept my arms crossed and folded across my chest as we walked unless I needed to swipe strands of hair out of my eyes as they whipped about in the wind.  No chance of awkward touching that way. There was also the safety of the illusion of an impregnable wall that separated my heart within and the man walking beside me.  The sun glinted off of his hair shooting golden lights along the strands.  Up close, I could see that he did have more wrinkles framing his eyes and I caught a glimpse of a few gray strands in the hair at his temples.  That was oddly reassuring. 

We chatted about all manner of safe topics for over an hour until we reached the bank of the Charles River.  We stood at the water’s edge, with the green-tinged water racing past us at our feet. 

“Are you happy?” he asked as he looked down at me.

I shrugged.  “I have no choice, really.  William is good to me.”

“That does not really answer the question.”

“You…are right.”  I sighed.  “Am I as happy as I would have been had I been with you?  No.  Am I happier than I would be that if I were married to most of the men in this world?  Yes.  How is that for an answer?”

“Do you love him?” 

“Honestly, I do not believe that is a fair question.”

“Why not?”

“Because you don’t have the right to ask it.”  The sun peeked from behind a cloud, forcing me to squint.  The sudden warmth made gooseflesh rise on my arms.

“Alright.”  His hand between my shoulder blades sent electrical shocks down both of my arms as he used it to guide me north along the bank. 

I waited what seemed like a polite period of time, then asked, “You said you are not married?  I do not see a ring.”

“No, I am not.”

“Are you betrothed?”


“In love?”

“Yes.  Yes…I am.”  My heart sank a degree.  More wordless silence.  Ahead and to the left I could see a dense cluster of trees:  birch, red maple, and ash.  We continued until we found ourselves deep enough in it that I could no longer hear the river.  Grass was replaced by earth beneath our feet since the floor of the small wood was too dark to allow much green growth.

“With whom?”  I could not help myself.

“That, my dear, is a silly question.”  He continued to walk. 

Here he stopped.  We were in a rather isolated area, no boats or houses or people nearby.  I turned to face him, saddened.  As sentimental and silly as it may sound, his hand was suddenly touching my face.  Then I found that he was kissing me and in short order, I realized that I was kissing him back.  I knew that he had probably searched for this exact spot during his long walks the days before.  Somehow, I realized, this moment had been planned out in every detail.  But it did not change the magic of the moment, or change the relief that I felt in the knowing that I still held power over him in some way.  His lips sought out mine hungrily, with the confidence one can achieve only from having more than one love affair.  Logic told me that I had not been the last woman he had kissed or touched.  I certainly had not been the first.  I knew in my subconscious that there had probably been several women that he had had intercourse with over the intervening years.  At any other time, I would have found these facts very disturbing.  Now, however, I felt calm with the knowledge that I was in good hands. 

He dropped the overcoat that he had removed earlier.  My fingertips traced the muscular jaw line with its stiff whiskers, the base of his neck, the hollow just above his breast bone beneath his white shirt.  The sapphire ring on my finger caught a glint of sunlight and I wondered if I should remove it.  What was the standard protocol for something like this?  I did not know.  Instead I left the ring on my finger.  It was who I was right now and removing it would not change the fact of my marriage, would not make this act any more or less immoral.

I curled up my arms beside each other at my chest and let him hold me close and tight to him.  There was his heart beat again.  I rested there, enjoying his scent mingled with that of the damp, mossy ground.  I longed to rest eternally here…to go to sleep and to not wake up. 

As you well know, there is nothing romantic or sweet about hurried, nervous love making…too much fumbling.   Now that I have seen dress styles change over the decades, I think that while women may have gained some comfort, they have at the same time lost something more than just their dignity.  The petticoats that were required to create the bell shaped skirt that was so in fashion in the 1850’s, the bloomers and corsets and countless under things…all of these prevented hurrying.  A gentleman could not count on a quick tumble from anyone other than a professional whore.  With this many complicated layers, love required some work, focus, and wooing.  I have over the years replayed the steps again and again, grateful for every second that passed between us.  There is nothing more arousing than to be slowly undressed layer by layer until ultimately you stand bare, hiding nothing from him.

I had never found lovemaking to be all that earth shattering up to this point.  The prelude could be fun, but the act itself was always so rote and in the end unpleasantly sweaty and sticky.  However, at this point I will admit that I wept as I felt my body yield to his.  If there were music to accompany this moment, it would have been Beethoven’s Symphony number nine, “Ode to Joy”.  The complicated emotions and sensations crashed at once upon me, instrumental swells and crescendos.  He could not have known what all I was feeling. 

He whispered, “It is OK to cry,” as he held my head to his now damp chest.  My tears mingled with his sweat.  “I will not lose you again.  Do you understand me?” he said gently. 

I could do nothing but sob silently still.  I mourned the loss of my innocence.  I mourned all of the years I had spent without him.  I mourned for William and for all of the pain this would cause him if he knew.  I laid there until I could no longer feel Nathaniel inside of me.  I knew that all of the time we could spare had now passed and I began to stir, to put myself back together.  I could feel the wetness of him left behind, and I am ashamed to say that I longed to feel it again and again.

“Evelyn?”  He put his hands on my shoulders, then moved them to my face and kissed me full on the lips, deeply.  “Thank you.”  He stood and reached for his pile of clothing.  I watched the muscles rippling beneath his skin as he moved, knowing what that would look like in the flesh, beneath his skin where it removed. 

I had enjoyed the kiss.  I had enjoyed everything that had passed between us.  But I knew that on the other side of that, everything was changed.  I was not the same woman he had loved before.  He would not realize it yet, but he was certain to in a few days or weeks.  I was compromised.  The infatuation would wear off, and the panic welled up within me. 

“What have I become?”  I said softly.

He had begun to put on his shirt, but paused.  “What do you mean?”

“Nothing,” I replied.  I stood up and stepped into my bloomers.  I pulled the heavily ruffled and laced petticoat over my head and over my corset, which had stayed on my person throughout as it was too complicated to remove.   If I had known what would transpire today, I would have put on my new, beautifully embroidered pieces this morning.  I was surprised at how easy such a grave act had been in the end. 

