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 Seventeen: Waiting

Truth be told, I could not just rush out, find Mr. Aspern, and demand to know about the inscription. Instead, I penned a brief letter to him.

Mr. Aspern,
I am most grateful for your attention to my mother during her party and for the gift of poetry, particularly given the interesting reputation of Mr. Burns. I look forward to discussing the poetry and your inscription in the near future.
Ms. Evelyn Douglas

Now, I would have to wait until he felt a decent amount of time had passed to allow for complete recovery from my illness.

Meanwhile, I was becoming more and more anxious as each day passed. Not because I was waiting for Mr. Aspern. More because I was waiting for my menses. I was never one to chart it faithfully, and I was left wondering exactly when it was due and if it did not come, how I would be able to weather the storm. I began pouring over the Mariceau book again, looking for some clue but found nothing new. Ordering the pills was out of the question.

When my first period had come almost two years ago, I had no idea what was happening to my body. My mother had chosen to protect me from any inkling, lest I should be driven mad by the knowledge. In her defense, this has been advised by the family physician, as I discovered later. But why she thought watching parturition would be fine but knowing about my own menstruation was not, I will never comprehend. Granted, many physicians believed that the menstrual flow was tied to a woman’s psyche and any disruption during that time could result in psychosis. In fact, bathing was discouraged lest the young woman take cold and end up insane.

When I began bleeding, it started with uncomfortable cramping and then I noticed the dark stains on my drawers. At first I was worried that I was pregnant. But I did not have a belly. How could that be possible?

I realized then that I was dying. The icy grip of death was on my shoulder. It would be a beautiful death, I decided. I began fantasizing about the poignant moments I would share with my mother and father as the life ebbed from my poor body and I eagerly waited for further signs that the end was nigh. Those signs did not come.

Afraid to tell anyone quite yet, in case I was wrong, I began staunching the flow with rags I stole from the laundry. I took the soiled cloths to the field and hid them beneath rocks. Things went on like this for several days until one morning I awoke to realize that I had stained my nightgown and bed sheets. Those would be impossible to hide.

I sought out the laundress, a broad, red faced but kind hearted old woman and begged her to help me. She gasped, a hand coming up to her mouth. With fear in her eyes, she dashed off without even uttering a word.

Shortly, I was summoned to an audience with my mother. The laundress, her large nose even redder than usual, had been crying when she appeared to retrieve me. “Your mother would like a few words with you, Miss Evie.” I followed her with trepidation.

As I entered the drawing room, I observed my mother perched on the edge of the sofa, ensconced in the opulent room surrounded with velvet cushions and silk drapery. The bright patterns of the fabrics clashed with the scrolled wallpaper, the effect was always dizzying and disorienting. She was visibly shaken, dabbing at her eyes with a delicate lace handkerchief. When she caught sight of me, she quickly tried to compose herself, hiding the delicate square beneath the folds of her skirt.

As I approached my mother the laundress let out a small sob behind me. After a stern look from my mother, she whispered an apology, then she softly slid the pocket doors closed.

I hesitated.

“Come here, dear!” My mother beckoned to me, sadly. It was then that I realized that I did not want to die. I wanted to live. When I did not move, she stood, and drew me to her heaving bosom. I stood there awkwardly in her embrace as she cried, not sure what I should do. Console her? I am so sorry, Mother! I am sure I will not suffer long… Make a run for it? Her grip on me would prevent that.

At long last, she relaxed and held me out at arms length by my shoulders. Her tear stained face was contorted and dread filled my soul as I awaited the pronouncement of my fate.

“My little girl is growing up…”

I stood there in shock. At first relieved, then embarrassed, then angry that I had wasted so much time convinced of my demise…I wanted to cry, but if this was a rite of passage to womanhood, I did not feel I was allowed tears like that any longer. I wanted to ask questions, but I was not sure that was allowed either. So I just stood there. Waiting.

“Lavinia will help you with the proper accoutrement…” she said once she had composed herself. She gave me one more brief hug, then patted me on the shoulder. And with that, I was dismissed.

I ran up to my room and sobbed into the pillow for a good ten minutes before Lavinia knocked softly on the door.

She was a tall beanpole of a young lady with blond hair, freckles and an easy smile. She served as lady’s maid to my mother. She showed me the pads that she made for my mother, showed me how to pin them into my drawers, warning me to take care last I move in such a way that I stuck myself. She told me stories of what her own mother had used…pieces of sheepskin, greased with lard on the smooth side to prevent leakage. It sounded ingenious but she assured me that the smell was less than desirable. She let me ask questions, without passing judgement.

And now, here I was, with more anxiety about not having the flow than I ever had at having it, even that first time. But now I did not have Lavinia, or anyone else, to shoulder the burden with me.

So, I waited.

Chapter Four: Masquerade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I danced. 

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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