My Will, My Way
So it is the perfect time to write of William. I just have to remember not to get too far ahead of myself…
It was the Season of 1821, I should think, that I made my debut in London. This act was not as fun, but precisely as frivolous, as it sounds. The entire purpose, I am aware of now, was to wear women ragged so that only those with the stamina to appear lovely and pink the following morning would be married off. I luckily, was one of those ladies married off.
William was nineteen years older than me, which was not so great a difference back then. He didn’t look as old as he was, but he was a bit weathered. A military man, a colonel, he had come into a bit of land and a title after Napoleon’s second defeat, and this, as much as his youthful looks, made the matchmakers call him “dashing.” I certainly found him dashing, and I believe to this day that I fell more than a little bit in love with him on the dance floor where we first met one night, at one of the Assemblies.
It was hard though. I was so young and misunderstood, a mystery even to myself. Anne and I constructed a brilliant story for me: a Paris girl, comfortably wealthy, but with no family to speak of. I was the simpering victim of a crazed emperor’s exploits, and William was easily made by Society to seem a knight in shining armor to cradle and protect me. Really though, I was nothing more than the fourth daughter of a middle-class merchant from the countryside, and he was just a country squire with a sometimes arthritic shoulder. This we found out only after we were wed. These things, after all, are not the stuff courtships are made of. Instead, William and I danced. We danced every dance we were allowed, and he came to call on Tuesdays, and we drove in the park after church on Sundays. I think that maybe William was an easily smitten man, and maybe I was too naïve a girl. But I was not all naïve. I knew that I had to marry, and I was simply fortunate enough to fancy the man who had chosen me.
After less than a year of knowing one another, we were married in a church just past St. Georges. I can’t remember what it was called, but it doesn’t exist anymore, so I shouldn’t think it matters much after all. I believe it’s been replaced with shops. Hardly a high society function, we received more than a decent share of attention, being the whirlwind romance of our moment, as we were. Anne stood as my bridesmaid as she had not been offered for that Season herself. Or rather, she had been, but not by any men deemed suitable by her uncle, the Duke. The Duke walked me down the aisle, filling my own father’s duties, and from that day on, I needed no longer to search for “fill-ins” in my life. Williams family, the Edesons, took me kindly under their wing until I felt very nearly as though I had always been a part of their family. I loved his brothers and his sister as much as if they’d been my own, and his father took a paternal interest in me in the few years before he died peacefully in his sleep.
As for after the ceremony, lovely as it was, we did not really honeymoon in those days as we do now. William and I had both lived on the Continent, and so we shunned Paris and Vienna, choosing instead to take to the countryside for a few weeks.
He was thirty-eight, and I was but nineteen when we were married. He had graying hair in the corners which I found distinguished, and I was still blushed with youth, as William’s father often told me. Understandably, I recreated myself over time to fill the needs of William’s life. I cannot say I didn’t do it happily, either. Will made no demands on me and was always such a comfort. When I caught cold, he would run out for the doctor himself, though he need never have fussed so. He’d shower me with little presents, from jewelry to books and all the fine things that a Squire’s wife might enjoy. We made mandatory appearances in Town each Season, but otherwise stayed at the manor in the country, or traveled between his cheerful siblings. I had all I ever needed or desired, and no worries that I would suddenly be tossed out or destitute, homeless or penniless. Our home was always full of parties and laughter, of friends and tenderness… I don’t mean to make my life seem so idyllic, nor like a cheap piece of romance fiction, but it was a bit of a game to me, even then, and I cannot help but remember it as such. I can romanticize Will, and our marriage, certainly, but I could never romanticize the life, especially in the country. Reading and writing occupied most of my days, there was no modern plumbing, no modern electricity, and certainly nothing as convenient as an automobile. We were awake when there was light, and we mostly slept when it was dark. These days, believe me, are infinitely more riddled with comforts than back then.
I do think though…and I have come to this conclusion over the centuries…that William has been the only husband who ever truly cared for me. Loved me. We were married for sixteen years and not once did he raise his voice, let alone his hand, to me. He was, in many ways, a perfect husband to me. But husbands were different back then. Rest assured I did everything I could, as well, to be the perfect wife. My dearest wish was to give him children. Back then, it was all the thanks a genteel woman could give her husband, but as it turned out, it was not to be so. Will should have resented me for this, Lord knows I resented myself, but he offered only comfort. Always, he was a comfort, and I feel a sense of security even now, just thinking of him.
It was shortly before Will’s fifty-fourth birthday that he caught a fever and a chill which rapidly developed into pneumonia. I nursed him as best I could, with the little medicine and technology that existed then. No expense was spared on my part to recover his health, but it was not enough. He was considered fully lived when he died and left me all alone. I was utterly heartbroken. For weeks after we put him in the ground, I’d lie in bed all day, or walk around the house and weep. His brothers and his sister all offered to take me in, urged me, in fact, to close up the house and come to them, but I refused. I haven’t mentioned yet, that of the sixteen years that we were wed, I had not aged a single day. And there I was: widowed, childless, and left with a sum of money more than many independent women dreamt of back then. Society was suspicious and spiteful at first, rightfully so, and it is no small miracle London did not lynch me.