An adulteress.  I could imagine a scarlet “A” emblazoned upon my chest like Hester’s, a mark that would follow me forever now, a mark that could not be undone.

Nathaniel helped with the rest of my getting dressed once he had pulled on his pants, shirt, and black riding boots.  I wrapped up in my shawl.

“Thank you.”  I said as I tried to tuck stray hairs back into place.

“Listen, Evelyn.”  He made me look up at him. “I cannot tell you how much I have longed for you, will long for you.  I love you in a way that I never thought was possible.  Never.”  He kissed me again, hard.  “Please come with me, back to Edinburgh.”  His eyes pleaded.

I was at a loss for words.  Leave William?  Yes, that was the only way.  Oh, God!  What had we done?  I turned suddenly and fled.  I walked as fast as I could back along the path we had made into the woods and headed back to the river.  I could hear him start after me, so I walked even faster.  A sprint, unfortunately, was out of the question. 

“Evelyn!”  he called.  I held up my hand to silence him and kept walking, hoping that it would clear my head and allow a reasonable answer to surface.  I could not live without Nathaniel now.  I knew this.

The sun was low on the horizon and the air quite a bit crisper.  I could even see a puff of my breath if I exhaled deeply.  My lips burned from the friction of his whiskers.  There was a rawness below that I would remember him by for a day or two at least.  I wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of my life with him and his brilliant mind and ambitious drive.  But while he would love me and challenge me, he would not worship me the way William did.  I am safe here.  And to get to Nathaniel, I would have to trample on William.  I knew enough about human nature to know that the pain would destroy William.  It would not destroy Nathaniel.  It would not destroy me.  Not the way it would destroy William. 

The crunch of footsteps behind me signaled that he had begun a short run to catch up.  His hand on my shoulder pulled me back.

“Evelyn, please!”

“I can’t.  I should have thought about it before…before I even walked with you…where that road might lead.  But I didn’t.  I cannot leave now.  I cannot.”

My damp cheeks seemed to surprise him and he drew back.


“William is a good man.” 

“He is not a great man, Evelyn.”

“Are you?”

“I am great-er, yes…”

“But are you a good man?”


“I wanted passion and love and romance like the next woman.  You have experienced…things.  You know how to manipulate that to your advantage.  An honorable man would not have allowed me to…to do this.”  I was angry, I realized. 

He looked stunned.  It was not entirely fair to lash out at him, I recognized.  I never actually said the word No.  Still, if I could make him admit that it was his fault, even partially, then I could carry less guilt myself. 

“I…” he stopped.  “I would say that I am sorry, but there is that selfish part of me that is not sorry, not really, not about this.”  Here he gestured broadly.  His eyes flitted away to some far off scene, focused there, then looked back again.  “One morning I woke and I realized that I could not remember your face…”

In the quiet moments that followed as we stared at each other, the breeze stirred again with its hint of chill.

“Come,” he said finally.  “I will get you home.”

We walked wordlessly along the countryside, to the outskirts of town, until we arrived at the estate.  The sun was hovering on the horizon but William had not yet returned.  In the fading light, the fireflies danced thickly in the trees and underbrush.  I knew that it would not be long before his arrival, as he never stayed away beyond a reasonable hour unless for specific social engagements that I always knew of well ahead of time. 

I passed my bonnet and wrap to the hefty housekeeper who dipped her head quickly, took Nathaniel’s long coat and hat, and carried off our things.  We were left standing together in the dimly lit foyer, an awkward distance left now between us. 

“Tell him the truth, Evelyn,” he spoke softly.

“I cannot.”

“He deserves the truth.  There is no point to both of you being alone together.”

“What you ask me to do is like knowingly putting my own hand into a roaring fire and watching it burn to charcoal…even if I know that the act itself will prevent me from being thrown into the fire and consumed entirely body and soul…to do it of my own volition, purposefully?  I do not know how.  Do you understand?  I am not that person, Mr. Brierly.”

He did not answer.  Finally, there was a slight nod.  Was he dismissing me or indicating that he understood?

Not knowing what else to say, I advised Nathaniel that I would be going upstairs to dress for dinner.  We did not dare to touch.  He did not reply beyond that of another silent nod and I felt his eyes follow me as I ascended the stairs. 

Once I had reached my room and stood naked aside from my corset and chemise, I prepared to wash quickly with cool water from the basin but I found myself hesitating.  While I had initially thought that I would attempt to wash off my guilt, I found that I could still smell him on my skin.  I realized that I did not want to wash that away.  My mind replayed the events, his lips on my breasts, his fingers probing gently below, and shockwaves moved through my body from my womb.  Not like an orgasm.  No, something even more powerful, more dangerous, that threatened to bring me to my knees.

Instead, I resolved to wear my most delicious dinner gown, a copper colored silk with full skirt and ivory lace appliqué.  It is difficult to communicate the complicated mixture of shame, guilt, and lustful longing that now owned me.  I grieved the lost innocence, and at the same time shamelessly plotted my next encounter, made all the more desperate by the fact that Nathaniel was leaving in the morning for Baltimore. 

I descended the stairs to hear the voices of William and Dr. Brierly in the drawing room.  William had also brought his factory assistant, Elijah Goodsill, a rather unpleasant wiry fellow with a sallow complexion and stringy black hair that always seems to stick in odd ways to his forehead.  Despite his unpleasant personal appearance, he was always impeccably well dressed.  They each rose from their respective seats as I entered, giving their little bows.

“Dinner is served, my dear, if you are ready?” William said, offering his arm.

“Oh, yes!  Mr. Goodsill it is so nice to have you in our home again.  You have met Dr. Brierly at this point, have you not?”  I asked.

“Indeed,” he replied.

“Well, Mr. Goodsill, Dr. Brierly, shall we eat?” I moved, taking William’s proffered elbow.

Nathaniel’s face remained impassive and expressionless.

“Certainly, if you will lead the way, Mrs. Aspern.”  He stepped aside and bowed slightly again. 

