Wednesday, January 30, 1822
Yesterday was my birthday. I'm thirty-three now. I can remember when I was younger birthdays always made me excited. Not any more. Now they are, if anything, a source of misery. A reminder that all my dreams are gone. The dreams that any young girl has of a handsome husband, healthy children and a happy home. I have none of these, and I doubt I ever will.
Being a maiden aunt is, to put it bluntly, no longer enough. My nieces and nephews are my pride and joy, but how can I look at them and not feel a stab of pain at the knowledge that they call another woman "mama"? It's rather strange to look at my own flesh and blood and feel this way. I don't think I have been jealous of Louisa in fifteen years, but whenever her children run to her shouting "mama" and throwing their arms about her, I feel just that. It's just as bad at Foxchase.
My apologies, if my handwriting suddenly seems poorer. I glanced about my desk at the framed miniatures and my piles of correspondence and I had to get away from all the signs of other people's happiness. So I am now curled up in the armchair by the fire, with the inkwell on the small table beside me.
The miniatures of Louisa and Charles and their families seemed to be taunting me. It is strange what jealousy and hopelessness can do. I glanced at two objects that I look at ten times a day when I am in this room, and I heard my siblings speaking to me, gloating over their successful marriages and happy children.
I knew there was something on the table already. I had to push it out of the way to put the inkwell down. I set my journal aside for a moment to see what it was. It is another miniature, this time of Georgiana and her baby. I studied it closely, surprised that it had come all the way from Halifax without any damage. The portrait itself is quite remarkable for the work of an amateur. It must have been the admiral's wife who did it. What was her name? Randall? No, it was Randolph. She was the one who offered to trade Georgiana art lessons for piano instruction for her daughter. If this is an example of Mrs. Randolph's work, I think that the agreement will benefit everyone.
Has Georgiana really been gone for over two years? These two years which seem to have been the saddest in my life? Hmm. Can I blame my profound sense of misery over the last two years on Georgiana's absence? No, that would be unfair on her. While her absence has been a cause of my distress, it was not been the sole reason.
No, the primary source of my distress has been this painful sense of longing. Longing for something that I will never have and what's more, something that I will always be reminded of at every turn. Every where I go, I see happy children, doting mothers, and proud fathers. There is no escaping it! Such is the curse of the spinster aunt. It gives one a rather strange sense of both belonging and not belonging. I feel as though I belong to my family, yet at the same time, I do not belong to some greater guild. It's quite distressing to be in a room full of family and friends and hear them talk about their children.
Perhaps I can return to my desk to write. Hopefully my miniatures won't start mocking me again, because this chair is not very comfortable.
Yes, much better now. I watch the miniatures for a moment, as if challenging them to say something. They don't and I pick them up one by one to study them in the flickering light of the candles.
I pick up the one on my left, of Charles' children. There's Fanny, with her long blonde hair. A "big girl now" of seven as she proudly proclaims herself. To her right is William, a perfect replica of his father. On Fanny's left is little Maria, barely two when the painting was done. I can't help but wonder how they got her to sit still for so long!
Replacing the picture, I lifted one of the others, this one of Louisa's children. Painted by the same artist, it has a familiar look to it, almost like they were painted to mirror each other. But the similarities end there. In the middle is the eldest child, Samuel. But where Fanny looks so happy, her cousin Sam looks so . . . serious. With a stern visage like that, I tried to imagine a profession for Sam. A bishop? Or perhaps a judge, pronouncing sentence?
To each side of Sam is one of his twin sisters. Both of them are laughing, looking so cute in their white dresses and bonnets adorned with pink sashes and ribbons. I gazed at the miniature and tried to remember where each one of the girls sat. It's a bit harder to tell them apart when both are laughing, but as I studied them, I determined that Sarah was to Samuel's left and Caroline to his right. The painter really did do a fine job of capturing my nieces' eyes. That is what gives them away in the end. Sarah's happy innocence and Caroline's mischievous look.
I paused for a moment and reached out with my free hand to take up the painting of Charles' children. Holding a miniature in each hand, I studied them intently. I endeavored to find some similarity between the children and myself. Samuel had a few "Bingley" features, especially his nose, but there was also a lot of "Hurst" in him. There was a bit more of a resemblance between myself and Caroline and Sarah. Placed side-by-side, it was obvious that we were related, but it was also obvious that I was not their mother. While Louisa and I have always resembled each other, there are differences and the twins looked just like their mother.
It was much the same way with William, whose appearance and expressions were exactly like his father's. There was the obvious family resemblance between William and I, but nothing else. Nothing that would identify him as being my child. With Fanny there was no similarity at all, since she looked so much like her mother. Maria, on the other hand, was like Louisa's Sam, a combination of both parents.
Setting the miniatures down, I took my candle and moved over to the bed, determined to try and get some sleep. As I lay there, I attempted to remember all the children that were in my extended circle of family and friends. In addition to my 6 nieces and nephews, Lord and Lady Fitzwilliam had one; Kitty and Benjamin Medcalf two; Colonel and Mrs. Fitzwilliam also had two; Charlotte had borne Sir James a son; Anne had one with another on the way. Even the Darcys, after their past tragedy, had been blessed with two fine children. The Christmas post had brought the sketch of Georgiana and her daughter, which I had placed on the small table in front of the fire.
In hindsight, all that thinking about children was a mistake. It took me a long time to fall asleep and it was not a particularly restful sleep. Judging by the state of the bedclothes in the morning, I must have tossed and turned a great deal. My restlessness was not helped any by the reappearance of my "mystery man at the ball" dream. Just when I thought I had rid myself of it (it had been two months since the last time), the dream occurred again. What was once a beautiful fantasy was becoming a nightmare.
Needless to say, I was more than a little cross this morning.
Proof of just how irritable I had become thanks to my restive night was shown in mid morning. I had stayed in bed far past my usual hour for beginning the day, trying to get at least a little sleep. It had not worked and I had eventually risen and had breakfast in front of the fire. I was just finishing my tea when there was a slight knock on the door and before I could say "Enter", the door opened and my niece Caroline scurried in. Frankly I was not in the mood for company and Caroline's persistent questions soon drove me into a state of exasperation.
Little Caroline was nothing if observant. Noticing that I did not look particularly happy, her interrogation began.