This being Nathaniel’s last night with us I had sat down with the cook to plan something special.   Scallops in a cream sauce.  Garlic soup.  Roast duck.  A custard with brandied figs.  The best wines.  Each course a masterpiece, paraded out one by one.

He pointedly ignored me the entire evening.  I sat in silence, staring at the crystal, again thinking about the implications of what had passed between us this day.  I longed so to leave with him.  I realized at that moment that his very existence, the very fact that I had loved him, had taught me to despise my husband. 

I excused myself after dessert and retired to bed.  I had hoped that Nathaniel would pop into my room again this night, but he did not.  As a matter of fact, William did not, either.  I was left to my own thoughts, replaying the day’s events until I cringed.  At some point, I fell asleep, fitful though it was.  When I awoke to tiny chinks of sunlight creeping through the heavy curtains and stretched, I found a piece of paper in my left hand.  A note addressed to me.  My heart stopped dead in my chest. 

My dearest,

I hesitate to write but feel I must or the swell of words will cause me to be swept away.  I wanted to hold you for all time.  More than that, I will admit, I wanted you come out of your own need for me. We are doubly wounded by our sense of honor now and I sadly find that you pierce my soul all the more.  I will now say adieu.


I threw on a dressing gown, crumpling the paper into a pocket, and tore downstairs at breakneck speed.  I had to reach him before he left.  Surely he had not yet departed.  In the kitchen, I found the cook preparing breakfast. 

“Dr. Brierly,” I gasped breathlessly, “Is he still here?”

The cook looked up, surprised, arching an eyebrow at me.  “No, ma’am.  He left over two hours ago, before the sun was even up.”  She threw me an odd look and her mouth opened as if to say more, but was given pause by my glare and instead went silently went back to her bread and sausages.

The knot in the pit of my stomach wound tighter.  I ran back up the stairs to my bedroom, turning the lock quietly behind me.  I sat on the floor by the fire and read and reread the note, tracing each word, memorizing.  Knowing that I could not keep it myself without risking discovery, I eventually tossed the paper into the coals and watched the edges flame.  The whole piece glowed orange for a few seconds with a burst of bright flame, then faded into ash.  The tears did not come that day, or the next.

Chapter Twenty-Nine: Anesthesia

Boston was bustling.  It was actually a short ride in an open carriage from our home in Cambridge over the West Boston Bridge to North Grove Street near the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.  While only a few miles and the Charles River separated us, it seemed a world apart from the sleepy college town.  Boston had been slowly creeping into Cambridge over the past decade, but not enough to squelch its own character. 

The lecture hall on the ground floor of the medical school’s main building was to be the venue for this particular lecture series.  Generally women were not allowed to attend, however given the subject matter and my husband’s financing of the lectures, I was granted admission.  William had assented to my request to sit at the back of the room, nearest the exit, should I need an escape.  I had chosen an exceptional gown of deepest blue with the requisite full skirt, high neckline, and tight bodice accented with jet buttons, black braid, and many pleats and tucks.  I had ordered a new corset for the occasion, with exquisitely detailed embroidery that no one would ever see.  It had cost a fortune.  It gave me immense satisfaction to know that come what may, my undergarments were more costly than anything else anyone was wearing.  The chemise and underpinnings all had matching embroidery and mounds of French lace.  My hair was parted down the middle with two braids that swung from each side and met in the back in a simple twist that was wound into a tight knot at the base of my neck.  A pair of jet earrings dangled from my earlobes and a large jet brooch held the collar at my throat.  New black shoes cut into my ankles and I could feel the blisters forming.  The pain would serve to keep me focused.  I cursed myself for lacing the corset so tightly.  I could hardly breathe with my heart beating against the stays as insistently as it was.  I had pushed the maid into pulling the laces tighter, knowing that the intervening years of marriage had made me a bit thicker around the middle than I had been in Edinburgh. 

William guided me around the room, introducing me to one finely dressed gentleman after another, accepting the slaps on the back, knowing glances, and veiled innuendos with genuine pride.  He whispered in my ear after one particularly flattering complement, “You look ravishing darling…thank you!”  It is not for you.  Sadness and guilt welled up within me but it was not enough to keep me from glancing furtively around the room for that familiar sandy hair, those broad shoulders.

When I finally saw him enter across the room accompanied by the dean of the medical school, I turned away quickly, feeling my cheeks flush.  I tried to appear engrossed in my husband’s conversation with an elderly fellow with a long, flowing white beard. What was this fellow’s name? I cannot remember what they were saying, as I could not focus on their words despite my valiant attempts.  It was as if in slow motion that they spoke, jaws opening and closing…gaping holes of nothingness full of meaningless gibberish.  In what was likely a matter of seconds but which felt instead like a half hour, I was aware of Nathaniel’s presence at the edge of my peripheral vision.  His companion began motioning in our direction, leading him across the room to our little group.  I resisted the urge to turn and run.

As the pair arrived, the dean, closest to me, announced, “May I present Dr. Nathanial Joseph Brierly.”  The group nodded silently in his direction.  “This is Mr. William Aspern, Mrs. Aspern, and Mr. Barnard Townshend.”

Dr. Brierly nodded acknowledgement to Mr. Townshend then turned to William, offering his hand.  “Mr. Aspern, I must thank you for your support of my lecture.” 

“It was a topic of particular importance to my wife, as you may imagine.  May I present Mrs. Aspern?”  William gestured to me and I turned to make eye contact with Dr. Brierly, presenting my hand.  I searched his face for some recognition, but there was none.  He had not seemed to have aged in the slightest. 

“Ah, Mr. Aspern, what a lovely wife you have.”

He bowed as he took my gloved hand and kissed it, then stepped back.  He turned to the gentlemen again.

“I must prepare, we will begin shortly.”  Then he was gone. 