"Why do you look so sad Aunt Caroline? Don't you like birthdays?"
I groaned inwardly. Trust Caroline to immediately go to the heart of the problem. But I knew that I had to give her some sort of answer, or she would continue to pester me. "Not anymore Caroline. I used to, but I don't like them much now."
"Why not? I like birthdays! Sam likes birthdays. Even Mama likes birthdays."
She did have a point. Louisa did like birthdays. Her favorite gifts were not the new dresses from me or new furniture that Edward bought her, but the simple things that her children had made for her. I was powerless to give her a reply that was not too revealing; yet she would insist on having one.
"I just do not like them any more Caroline. Not everyone likes birthdays when they get older. Look at Grandpa Hurst. He does not like birthdays." That should do it I thought to myself.
But Caroline had a response even for that. "Papa says that Grandpa does not like birthdays because Aunt Sarah makes him come out of the library and be nice to people."
"BLAST!" I mumbled.
In hindsight, I don't know why I did what I did next. Instead of trying to evade her relentless inquiries, I suddenly decided to tell her the truth, or at least something close to it.
Caroline had been standing in front of me since she had entered the room. I leaned forward and whispered to her, gesturing towards the empty chair as I did so. "Sit down and have a piece of toast and Aunt Caroline will tell you a secret!"
Her eyes grew big and she immediately scrambled into the chair. "But you mustn't tell Sarah and you certainly mustn't tell Mama or Uncle Charles!" Caroline eagerly nodded that she understood and I began.
"Ever since I was a little girl, a little girl about Fanny's age, I dreamed that a tall, handsome prince would marry me and make me the happiest woman in the world." (This certainly seemed to interest Caroline.)
"Sometimes I still have that dream. I had it again last night, but instead of making me happy, it made me very sad, since I am not married and I have no children. I'm much too old to get married now."
Caroline was quiet for a moment, although I think it was the mouthful of toast as much as the story I had just told her that kept her quiet. Then she jumped out of her chair and hugged me around the knees and whispered. "Don't worry. Some day your prince will come!"
I smiled at her, to assure Caroline that I believed her. She turned to go out of the room but paused as she reached the doorway. Turning to me, she said, "Why don't you have a nap this afternoon Aunt Caroline? I always feel better after a nap!"
I grinned at her. "Yes, I think I will. Why don't you go ask Mama if you can sleep in here if you want to?" She agreed to do just that.
When nap time came, Caroline crept into the room in her nightdress. I was already in bed, but had folded down the covers on the other side so she could climb in. We were soon settled, and after some wrestling for the bedclothes we were both asleep.
Ever since I had proposed a nap, I had been afraid that the dream would come back. It did of course and I remember sitting up in bed gasping for air. I looked down at Caroline, afraid that my thrashing had awoken her. It had not, and I realized that she must be a sound sleeper, like her mother. Adjusting the bedclothes, I eased myself back down into bed. While unable to fall asleep again, I did feel rested when my maid came to tell us it was time for tea.
Friday, December 13, 1822
This week began, as the second week in December has for the last nine years, with the family preparing to journey to a party. Since the previous year's party was at Foxchase, this year's was to be at Pemberley. Louisa, the governess and I, after a good deal of difficulty managed to get the children into the carriage and on our way.
The ride to Pemberley is always a long one and the three children combined to make it seem lengthier than usual. In the house, Sam is usually a model of good behavior, but sit him in a carriage for more than an hour and he feels that it is his duty to harass someone. His favorite victim is Caroline, who then feels required to defend herself. Soon the two of them were bickering and after half an hour Louisa reprimanded both of them, which resulted in each of them sulking in their respective corners, Caroline looking like she was on the verge of tears.
Everyone's mood improved a little after luncheon. Sam wanted to sit with the driver and after begging Edward for permission, he did so until the next stop. Needless to say, those of us that remained inside the carriage enjoyed the quiet, which was extended when Caroline, who at five is quite the tomboy, was allowed to sit next to Mr. Hull for a time.
Our first two or three days at Pemberley were quiet enough, filled with the usual preparations for the party, and the swapping of news about our families, especially the ones that were not there. I was overjoyed to hear that Georgiana and Captain Stewart would be back early in the spring.
Yesterday morning began much as the previous ones had. After breakfast, everyone went his or her separate way. The children were soon running about the house, with several of them getting into mischief. Nine year old Sam and Fanny (who's eight) have been playmates almost since birth and they soon found ways to annoy their mothers. If kept apart, they are well behaved, but there is something about the two of them together that makes them little devils. If there are mud puddles or snow banks to jump in, or something easily broken, the two of them will discover it!
By mid-morning, Sam and Fanny had succeeded in coating themselves in mud, which was kept out of the house only through Jane's watchful eyes. As I watched the mud-covered children being marched upstairs I shook my head in amazement. The two of them really were quite a handful, more so than Sarah, Caroline, William, Henry Fitzwilliam and Albert Fitzwilliam combined!
When the household met again for lunch, Sam and Fanny had bathed and dressed in clean clothes. But their expressions puzzled me. While Sam was sulking, Fanny was positively beaming.
It has always been my practice not to interfere in the disciplining of the children, but the fact that Sam and Fanny seemed to have such different opinions on the matter left me wondering quite what had happened. I was still trying to think of a way to ask one of them about it when Fanny approached me with Sam in tow.
Now Fanny has always been a happy child, but something obviously had her excited, almost to the bursting point. I waited to hear what it was, and sure enough, Fanny revealed it to me, her words coming out in a torrent.
"Aunt Caroline, may I ask you a favor?"
"Will you be our chaperone at the ball tonight?" (She gestured towards a none too happy Sam as she made this request.)
"What do your mothers have to say about this?"
"That we may go and stand to the side if you will watch us," Sam replied.
I looked at the two of them. Sam appeared to be a man who was stoically accepting his fate. Fanny watched me anxiously, trying to guess what my answer might be.
"Very well. But the first sign of misbehavior or tiredness and off you go!"
"Thank you Aunt Caroline!" Fanny exclaimed as she threw her arms about me and hugged me tight. Sam gave a very good impression of a man who was preparing to meet the hangman.
Fanny soon skipped out of the room, giggling that she had to pick out a dress for the evening. I took the opportunity to ask Sam why he looked so unhappy about the whole thing. "She'll want to dance!" he moaned.
I could not help smiling at his discomfort. The past summer, Fanny had decided that she wanted to learn to dance and Sam had been cajoled into being her partner, since they were about the same size, plus Louisa thought it was time for him to learn a few refinements. The lessons had not gone well. Despite Sam's best efforts and the patient teaching of his Uncle Charles, the only thing my poor nephew was particularly good at was stepping on Fanny's toes. I patted him on the shoulder and pointed out that even if Fanny did want to dance, it would not be on the dance floor itself and that I would probably be the only person to see them dancing.
This seemed to improve his disposition slightly. He left the room and I soon followed. I spent much of the afternoon in my chambers taking care of my own preparations for the ball. I debated whether or not I should wear my dancing slippers, since I would spend much of the evening watching Sam and Fanny. I decided to wear them in the end, in the belief that someone would take over minding the children if I was asked to dance.
Just as my own arrangements had been completed, there was a knock on the door and Fanny's head soon peeked around the doorframe. "Come help me pick a dress!" she begged. When I got to the room that she was sharing with Beth Collins I saw that there were three dresses laid out on the bed. Jane was standing next to the bed looking none too pleased. Fanny quickly sketched out the situation. She had wanted to wear one dress while her mother had preferred another. Beth, who happened to be in the room, had indicated her preference for a third.
"Which one?" Fanny pleaded. I looked at the three choices. It was easy to guess who had selected each dress. Beth's selection was rather severe; but then again her views on dresses tended to be along those lines. That left Fanny's choice and Jane's. Examining the two of them closely, I gradually formed the opinion that Jane's choice would be more appropriate for the evening, since it was, in fact an evening dress, whereas Fanny had picked a favorite morning dress. "This one." I said as I held up the dress her mother had selected. Fanny began to pout, exclaiming "But Mama!" however Jane said gently "Now Fanny, you said that you would wear which ever dress Aunt Caroline picked." Fanny nodded and thanked me for my help.
The remainder of the day passed uneventfully and then it was time for the ball. I met Sam and Fanny at the foot of the main staircase. I complimented Sam, saying that he looked like quite a little gentleman. He colored a little at my remark, but thanked me for it. He offered his arm to Fanny, which she accepted with a giggle. I followed the young couple into the ballroom.
It was not until the first dance had begun that I began to notice the strange feeling that came over me. It is hard to describe accurately. But it consisted mainly of a cold shiver running down my spine and a shortness of breath. The sensation passed in a couple of minutes, but for that time, I was feeling sufficiently lightheaded to lean against a nearby piece of furniture for support.
The children had their dance and for the first time, Sam performed it without stepping on Fanny's toes. They were far from flawless, but Sam looked very pleased with himself. Fanny looked a bit tired after the dance, so she and Sam sat down and watched the adults whirl about the dance floor. I alternated between standing over them, and walking about the dance floor, never straying far from where the children were seated, but far enough away to improve my view of some parts of the dance floor.
I had just returned from one of these little walks when the feeling that I had briefly experienced earlier returned. If it had been a minor annoyance before, it came back much more powerfully this time. So powerful in fact, that I thought it best to sit down. I must have had an unusual expression on my face, because Fanny was soon asking me, her concern apparent "Are you feeling well?" I managed to get out that I was feeling a little tired and just wanted to rest for a bit. Nevertheless, she sat close to me for the next several minutes.
Just as the music ended, Fanny asked in a quiet voice "Who is that man staring at you Aunt Caroline?"
"Over there, near the window." Fanny gestured at a window set into the far wall.
I could not see the window she was pointing at very well from my chair, so I stood in order to get a better view. It was then that I saw him, the man who had been a constant visitor in my dreams for nearly ten years. I stared at him in what must have been open-mouthed incredulity as he was making his way through the dancers towards us.
"Go and get your father." I said to Fanny. I had meant for it to come out as a softly spoken sentence, but it came out as a strangled whisper. She must have heard me, because she went running towards her parents calling "Papa, Papa, Aunt Caroline wants you!" If I had not been standing rooted to the floor in a state of complete shock, I would have died of embarrassment, since everyone in the room turned to look at us when they heard Fanny's announcement.
At this point, I felt that my legs would give way any second, so I clutched at the first thing I could in order to support myself. It happened to be Sam, who had stood in front of me when we all rose from our chairs. He must have believed that I was frightened, because I could feel him bringing himself to his full height, as though he meant to protect me. He was saved from having to make any such move by the arrival of his father and uncle.
Charles, Edward and the mysterious stranger all arrived more or less simultaneously. It was Charles who made the introductions, announcing that the man was an old friend of his, Sir Robert Macmillan. Charles must have seen the puzzled look that passed over my face, since he elaborated, telling me that Sir Robert was the Member of Parliament for Edinburgh and had been a member of his club for years. (I must make clear that at this point, I very nearly throttled my dear brother.) Known him for years? But I also realized why his accent had confused me so much in my dream. There had always been Scots around the warehouse when I was a child. It was an accent I should have recognized.
Sir Robert bowed, and I curtsied, and I asked him how he came to be at Pemberley. He smiled that lazy smile of his, which I found more attractive with each passing second and replied, "Your brother was kind enough to invite me. Said I needed some cheering up!" Charles reentered the conversation at this moment, happily stating "Yes, you'd been looking rather sad all year!"
All this information had my thoughts in a jumble. Old friend . . . Sad for a year . . . .Why . . ..
But I did not have time to resolve any of this. Sir Robert was smiling at me again. "May I have the next dance, Miss Bingley?"
The remainder of the ball passed in a whirl. The only things I can remember clearly are dancing, talking, laughing and feeling more ALIVE than I had in years.
My euphoria had not begun to wear off by the time I retired. My maid asked me my opinion of the ball and all I could do was babble.
"He's here. I've seen him, touched him, and talked with him. Even danced with him. The man from my dream exists and he is staying not five miles from here!"
My maid looked at me curiously, as if she was trying to determine whether or not I had gone mad in the last few hours. Eventually she just shrugged her shoulders and asked me if there was anything else I needed. Upon hearing that I did not require further attention, she excused herself and left my chamber, still shaking her head.