We began gravitating to our seats.  I could see him shuffling papers at the podium, locating diagrams.  The lecture itself was tedious, filled with numbers and statistics on ether and chloroform safety.  The Scottish brogue with which he spoke was the only thing that made it bearable.  There were a few technical diagrams demonstrating proper technique for the administration of analgesic gasses via patented machines that were mildly interesting.  Then, the floor was opened up for discussion and things became much more entertaining. 

“James Simpson favors the use of chloroform early in labor and until the woman is rendered entirely unconscious.  Is this safe?  Or do you advocate these more controlled methods exclusively?”  This was from a stooped, older gentleman on the front row.

“Will all due respect to Dr. Simpson, I believe I have proven that a more controlled approach, tailoring anesthesia to the needs of the patient is a much safer use of anesthesia.”

“Does the use of chloroform reduce the strength of contractions, prolonging the birth process?”  asked a young fellow a few rows ahead and to the left.

“Certainly not.  I have seen it actually speed delivery by allowing women to relax and allow nature to take its course rather than fighting against the agony that they are feeling.”

A rather dour, dark haired man near the front stood.  “Are we defying God by removing his curse over Eve?”

“Do men not use machines for cultivation? Does doing so damn us for removal of our curse to toil upon the land?” he replied calmly.

“Why should we rob women of this essential part of womanhood?” 

“Well, why don’t we ask a woman?”  He gestured toward me.  “Mrs. Aspern, do you believe that the pain of childbirth is an essential part of your experience of womanhood?”

There was that noise, that rumble that signaled that now every man in the room had shifted in their seats to stare at me.  “Stand up, my dear.” William whispered into my ear.  I stood slowly and hesitated.  I looked down at William, sitting beside me to my left.  He gave my hand an encouraging squeeze and winked.  I directed my comments to the two hundred or so men in the room.

“I…I would say…”  I struggled to find something to say.  Here I was, about to appear the fool.  Then the answer struck me like a lightning bolt between the eyes.  However undignified it would be for me to speak of such things, it was my only recourse.  “Some cultures have young men circumcised as their rite of passage into adulthood rather than performing it in infancy.”  I could hear a shocked intake of air resonate from the lips of the men in the room.  “I would pose that when men consider experiencing the pain of circumcision to be an essential part of their experience of manhood, then they can speak to me of the pain in childbirth as an essential experience of womanhood.  My only regret would be that there is only one potential foreskin to be removed from each male, and yet perhaps half a dozen children or more to be had for each woman.  I believe that the theologian Thomas Chalmers stated before his death that there was no theological part to the debate about the use of analgesia during childbirth.  To echo his sentiments, if we are to debate anesthesia in childbirth, let us keep it limited to questions of safety and efficacy.”  I was met with stunned silence from the crowd.

“Well said, Mrs. Aspern, well said.”  There was a hint of admiration in his voice as there was a round of “Here, here!” that echoed from a few members of the audience as I returned to my seat. 

I do not recall how the rest of the questions and answers went as I was feeling rather lightheaded, like the buzz one gets after a couple of glasses of good red wine.  Or scotch.  I do remember William leaning over to whisper, “Well done.”

After the presentation, William dragged me up to the front and we hung around until everyone had finally finished with the questions they were too embarrassed to ask Dr. Brierly in public.

I stood there alone as William was dragged a short distance away by the dean.  I could not hear what they were discussing.  I felt a light tap on my shoulder and a quietly whispered, “Excellent response, Evelyn.”

Nathanial was there as I turned. 

“So you do remember me, after all?” I whispered back.

“Ah, yes.  I have been unable to forget.”  There was some sadness there. Good.

“How are you?” I asked.

“Well.  And you?”  He paused.  “I see that you are married after all.”  He had a look upon his face that seemed to say I told you so.


“He adores you,” he said simply.

“Yes, he does.”

“And you?  Are you married?”  I needed his answer to be yes but I wanted it to be no. 


“I see,” I said softly.

William rejoined us as Nathaniel was about to say something else and put his hand on my shoulder.  He was eager to discuss medicine and Edinburgh.  “Would you honor us by joining us at our home, Dr. Brierly?  In fact, I would be pleased if you would consider relinquishing your hotel room to stay with us in Cambridge.”  Oh, no!  I must have gasped because Nathanial’s eyes darted over to meet mine. I could see hope and fear dwelling behind his eyes.

“I…I am…not sure…,” he stammered.  He seemed a bit taken aback by the offer.

“Nonsense!  You will come!  Where are you staying?  We will send the carriage straightaway for your things.”  William said this rather forcefully, a tone I had not heard in his voice before.  I wondered how often he used it when I was not around?  Perhaps often in the course of business?

“…I am at the…” 

I could not make out what he said, but William nodded and assured him that the bags would be sent for immediately.  “You must accompany us!  Come!”

William let the way to the carriage waiting outside, his hand on Nathaniel’s shoulder.  As William chatted about Boston history, Nathaniel looked back at me, walking cautiously behind them and mouthed the words, “I am sorry.”  I scowled at him. Why did you agree to come? I could not meet his gaze for long, instead opting to look more closely at empty reflections from the windows of the nearby hospital until I was ushered into the carriage sitting across from Dr. Brierly and my husband.  William continued his dialogue about local history until we passed over the Charles River again and arrived at our home.  I sat silently in the corner watching the face of my husband and my former lover as they conversed.  The sun was fading behind the trees with the most spectacular reds and oranges I had ever seen.  I was not at peace.  Not at all. 

What had begun as a voyeuristic adventure, intending only to peek into the life I might have had, now ended here with my two worlds colliding.  God help me. The devil would be sitting in my drawing room.


Chapter Twenty-Eight: Numbing

It was evening.  The candlelight flickered across the table.  At dinner, William was in unusual spirits as he ate.  He put down his spoon, dabbed at his beard with the napkin from his lap, then cleared his throat.

“How do you feel about going into Boston for a day or two next month?”  He glanced over at me, hopeful.

I looked up at him from my soup.  “Why?”

“For a lecture in obstetrical anesthesia.”

“Oh, really?”  I wondered if this was a veiled attempt to bring up starting a family.  I would see how the conversation would proceed.  I took another silent sip of the oyster soup.

“I thought you might be interested in the topic.  Apparently, it is so controversial that all of the traditional backers balked.  I overheard the discussion at the club between Cornelius Felton, the university president, and Jack Waterhouse, of the medical faculty in Boston.  I do not believe that Cornelius wants the lectures to occur.  There is a part of me that delights in making that man miserable.  So, I wrote a check to Mr. Waterhouse.  We will bring anesthesia to Massachusetts!”  He said this with a flourish of his hand.  He smiled broadly.

“But Dr. Morton has already demonstrated anesthesia.  Several years ago, in fact!”  Everyone knew of the story of the huge neck tumor removed from Mr. Gilbert Abbott at Massachusetts General Hospital.  It had been all over the papers and had occurred before I had left for Edinburgh myself.

“Not in childbirth, my dear!  Dr. Brierly is from Edinburgh, where Dr. Simpson has been administering chloroform and ether during childbirth for years.”  He seemed quite proud of himself.

But, my heart stopped suddenly.  I was not sure if I had heard the name right.  No, it had to have been him. 

Deep within my chest I felt a heavy sinking, as if a rock had just dropped onto my diaphragm, my fingers and lips numb.  “You are doing what?”

“I am sponsoring a lecture series at the college,” he said patiently.

“Yes, but who is speaking?”  I could not breath.

“A Dr. Brierly on obstetrical anesthesia.” He shrugged, then squinted suspiciously at me.

I was not mistaken! Did he not know? Did he not remember?  Was he testing me? Did he know but now was planning to show me off as his trophy?

“I see.”  It was difficult to keep my tone even and impassive.

Did I really want to go to Boston, then?  Difficult question, really.  But I knew what my answer would be, what it had to be. 

“Well, then certainly, I would be happy to accompany you, dear!” 

I sat down my spoon, a tiny clank rang against the china.  My appetite had left me. I worked hard to not betray any emotion.

We finished dinner conversing about the rest of his day. 

When I had retired to my room, I sat at the mirror brushing my hair and examining my features.  Why did I feel so much older?  It had been three years, only, since I had last seen Mr. Brierly.  I had finally stopped thinking about him every day and now this?  Why? Dr. Brierly.  I was running through in my mind the things I needed in order to make sure I was in the best presentable condition possible when I was startled by a gentle tapping at the door.  Not tonight, please, God.  Not tonight of all nights when I longed to give my thoughts over to another man.  My hands shook as I put down the brush.

“Yes, come in,” I said softly.  I could see William enter the room in his dressing gown behind me via his reflection in the mirror.  He looked almost sheepish, imploring.  I knew he was trying to be kind to me, but I hated him for it.  Most days I longed for him to simply take control, but he was too timid to do that.  Tonight, I just wanted to get it over with so that I could get back to my secret sadness.

Chapter Twenty-one: The End of Me

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.

Chapter Twenty: Preparations

My acceptance letter was delivered and within the day a note from Mr. Aspern arrived, addressed to my mother, requesting an appointment with her.  There was a second note from him, addressed to me, which simply read:  “Thank you for your answer.  I will endeavor to ensure that your life is not simply wasted on me.  Yours as always, William.” 

Agnes had indeed already announced the proposal but mother wanted to hear of the details from me.  She had already done some research of her own into the state of Mr. Aspern’s family and affairs and felt that she could accept his offer of marriage. 

The meeting between my mother and Mr. Aspern did not occur until that Friday.  There was a full hours worth of deliberations in the drawing room of which I was not privy, but which sealed my fate nonetheless.  I could hear the voices rising and falling behind the closed pocket doors as I sat on the hard wooden bench in the hallway.  They were not always friendly in tone.

At long last they both emerged.  My mother was smiling, clearly satisfied.  Mr. Aspern winked and bowed at the waist, taking my hand and kissing it.

“My dear, it is arranged!”  He was overjoyed.

“We will send for your father immediately, the wedding will take place in three months time here in Edinburgh,” my mother purred.

Three months!  That was all the time I had left?

My mother misread the concern on my face and hastily added, “I am certain that you would like to be married sooner, but…”

“No.  No, mother,” I interrupted.  “Three months is just fine.”

“We will make the formal announcement in two weeks time,” my mother continued.  She went on further with the details of the time line but I was no longer listening.  The wheels had been pressed into motion and could not be stopped.  I feared I would be crushed beneath the weight. What had I done?

A letter was dispatched to father.  We were invited to the Aspern estate to meet William’s parents.  The fowl and the reception were somewhat cold.  I could see that his mother was not happy that I was taking away her eldest son to some foreign country across the Atlantic. 

Meanwhile, my trousseau was assembled.  The wedding dress was a stunning ivory silk that had cost well over five hundred pounds, an ungodly sum considering so few people would ever see it. 

We would marry on a Wednesday at noon in November.  All if my life when I had thought about my wedding, I had dreamed of a huge church with hundreds of onlookers and well-wishers.  My dress was embroidered with crystals and pearls.  Bells tolled, doves were in attendance, beams of colored sunlight poured through the stained glass windows, a huge feast followed afterwards…it was magical.  Reality, however, was nothing like this.  Now I insisted on not having a church ceremony as I did not intend to have God watching over my shoulder as I took my vows.  I begged, pleaded, and threatened until my mother agreed to make it a private ceremony in the parlor of our rented house with a small party of close friends.  The weather would be quite cold and a garden wedding was out of the question.  A meal would be served immediately after, a late breakfast of sorts. 

As the ceremony was to be at home, I had no veil, only orange blossoms, which like the dress were a symbol of purity, and ribbons to wear in my hair.  I also would have no attendants as there was no one that I was close enough with to ask to serve in that capacity.  We would leave for the honeymoon directly after eating.  William had not disclosed where we would go for the honeymoon, but had told me that we would be travelling for two months.  My mother would close up the house and move back to Massachusettes where we would meet.

In five weeks, rather than receiving my father, we received a letter stating in vague terms that my father was rather ill and unable to travel.  He begged my mother to continue with the wedding as planned and gave his blessing.