This morning I bounded out of bed like a young girl on Christmas morning, determined to try and record everything that had happened at the ball. But I was so excited I could not concentrate, so I put it off until now. I shall have to sign off momentarily, since I have just been reminded that it is tea time and Sir Robert shall be here!
Monday, March 31, 1823
The long wait is over. The sleepless nights wondering at the identity of the man who was a constant visitor to my dreams have ceased. For I am soon to cast aside the role of "spinster aunt" and join the ranks of married women. Lady Caroline Macmillan. That has a nice ring to it, does it not? Hmmm. Would I be any less euphoric if it was plain Mrs.? No! Most certainly not!
Since the day Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth were married, my stays at Pemberley had always seemed to be brief. They were even briefer this past December. Every waking moment after that fateful Thursday was spent thinking of one man. How long had it been since I had thought each day about a man? Years. Since the days I had struggled to get any notice from Mr. Darcy. But Mr. Darcy had been replaced by another. A tall Scotsman with fair hair and a ready smile had supplanted him. A man whose mere presence made me feel young again.
The afternoon after the ball, Sir Robert had been invited to tea. I can remember nothing that occurred during the early parts of the tea party except the surreptitious glances that I constantly sent in his direction as I followed him around the room with my eyes. Nervousness prevented me from approaching him outright, so I stood in one place and covertly watched Sir Robert as he conversed with Mr. Darcy and Charles. At one point he turned and before I could turn my head away he had caught me. I flushed and lowered my head in embarrassment.
I was still studying the design of Elizabeth's china when I heard someone take the seat next to me. My senses told me that it was him, but I was too mortified to even speak with him. But his quiet tones soon roused me and we spent an enjoyable few minutes talking about the weather, the roads and most of the other subjects that make up polite party conversation.
One topic that did reveal something of the man was our conversation about Scotland. Since I had never visited that part of the kingdom, I asked him about it. His enthusiasm for his home was obvious, but he nevertheless surprised me. I had assumed that his favorite part of the land would be his estate, and his revelation that it was not stunned me. Instead, he spoke eloquently about a stretch of seaside that he traveled along whenever he came to England and the Highlands where he hunted and fished with his cousins. One could not help but be drawn in by his word picture of the lochs, bleak yet beautiful.
I can not recall that anyone ever made me determined to visit a place, merely by describing it. (Not even Pemberley can claim this honor, but I blame Charles, who viewed it first, and his inability to express himself like Sir Robert for this!) Sir Robert's vivid portrayal of Loch Ness and the area around Inverness, with his use of phrases like "the sacred field of Culloden" (which made me think for a minute he was a Jacobite) and "the majestic ruins of Urquhart Castle", which overlooked the Loch. For much of my adult life I have not had the adventuresome spirit that I had in my younger tomboy days, but as I sat captivated, listening to Sir Robert, I was filled with a desire to see these places.
The following day was Sunday and the inhabitants of Pemberley made their way to Kympton to attend the services there. I have always enjoyed Mr. Medcalf's sermons, but he outdid himself that day. I was sitting mesmerized when I noticed that the coat of the gentleman in front of me had a thread hanging from it. Intending to gently pluck it away, I reached up to remove it. I must have pulled with more force than I intended, because the man turned around and I found myself face to face with a puzzled Sir Robert. I flushed again, since I had not noticed him when he came in. But I summoned up what was left of my courage and held out the dainty thread. He looked at it and nodded his thanks. I sank back into my pew, my emotions in a whirl.
Our departure from Pemberley the next morning must surely have been one of the most comical things seen there in many years. Usually, I am busy chasing the children about, making sure that they are all in the carriage. The usual procedure was reversed that forenoon as the girls fairly dragged me back to the waiting vehicle. Sir Robert had stopped by to pay his respects before he departed for Edinburgh and my nieces only pulled me back to the carriage with a great deal of effort. I was greeted with an amused glance from Louisa when I was finally seated and with several knowing looks from the children.
Christmas was a bit difficult. I tried time and time again to tell myself that it was nonsense to be upset over being separated from a man I had only been introduced to days before. The customary Christmas correspondence did little to brighten my mood. The only letter which was delivered before New Year's Day that I could remember reading intently was Charles' and Sir Robert was only mentioned in a single paragraph, where my brother announced his safe arrival in Edinburgh.
Jane's epistle, which arrived on Twelfth Night, surprised me however. I would never have believed her to be the kind of person who read someone else's mail, but she did pass along some vital intelligence. Sir Robert, it seemed had mentioned me in his letter to Charles. Jane even went so far as to say that it sounded like he was badgering my brother for further information about me. If Jane wanted to lift my spirits, this information did accomplish that, but it also had some adverse effects.
I was somewhat annoyed at Charles for not mentioning Sir Robert's interest in me, but then logic took over and pointed out that Charles may have been trying to keep his friend's confidence. Another possibility was that he was trying to keep me from raising my hopes too much. As much as I wanted to be angry with my brother, I could not find it in myself to do so.
The holidays were soon over and mid January brought news from Charles that Sir Robert would be returning to London. My emotions were increasingly confused at this time. I desperately wanted him to call, but I was also afraid that I was becoming too dependent on Sir Robert. What if he did not return my feelings?
I resolved to think things through as soon as possible. Fortunately, an opportunity presented itself that very night. Louisa and Edward had been invited to dine at the home of Edward's brother. I remained behind, stating that I had a headache. With the house to myself, I could consider matters without interruption.
After a quiet supper, I sat silently in the armchair in my chamber, trying to determine just how I felt about Sir Robert. But another man silently entered my thoughts. Lieutenant James Percy. The mere whispering of his name made me sit upright in my chair. Why, at a time like this, was I contemplating a man I had not spoken or thought about in over a decade? It took a couple of minutes of frantic searching about my memory before I recalled just who James Percy had been and why he was important.
Lieutenant Percy had entered my life in the summer of 1806, when I was a rather silly seventeen year-old, fresh from school. I shuddered momentarily as I remembered just how silly I had been all those years ago, and then memories of that summer took over again. We met at a party, one of my first. I cared not who I stood up with, as long as I had a partner for every dance. One of my favorites that night proved to be a slightly built officer who waltzed divinely. How I enjoyed whirling about the ballroom with him! It was not until I was so exhausted that I could not dance another step that I took a seat. My aunt, who had taken me under her wing when my mother had died three years before soon, took me aside.