In response, my mother moved up the date of the wedding by two weeks.   

The anxiety within me mounted and I felt the need to run away.  Far away.  But I had no one with whom to discuss these things.  I was more isolated than I had ever been. I had attempted to tell William, but even the suggestion of anxiety on my part wounded him deeply and I knew I could not say anything further.  Everyone around me made light of the situation, referring to the proverbial wedding day jitters as if every bride wanted to flee in such a way.  I put up a brave front, not wanting anyone to think that I could possibly be bothered by such thoughts but even so, I found this hard to imagine.  Every woman feels this?  Perhaps I simply wanted my own angst to be special but how could every single woman feel so much fear and anxiety prior to their wedding?  Love was not supposed to be like this! 

My mother, attempting to be helpful, wanted to spend the night before the wedding discussing my duties as a wife.  I had been summoned to her room.  However, her Victorian sensibilities and societal taboos made such conversation difficult for her and she stumbled along.  I could feel my anger rising again, thinking of Emma. 

“I do not need your assistance in these matters, mother.”  I said coldly.

“But…,” she appeared confused, trying to absorb what that meant.  Then a look of suspicion crossed her face.  Had her daughter already experienced sexual relations?  My face turned red even though she never actually opened her mouth to make the accusation.

Embarrassment was mistaken for anger when the nerve was struck. I wanted to hide my pain, to bury it in her pain.  How dare you make accusations regarding my character! 

“You are not the one to be giving advice!  How long has it been since you were in father’s bed?” 

A flash of pain washed over her face for the briefest moment, then was hidden behind a mask as quickly as it had appeared.

“I have experienced a wedding night, something which you have not,” she replied calmly.  “I wish someone had told me the details of what to expect.”

“You have not kept your husband interested…how could you teach me anything about mine?”

“Enough!”  Her eyes flashed dangerously as her voice rose sharply.  

But I could not stop. 

“Tell me why! Why should I stop?”  I demanded, as if it really were my right to continue hurting her.

“There are things which you do not understand and which I will not explain to you.”

I stood.

“Then what are we talking about if you do not wish to explain?  I thought you wanted me to understand?”

“Then listen to me and listen well,” she hissed, also standing up.  “What little freedom you experience now, it is over.  You are chattel and you belong to your husband.  He is a man.  He is taught that relations with you are vital to his being and that it is his right as your husband to have those relations with you at any time, whether you want them or not.  You must submit to them because if you do not, he will take them from you by force.  You have no rights.  Your property and your person will be his forever, you can never have it back.  I have managed to save some small part of myself in spite of all of this and I will not be ashamed of that fact for you.”  She sank back down into her seat, brushing a wisp of gray hair out of her face and tucking it behind her ear.

“I am glad to no longer be your charge, mother.  I am glad to be free of both you and father! If that means that I must prostitute myself, then so be it.”  I slowed my words, enunciating each one clearly, allowing my voice to grow ever so much deeper.  “I hope the both of you rot in hell.” 

I left her there, sitting on the emerald green divan in the corner.  Her face was drawn tight and her jaw clenched in anger.  She stared at some distant, dark memory, no longer seeing me.

Those were the last words that I spoke to her as Evelyn Claire Douglas.

Chapter Nineteen: A Proposal of Another Kind

My bleeding did come, eventually, when I was almost driven mad with fear. I had begged God, pleaded with Him, bargained with Him.  I sang silent songs of rejoicing for days after and my heart soared with delight and freedom.  Dues had been paid, God and the powers were sated.  I could move on with my life and almost try to forget that night.  Maybe.

Mr. Aspern continued to court me throughout the remaining few months.  My mother was proud of the reserve and decorum I maintained in public with him, after my earlier dealings.  I took to shutting her out of my heart and my life, building walls that I had no intention of ever taking down.  I did it gradually, almost imperceptibly, but I was aware that she knew and understood, even if she was not entirely pleased.

The fact was, however, that I could not show affection to any other man, even if I had felt it, when there was a possibility of that action returning somehow to the eyes or ears of Nathaniel.  What if he were still here in Edinburgh?  Indeed, I searched for his face everywhere, hoping that he would rescue me at any minute.  How could he profess love and then disappear?  Perhaps his absence had allowed me to grant him sainthood, to rewrite what little history we had together?

When the proposal came, I was not entirely prepared.  How is that, you may wonder?  It is something that is expected a normal course of courting, and yet, I had chosen to ignore it as an eventuality.  I had enjoyed the attention, it was preferable to being alone, but I had not allowed myself to spend much time pondering a marriage proposal.  Who wants to spend time thinking on something undesirable?

William had requested a walk with me in the Princes Street Gardens on a bright August Sunday afternoon.  The gardens had been built in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle over 20 years ago after the filling in of the Nor Loch, a former lake that had become a cesspool of waste and filth as the city had grown.  Although it had been drained in the 1750’s, it had not been filled in with earth and had consistently threatened to return to its former state.  Now, however, it was a lush green space with winding pathways.  It was a warm day, but was much cooler in the stippled shadows of the trees.  We had stopped for a moment beneath a particularly large, gnarled oak with twisted branches that dipped to the ground in a strangely gracious way.  It must have been there long before the park was built, as the surrounding trees were much younger.  After a furtive glance to assure himself that no one was looking, he took my hand and held it to his chest.  He would not have dared to act so familiar had we not been partially hidden from view by foliage.

“Ms. Douglas,” he announced.  He cleared his throat officially, a look of discomfort crossing his face.  My heart began to pound, please no, no, no…

“Yes, Mr. Aspern?” I smiled ever so slightly at him, trying not to make eye contact, willing myself to maintain composure.  I tried to take a step forward, hoping to continue walking and thus distract him from what was to follow, however he stood in my way and did not budge.  He took a deep breath.