What followed was a brief lecture on gentlemen and not giving them misleading ideas about your intentions. Aunt Cassandra had asked me a little too bluntly what I thought about my dance partner and I was surprised to hear that she was worried that I might be forming an attachment with him. She also advised me to make it clear that if I had not formed an attachment I should let him know immediately. But she had not told me how to do it.
I handled it pretty badly. Instead of being gentle, I had been harsh, perhaps even rude. When he left the ball it was obvious that he was angry.
Three years later I heard that a Captain James Percy had been killed during the terrible retreat to Corunna, in Spain. I had not given it a second thought then. But now it gnawed at me. Had he forgiven me? Were his last words a call for his mother? His wife? Or were they a curse against a blundering young lady who had treated him so badly?
After that, I could not concentrate about Sir Robert at all. No matter how hard I tried to cast James Percy from my thoughts, I could not. The question of whether he had forgiven me tormented me for the rest of the day and I went to bed feeling a good deal more miserable than I had claimed to earlier.
Two days after my memories of James Percy had surfaced; Sir Robert came to visit. Thus began a pattern that lasted for several weeks. He would call twice a week and everyone in the house soon looked forward to his visits. He was a wonderful conversationalist, able to speak with the always curious Sam about Scotland and his early life in the Army or Louisa and I about art, music and books with similar enthusiasm. In hindsight, those visits should have told me a great deal about the man, but I now believe I was so busy trying to determine how I felt that I may have missed any indication as to how he felt about me.
Whenever he called, I would be happy all the time that he was there and the rest of the day. By the next morning, I would be worrying, trying to analyze everything that had been said; every movement, every glance.
That examination of each call, which I had hoped would help me determine what Sir Robert felt for me (and for that matter what I felt for him) served to do exactly the opposite. I could not help but compare it with my earlier pursuit of Mr. Darcy. For two years I had chased after a man I thought I knew well, only to discover in the end that I did not know him at all. As I tried to think about Sir Robert, the comparison came easily. I had known Sir Robert for less than two months and yet the attraction was so much stronger, so strong that it frightened me.
In mid February he surprised Louisa and I by inviting us to the opera. He had procured a box for what was supposed to be the performance of the season and he invited us to accompany him and his sister to the opera house. Louisa and I gladly accepted and her eagerness to meet Sir Robert's sister rivaled my own.
I need not have worried about meeting Helena Campbell. She was a friendly woman, who reminded me in many ways of Jane or Georgiana. Louisa found her to be an excellent partner for conversation, and the party in our box soon broke into three groups: Louisa and Helena, Edward and Allan Campbell and Sir Robert and myself. This was a little disconcerting, since I still found speaking with Sir Robert alone made me extremely nervous. Whenever he had called, Louisa had always been there and had taken part in the conversation, at least at first.
My nerves were not improved by my suspicion that the Campbells' presence was not strictly social. Although they sat behind me during the performance, I could not shake the idea that I was being watched and perhaps even spoken about, because I heard several comments whispered between them, not loud enough to be understood, but certainly loud enough to be noticed. Thus, when Sarah asked me what I thought of the opera the next morning, I could not give her much of a review. My senses and emotions were too involved elsewhere.
Shakespeare once said "Beware the Ides of March". I will always remember them as the day I made the most important decision in my life. Something inside me told me that Sir Robert would be proposing soon. I don't know how I knew this, but I did. I was also aware of the fact that if he asked me, I wasn't completely sure how to answer him. Would I say yes to Sir Robert the man, or the Sir Robert of my dreams? I desperately needed to talk to someone!
Sitting in my favorite armchair I tried to think of who I could speak with. Louisa and Sarah Hurst had accompanied their husbands who had gone to see a sick uncle. Jane would not give me the candid appraisal that I needed. Elizabeth was still in Derbyshire and not expected for several more days. Kitty and Mary? I was not close enough to either to speak of something this personal (and besides Mary was in Ireland). Anne was in Dublin helping her husband select goods for the new shop. Who did that leave? I fairly leaped up when the name came to me.
Within moments, a note was on its way to the Passmore's London house asking if I could call that afternoon. If Charlotte was surprised by the fact that I wanted to call barely 48 hours after last seeing her, the reply that I received from her did not indicate it.
When the butler showed me into the sitting room, Charlotte was playing with her son. I'm not sure just how she guessed that I wanted to talk without him present, but the little boy was soon sent off to keep his father company. Charlotte invited me to sit down and offered me a cup of tea.
The conversation began slowly, since I was not sure just how to broach such a personal subject and Charlotte was a little slow to answer the first few questions. But both of us soon warmed to the task and I laid my problem out before her. She proved to have been an excellent choice for someone to discuss the issue with, for not only did she answer all my questions, she raised a few that I had not considered in all my thinking on the matter. Before we knew it almost two hours had passed and Charlotte needed to prepare for a previous engagement. She answered my final plea of "What should I do?" with an inquiry of her own.
"What do you want to do?"
"Say yes if he asks me!" I replied.
Charlotte rested her chin on her hands for a moment, as if she was contemplating something.
"Then let me give you the finest piece of advice anyone ever gave me. You've been given a second chance at happiness. If it is what you want, what you really want, grab it with both hands and never let go."
We sat watching each other for a few seconds. Then I remembered just who had given her that advice and I let out a nervous little laugh. Charlotte merely smiled.
Easter Sunday has always been a quiet day in the Hurst household. After attending services at St. ____'s, we usually spend the remainder of the day at home. But this year I will remember forever.
The only people who ever call on Easter Sunday are Edward's family, so the fact that we had a caller who was not a relative was unusual indeed. You can imagine my shock when Sir Robert was shown into the sitting room. After spending a few minutes speaking with the family (for he is a great favorite with my nieces), he asked if he might have a word with me alone.
There was a moment's stunned silence, and then Edward's voice saying "Certainly, why don't you use the garden?" I lead the way out to the garden, with my heart beating so fast that I thought it would tear itself from my chest. "A word alone." Does this mean what I think it means?
When we arrived in the garden, Sir Robert asked me to sit down on the bench. I did so and watched him with a mixture of curiosity and anxiety. I was anxious for obvious reasons, but was growing more and more curious about why Sir Robert was pacing up and down in front of me, mumbling something I could not quite understand.
Finally, after two or three minutes had passed, he stopped pacing and stood in front of me. "The most important speech of my life", he said quietly "And I cannot think what to say!" Sir Robert got down on one knee and hesitatingly took my hand. He began to speak:
"O' my Luve's like a red, red rose,
That's newly sprung in June;
O' my luve's like the melodie
That's sweetly play'd in tune, --
As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I
And I will love thee still my Dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry, --
Till a' the seas gang dry my Dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun:
I will love thee still my Dear,
While the sands o' life shall run, --
And fare thee weel, my only Luve!
And fare thee weel a while!
And I will come again my Luve,
Tho it were ten thousand mile!" **
Instinctively, I squeezed his hand as he finished and with no hesitation at all, I said, "Yes." He looked up at me and seemed confused. I repeated, with a sense of calm that I did not feel at all "Yes, I would be honored to be your wife." That radiant smile that I have come to cherish spread across his face and I slid over on the bench and helped him up so he could sit beside me.
We sat on the bench for a long moment and then we turned to each other. He leaned towards me, still hesitating somewhat and I knew what he meant to do. Our first kiss was a brief one and when we drew apart, I am sure that we wore matching dazed expressions. But then we leaned towards each other again . . .
I'm not sure how long we sat alone in the garden. After a time, I raised my head from his shoulder and said "We had best be getting back, or Louisa will think we have eloped!" He grinned, and helped me to my feet. As we made our way back to the house, I could see one of my nieces watching from the window. I suddenly felt very bold and I gave Robert a quick peck on the cheek. He turned to me, curious, but I merely smiled at him, having noticed during our sojourn in the garden that he finds my smile as intoxicating as I find his.
Whichever niece it was must have noticed and spread the word, since the family was assembled in the sitting room when we returned. Neither one of us said a word. We did not have to. As soon as we entered the room, Edward was congratulating Robert, Louisa was embracing me and my nieces were plucking at my skirts to get my attention.
Monday, August 18, 1823
My last night as a single woman. I should be in bed, resting for my "big day" tomorrow. But I cannot. My emotional pendulum swings from a state of nerves so bad that I can barely think to happiness that borders on the silly! In just the last half-hour I have spent 20 minutes tensely pacing the room only to sit down and waste two perfectly good sheets of paper practicing signing my name. After all, how many ways can one write "Lady Caroline Macmillan"? At least twenty!
Finally, I forced myself to sit and write my journal. Sitting here by the fire, with my battered 1823 journal and my pen had a marvelously calming effect. But before I began to write, I took a few minutes to thumb through the entries since March 30. Pausing on April 4, I read the passage that I had copied verbatim from that morning's edition of "The Times". One phrase in particular caught my attention: " . . . announces the engagement of his sister, Miss Caroline Agnes Bingley, to Sir Robert James Macmillan . . . ".
Laying down my pen for a moment, I reflected on the week after my Easter afternoon engagement to Rob. Our return to the house after our sojourn in the garden had been a hectic one, needless to say. Edward was congratulating Rob and Louisa was embracing me, as Sarah and Caroline plucked at my skirts, eager for details. The commotion soon attracted Sam's attention and he wandered into the drawing room, leaving his books in the library.
Sam's reaction to the news was typical of him. He shook hands with Rob, and I remember thinking "Always the little gentleman!", but he embraced me tightly as soon as Caroline and Sarah had relinquished their grip on me.
A week after the announcement in the newspapers, we attended our first ball as an engaged couple. I was a bit nervous, I must admit, as it had been years since I had attended any sort of social gathering that was not family related. As we entered the ballroom, I heard with a good deal of surprise that I was once again the talk of fashionable London. The comments I overheard contained a wide variety of opinions, some good, and some bad. But many of them stung. More than one disappointed young lady or frustrated mother remarked that it was a tragedy one of London's most eligible bachelors seemed to be throwing himself away on an old maid.
Rob must have heard many of the comments and realized how much they had hurt me, even if I did my best not to show any kind of reaction. He gripped my arm a little tighter and I turned to look at him. He smiled at me, and it was all the reassurance I needed. A smile that eloquently said " I don't care what they say. I am happy with my choice."
We attended several more balls and parties that Spring, as I enjoyed my first London season in nearly a decade. My confidence was soon restored and Rob no longer felt the need to hover over me protectively. Society may have judged us to be an unusual couple, but neither of us minded.
Taking time from his Parliamentary duties, Rob showed me our London house. It was modest, even by the standards of Edward and Louisa's house, but I reminded myself that I would be the mistress of not one house, but three. It was also in need of "a woman's touch", something that Rob readily admitted as we walked through the public rooms of the dwelling.
I noticed Louisa looking at me curiously as Rob said that the house needed redecorating. When I had first moved in with her, after Charles and Jane were married, I had been full of ideas on how to redecorate her house. Considering how bad many of them had probably been, I think it was probably better that she tactfully declined!
Rob turned away for a moment and I took advantage of it to lean over and whisper in Louisa's ear "Don't worry, I won't insist on redoing the house in orange!" It was with a great deal of difficulty that she did not laugh and when my fiance was facing us again, Louisa and I were both grinning. Rob raised an eyebrow, suspecting no doubt that we had shared some sort of joke.
Sarah and Caroline, who had carried out their own exploration of the house, soon joined us. They tugged at Uncle Rob's sleeve and asked if they could see the garden, explaining that they had seen it from the windows and that "It looked very nice!" Louisa suggested that Rob and I show them the garden, saying that she would remain in the library and rest her aching feet.
After a brief tour of the garden, Rob and I were soon settled on the bench as Sarah and Caroline played nearby. Seeing that the girls were unlikely to get into any trouble for a few minutes, I asked Rob about the Edinburgh house. Within minutes, he was painting another of his exquisite word pictures and I felt as though I was intimately familiar with a house and garden that I had never seen. We sat quietly side by side for a moment and then Caroline spoke up "It sounds like you will have a beautiful house Aunt Caroline!" Rob and I were startled for a moment and then I took his hand in mine and replied, "Yes it does!"