“I have not dreamed that I would ever meet a woman as accomplished as I have found you to be.  I have spent my life thinking of ladies more as entertainment than as a worthy partner.  That fact alone makes you even more beautiful to my eyes and more dear to my heart than you could ever imagine.  However, I recognize that there is much more to you and I am intrigued, fascinated.  It will take me years to know you completely.  I hope that you have something in your heart for me because I have concluded that I myself could not go on through the rest of my life without you by my side.”  His eyes searched mine imploringly, hopefully.

“What are you saying, Mr. Aspern?”  My nervous heart was attempting to beat itself out of my chest.  It was cruel of me to toy with him in this way, to force him to spell it out, but I did it anyway.  He cleared his throat again.

“I am asking you to marry me…”

“I see.”

We stood there like that, under the tree, with time paused in the way that seems to make the slightest hesitation seem like an eternity.  My mind ticked through the pros and cons, weighing the consequences of a “yes” or “no”.  Was I not in love with Nathaniel Brierly?  What was my future going to entail if I were not married?  I had no family upon which to rely for support if my father were to die.  I could not, as a woman, run any sort of business in my father’s place.  I would end up making hats in some milliner’s shop somewhere, living in poverty.

Should I wait, in the name of love, for Mr. Brierly?  What if his leaving was not truly out of concern for me, but rather because of his stronger love for someone else?  If he truly had loved me, wouldn’t he want me cared for, even if he could not provide for it himself?  Yes, he had said that hadn’t he?  Why had I not fought him harder?  Why had I turned and walked away from him when he told me to go?  What if it had only been a test?  If I had only refused, he would have relented and we would be together right now.  Or, if not a test, but he had still loved me, would it really have made a difference for me to try to fight it out with him?  Could I ever bend him to my will?  No.  That was part of his charm.  I held no power over his thoughts, feelings, actions…not to change them at any rate.

If I say yes to this man and tie myself to him forever, do I tell him the honest truth?  That I cannot love him completely?  At least not right now?  Is that kind of cruelty better than the cruelty that comes from playing charades every night in order to make him believe that I love him?  Is it selfish to marry him myself and rob him of a match with a woman who would truly care for him?  Can I grow to love him that way?  I looked carefully at this man before me.  I could not imagine making children with him.  I was not sure that there was any other man alive for whom I would suffer in that way in order to create offspring, even if that suffering were to be my salvation in God’s eyes as the priest had pronounced from the podium several Sundays ago.

“I must ask that you allow me some time to consider your proposal, Mr. Aspern.”  I squeezed his hand quickly and then tried to pull my hand away, but failed.  He held it even tighter.  He stared at me intently.  His mouth opened as if he were about to say something, but after a hesitation, he promptly closed it.  He was silent for what seemed like an eternity.

“Alright, then,” he replied finally.  A look of pain crossed his face and at that moment, I ached for him.  I knew what he was feeling.

“Would you please escort me home, Mr. Aspern?”

“Certainly,” he nodded, curtly.  He placed my hand on his arm and we turned toward home.  In kindness, I left it there.

We began back down the path, looking toward Edinburgh Castle on top of its rocky, volcanic crag and walked together in stony silence ourselves, nodding at the occasional family or couple as they passed.

“Tell me something,” I said.

“Yes?” he replied.

“Why do you want a wife who is spoiled by knowledge and her own opinions?”

“I would not say that a woman is spoiled by those things.”

“Why not, Mr. Aspern?”

“When a woman is educated as you have been, the world you are in becomes too small for you.  You can think and judge for yourself the justness of the role you have been given.  One of two things happens in those women. They become angry and embittered or they are ruled by grace and profound dignity.  You are the latter.  It takes great control and presence of mind to make it appear that you do not care that the world is unjust when you know so well that it is.”

His words made my breath catch in my chest.  How did this man know me when I had so pointedly not told him anything that had really mattered to me?  I felt my face flush.  I had spent much time arguing and debating with him, even about silly, unimportant things just to argue.

“So, in short, it is your strength that I admire most of all.”

We went on in silence for some distance.

“I am not all that you think I am,” I said softly.

“On the contrary, I believe that you are.”

“I am not perfection.”

“You misunderstand me, then.  I do not believe you to be perfect, Ms. Douglas.  I believe that you are an extraordinary young woman who has demonstrated her ability to live well, beyond her flaws.”

The last part of our trek was made wordlessly.  As we mounted the white stone steps at the front door, William once again took my hand, this time bowing slightly as he pressed my fingertips to his lips.  Then, he turned to leave.  I was struck at that moment with a certain urgency.  I needed to make sure that he understood what he was asking for.

“Wait, Mr. Aspern.”  I reach out my hand to grab the sleeve of his coat. Speaking of what I was about to say to someone like this was a terrible risk, but I had to make myself plain on this one point before I could ever agree.

He turned back, a single brow arched quizzically.  “Yes?”

“You should know… You should know that I am terrified of having children.  Terrified.  I know that that is what is expected of me…as…as a wife.  But I must tell you that I am terrified.” Terrified of the pain. Terrified of the loss. Terrified of that kind of love.

He nodded quietly, though his face betrayed his discomfort.  He put his hand firmly on top of mine as it rested on his sleeve.  I could see him weighing, balancing the choices.  Was I worth enough to him to agree to this?  “There are ways to avoid pregnancy.  I give you my word that if you choose me, you will not be pressured or forced.  There will be no children unless you are ready.”

He patted my hand, then lifted it off of his arm, kissed the fingers again, then turned back to the street and started down the steps.

I entered the house, pulling off my bonnet.

“Ah, Ms. Evelyn!” Agness took the hat from my hands, squinting at me suspiciously. “You look disconcerted, Miss.”

“I am,” I admitted.  “Mr. Aspern proposed marriage this afternoon.”

“And how are we feeling about this?” she asked, her head tilted inquisitively.  I don’t believe she expected an answer so much as she wanted to read my face.  She carried the bonnet away as I started up the stairs to my room.

“Strangely, I am feeling at peace,” I replied, not for her ears.  Agnes would be on her way to my mother now.