It seems strange now, the night before my wedding, to admit that even two weeks ago, I still had a slight doubt as to why Rob wanted to get married. Did he want the true me? Or was he being a gallant gentleman, offering to marry a woman past her prime, who would never receive another offer?
I cannot help smiling as I read my entries from late July, when these doubts were expressed almost nightly. At one party I had teased him that he had never experienced the notorious "Bingley temper". He smiled and said that Charles was the most mild mannered man he had ever met. My retort had been that while that was true, it was only because I had received two shares of it. Rob had not even flinched, murmuring something along the lines of "It can't be that bad."
But it was not my temper that had caused that scene in the hallway of Louisa's home that last Friday of the season. It was my own uncertainty, and something I had intended to keep close to my heart, exposing to no one, least of all him, was brought into the open.
As had become our practice over those months, Rob had come to collect me in order to take me to another party. Louisa and Edward stayed upstairs, tending to the children, so we had been allowed a few moments of privacy. All that day, I had been nervous, since the party was to be at the same home as our "first" gathering in April. After almost three weeks of worrying, my doubts had come to a head. What if the comments I had heard at the first party we had attended were true?
Rob, bless his kind heart had seen that something was wrong. Taking me into the drawing room, he quietly asked me what was disturbing me. I had wanted to deny that anything was wrong, but before I could stop myself, it all poured forth and I told him about my uncertainties. Looking back, I am surprised at how well Rob took it. He paused a moment, and stroked my cheek, saying, "Come now, where is the brave, kind lass I fell in love with? The one I waited ten years to find?"
My voice wavered "Ten years?"
Rob identified my tone immediately. It was not one of surprise, or pity. It was one of recognition of a shared experience. He smiled. "Yes indeed. It was ten years to the day after I first dreamed of you that I saw your face."
If I had not been staring at him in wide-eyed, open-mouthed astonishment before, I was now. Somehow Rob must have taken this as an indication that I wanted him to continue, because after a brief pause for breath, he did so.
"In 1812, after I had been wounded at the Battle of Salamanca, I was sent home to recuperate. At a ball given in my honor as "the hero returned from the wars" as my father put it, I met a beautiful, vivacious young woman. I soon found myself falling in love, but I gave no indication of it to anyone. My best friend also fell in love with her and he was a successful suitor. Since he had no knowledge of my feelings for her, he asked me to stand by him at the wedding."
"I cannot imagine how difficult that could have been for you."
He smiled ruefully. "The worst afternoon of my life. Makes even Waterloo pale in comparison. Of course I did nothing to help my cause, being rude and downright uncivil on more than one occasion that day. Fortunately, many people put it down to making a little too merry the night before. But it was not until that evening that I set out to get drunk. I was on third glass of whiskey when the door opened and my brother Andrew walked in and sat down at the other end of the sofa with his own bottle. I glared at him, but he merely stated, "No man should drink alone on an occasion like this. Besides, she's not for you Rob."
"The next thing I remember is waking up the next morning fervently wishing I could die. Of course Andy's snoring from the sofa did not help matters much." He paused for a moment and then asked, "I take it from your surprised reaction that you had a similar experience?"
"You fell in love with someone who chose another?"
There was nothing to do now but tell him everything. I tried my best to leave the identities of the other people involved out of the story. I even attempted a bit of humor at the end, mentioning that except for an occasional glass of wine, I had not done much drinking since.
Rob put his arm around my shoulders and drew me close to him. He kissed me on the cheek and then leaned his head against mine. "You know what this means don't you?"
I smiled. "That we were somehow fated for one another?"
At this point, Louisa and Edward knocked on the door, indicating it was time to go. My courage had not only been restored, it had risen to new heights. The evening, needless to say, was a success.
My last few days living with Louisa were melancholy ones. My belongings had been packed for the move to Scotland and I began to realize just how much I would miss the old familiar house and the children.
The morning we were to leave, I sat quietly in my chamber. With my possessions now on their way north, everything that had indicated that a person had lived in the room was gone. It was just another guest room now.
Louisa came looking for me and found me staring out the window. Sitting down beside me, she asked what was the matter. "I shall miss this place."
"Nonsense" Louisa started, but her voice trailed off as she recognized my expression. We sat quietly for a moment, and then as if simultaneously possessed by the same notion, we laid on the bed side by side, each of us occupying a pillow. For a few moments, it was as though someone had turned the clocks back 20 years and we were two schoolgirls having a good laugh again. But our time was cut short by a knock at the door and Edward's announcement, "It's time."
I had tea with my nieces and nephews this afternoon. If Elizabeth was confused at all by my rather unusual request that we be allowed to take tea alone, she made no mention of it. Although I would swear that I saw a rather conspiratorial wink pass between her and my nieces as she showed us into the room . . .
** "A Red Red Rose" by Robert Burns
Friday, August 22, 1823
I have been rather remiss in keeping up with my journal this week. The first time in the twenty years since I began keeping it that I have missed more than one day for a reason other than illness. But I have been rather distracted at night this week. However, some minor repairs to the carriage required us to lengthen our stay in this small town, so I have decided to take advantage of the time and catch up with my narrative.
On Monday night, just as I was finishing my entry for that night, there was a knock on the door. Hurriedly I closed my journal and shoved the pages that I had been doodling on in the desk drawer before I bade the person at the door to come in. I was a little surprised to see that there was not one person at the door but three. Georgiana and Jane looked more than a little embarrassed about something, but the smirk on Louisa's face made me wary. It was one I recognized all too well because I had seen it many times before. The message behind it was clear: "You are going to squirm and I shall enjoy every second of it!" We sat by the fire and after several unsuccessful attempts to get the conversation going, a blushing Jane managed to inquire, "Is there anything you want to ask us?"
I sat back in my chair, no doubt turning as pink as Jane. Stealing a quick glance at Louisa, I saw her sitting smugly in her chair, no doubt enjoying the spectacle. I was torn about what sort of reply to make. Did I answer "yes" and subject Jane and myself to further embarrassment? Or did I answer "no" and rely upon information and gossip that I had heard over the years? (After all, one does not get to be my age without hearing something that you should not!). In the end it was the desire to wipe that smirk off Louisa's face that decided it for me. So I smiled and responded, "Thank you for the kind offer Jane, but no, there is nothing I want to ask you." Jane looked relieved and Louisa more than a little disappointed. We spoke for a few minutes longer, mostly about the last minute details that needed to be sorted out before the wedding in the morning and then they rose and excused themselves.