This man was not simply a love struck puppy, with stars in his eyes and pathetic, romantic drivel to spout.  I had to respect his integrity, his honestly.  There were depths to him that had not yet been plumbed.  He was not particularly handsome.He was not gregarious and outgoing.  He did not seem particularly driven to achieve any greatness at all.  Still, if I must marry, this seems a safe alternative.  He had a fair income, though no title to speak of.  Yet in Massachusetts would Scottish title matter any whit?  Reasonably speaking, Father would like him as he was level headed and had few permanent ties that would keep him here.  Furthermore, Mr. Aspern was not the philandering type.  I would not have to worry about his fidelity.  I could do worse, much worse.

By the time I had reached the topmost stair, I had virtually made my decision.  I entered my room and settled myself at my writing desk.  Should I discuss it with mother first?  No.  I opened the ink jar and sat quietly for a few minutes, pen in hand.

Agnes appeared, asking if I required assistance with my clothing.  When I told her no, she removed a few spoiled flowers from the vase on the mantle, and excused herself.  I pulled out a sheet of crisp white paper.  I could hear the noise of the street through the open windows, the clatter of carriage wheels and horses’ hooves on the pavement below.  My hand was poised over the pristine white sheet before me, my future.  Was I acting too hastily, replying to Mr. Aspern so quickly?  And what of Nathanial Brierly?  It would always come back to him, I realized.  My whole life would always come back to him in one way or another.  I hated him for that.  Some part of me would always long for that excitement, that intensely romantic excitement that comes from being pursued by passion.

I looked up into my painted companion’s eyes.  I had always felt there had been a certain sadness in those eyes.  I had found through my questioning that she was Elizabeth MacKenzie the eldest daughter of the last owner of this house.  She had died in a train accident on her way back to Edinburgh almost five years previously.  She had never married, instead choosing to write novels under a male nom deplume for decades.  Her legacy was the power of words.  Would you think I was compromising myself?  Yes, I am certain that you would.  I took a deep breath and penned my answer.

8th August, 1847

My Dear William:

I was rather startled and yet honored by your proposal this afternoon.After carefulconsideration, I recognize that I must accept your offer.

I remain faithfully yours,

Evelyn Douglas

I folded the note carefully, placed it in an envelope, addressed it to Mr. Aspern and sealed it with wax.  I remained seated there with the note in my hand, feeling the breeze through the window.  My nerves were on edge.  Did every woman feel this uncertainty somewhere deep within them?  If I tie myself to this person, I am saying goodbye to Mr. Brierly forever.  I was exchanging the unknown potential for perfect bliss loving some conjured visage for something safe, hardly spectacular, and somehow less perfect.  Perhaps the imagination created dreams that could never be lived up to?  Perhaps adulthood was learning to accept that dreams were merely dreams, ephemeral wastes of time.  A woman longs to align herself with an extraordinary man, will sacrifice herself in order to do so.  Why?  To feel safe?  To belong to a cause?  Would Mr. Aspern’s clear devotion to me and acceptance of my psyche make up for my heart’s longing to be aligned with the extraordinary?  I could not know what my future would hold.  I only knew that this was the only option that remained before me.

Chapter Eighteen: Cultivation

It was a sunny afternoon and I had been sitting in the garden reading, enjoying the feeling of the warm sunlight on my face. I had the book of poetry by Robert Burns. It was my first physical gift from a man and such, symbolized power. My power over another human being. It was intoxicating.

I knew I could not be out for long before my mother would appear at my side urging me indoors lest I ruin my complexion. I paused a moment from the words on the page to look up at the flowers around me. It was a lovely warm summer day, the steaminess resulting from the rain the day before had burned off by mid morning. Several bees were busy exploring the hollyhocks and jasmine.

Footsteps appeared at my back and I quickly looked down again at my book, choosing to ignore her…hoping that she would leave me alone. I was not really reading. The letters were swimming in my vision as I focused on the crunch of shoes on grass.

The garden was not large. Five short steps later, and she had stopped behind me. I continued to pretend to read. She remained silent, unmoving. I grew annoyed. Minutes passed.

Finally, exasperated, I turned around.

Instead of my mother, Mr. Aspern was there, staring at me. The sun was just above his head and I found I could not see the the expression on his face. He cleared his throat.

“Good afternoon, Ms. Douglas.” He nodded solemnly.

“Mr. Aspern. How do you do? You surprised me! Won’t you have a seat?” I motioned to the bench beside me as I slid over to make more room. There could be no touching.

He remained standing.

I squinted up at him, expectantly. If he would not sit, then I would let him be the one to speak next. But he did not. The awkward silenced stretched on. Finally, my patience wore thin.

“Come, tell me about your inscription!” I insisted. He sighed, seemingly relieved and took a seat on the ledge beside me, not on the bench. I turned to Gaelic phrase written in his hand. He read them easily for me, the words sounding almost musical.

Chan ann leis a’chiad bhuille thuiteas a’chraobh.

“It means, ‘It is not with the first stroke that the tree falls.'”

True. Yes. He was right in this case.

He took the book from my hands, turning to the last poem. At the bottom of the page, also in his script was another phrase in Gaelic. I was afraid to attempt to speak the words, instead reading them silently to myself.

Is fheàrr teine beag a gharas na teine mòr a loisgeas.

“What does it mean?”

“Someday, I will tell you.” He smiled gently at me. “But not today.”  He closed the book and handed it back to me.  “May I call on you again, Ms. Douglas?”

There was only one answer to give, and I gave it. Yes. But it worried me. I recognized great kindness and love in this man, and I loved him somehow for that. But it was not the burning, flaming passion that I had felt before.  The feeling of power was exhilarating but it was not the same.  What if I could not return his feelings in kind in the end? I felt like an actress, hoping that the motions would eventually turn into real feelings.  And I fest dishonest, as if I should issue a disclaimer up front…I am not who you think I am. sir.

I worried that I was cheapening what I had felt before by even speaking to this man, that I was somehow unfaithful to Nathaniel’s memory. I hoped that I would be able to love like that again. Passionate. Consuming. Inexplicable, life altering love. If not with Mr. Brierly, then with someone.

A life without that kind of love would be too much to bear.