After they had left, I spent a few minutes wondering if I should have asked them anything. I had plenty of questions, but that look that Louisa had on her face had annoyed me to the point where I wanted to wipe it off, with any means at my disposal. Now I felt foolish. Did I sneak back to Jane or Georgiana and ask them? Or did I muster up my courage and press on? In the end, the desire not to further embarrass myself by slinking back to ask questions won out.
Tuesday morning began bright and clear. But while the weather outside was sunny and peaceful, the climate inside Pemberley was anything but serene. I was convinced, despite having attended several brides on their wedding day, that none of them could have been in a state of nervous excitement similar to mine. How Jane and Louisa kept their wits about them that morning I shall never know, as they hurried from assisting me, to getting the children ready, all the while trying to get dressed themselves.
We assembled outside and Edward, in his usual orderly fashion got everyone into the carriages. He rode with the boys, while Jane took my nieces, who looked beautiful in their new frocks with her. My last ride as an unmarried woman would be shared with Charles and Louisa. We rode in silence. I am not sure whether this was by accident or design. While I was content to sit and watch my siblings, there were one or two occasions where Charles looked like he was about to speak, but then thought better of it.
The ride to Kympton was a short one, and soon we were all milling around outside the church. Once again, Edward took charge of herding everyone inside, assisted by Charles. Soon, I was in the small room where I would wait until the ceremony began. Jane and Louisa made the last minute adjustments to my gown and to my nieces before stepping into the sanctuary. Fanny, Caroline, and Sarah giggled as they admired each other in their new dresses, pleased that they looked so grown up in them. Charles and I stood and watched them, not saying a word, but conveying our happiness through glances or expressions.
A knock on the door and the simple phrase "It's time" interrupted our little gathering. The girls rushed out to take their places, and Charles and I were alone for a moment. He kissed me on the check and asked, "Are you ready love?" I was too overcome with emotion to speak, so I nodded. We left the room and took our position, behind my nieces.
The organ began playing and the doors opened and my nieces stepped through. I followed, on Charles' arm, but within a few steps, I saw the decorations in the sanctuary. Had it not been for Charles' presence on my arm, I would have given into the temptation to stop and gape. Having attended two other weddings at the church, I knew how it could look when prepared for a wedding. But those decorations were nothing, when compared to this.
I could not stop and admire the decorations, so I contented myself with studying them as closely as I could during the walk up the aisle. Of course, I alternated this study with looking at Rob (who I must say looked splendid in his new black coat!) and searching out my friends and relatives in the crowd. They were easy to find. There were the Fitzwilliams, Anne, Charlotte, Jane, Kitty, the Darcys, and Captain Stewart, all with their children. A quick glance to Rob's side of the aisle revealed the Campbells and another woman, who I guessed to be Andrew's wife.
Then I was at the altar and Rob was at my right elbow. A hurried look at him showed that the same sense of nervous excitement that coursed through my body coursed through his. My attention was pulled away from his face as Mr. Medcalf began speaking those words that I knew so well, "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today . . . " and I fixed my attentions on his vestments, studying them to the point where I could give an exact description of them.
While I was intently examining Mr. Medcalf's vestments, he had begun the vows. "Robert wilt thou have this woman to thy wedded wife . . . " Rob's answer was clear and loud, giving ample evidence of his happiness. "I will." The beginning of the vows had been my cue to stop looking at vestments and to start paying attention. I tried, when it was my turn to give the same indications of happiness in my answer that Rob had in his.
I was a bit surprised by Charles' reaction when it was asked, "Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?" He actually hesitated for a second before answering. With difficulty, I stopped myself from grinning as I thought "My, my Charles. What will you do when Fanny stands here?"
The rest of the vows went smoothly. When Louisa had been married, I had been young and stubborn, swearing that I would never say "and to obey" to any man. But I said it easily enough for Rob.
During the remaining prayers, I must admit that I paid more attention to my ring than to the prayers themselves. Compared to Louisa's or even to Jane's it was a simple ring, but the sight of it on my finger made my heart swell with happiness.
Except for those key memories, the ceremony was but a blur. It seems funny, but if my grandchildren ask me, what shall I tell them? Listen to me, married less than four days and already speaking about grandchildren!
Then, seemingly within mere moments of it having begun, the wedding was over and it was time for Rob and I to take our first walk as man and wife. Strangely, my first thoughts were not of our future but of a conversation that had taken place over a month before. The sight of Rob in a black coat had spurred my memories of this previous discussion.
I had noticed, during our courtship in London, that Rob always appeared to wear coats of three or four colors, with dark blue and dark green being the predominant colors in his wardrobe. I could not resist teasing him about this, hinting that he only owned four coats in total. It was one of those remarks that as soon as I had said it, I had wished I could take it back. Fearing that I had gone too far, I waited for his response. He was not angry, instead a slow smile spread across his face and he chuckled. "Lass, consider yourself fortunate that we did not meet ten years ago." This answer puzzled me. Rob was quick to elaborate. "Ten years ago," he said with a laugh, "I was still in the Army. You might have accused me of only owning one coat. A red one."
I started giggling, and soon was laughing until my sides ached. Rob looked confused. "A decade ago, orange was my favorite color and I owned several gowns in various shades of that color. You might have accused me of only owning one gown!" He pursed his lips, as he often did when thinking. "Red and orange," he said after a moment. As Rob said it, his face did a very good imitation of Sam's when he was forced to eat his vegetables. Soon we were both gasping for breath and clutching our sides. I managed to declare, between peals of laughter "Quite a sight we would have made!" "Indeed!" was all Rob could manage in return.
So, as we made our way down the aisle as man and wife, a slow grin spread across my face. Many people no doubt took it as a sign of my happiness, and I was happy. But there was another reason for the grin . . .
Our first walk together as a married couple appeared to take only seconds. I know that it took longer, but the memories of it are a blur, with the only things lodged securely in my memory being the nods that I gave as we made our way down the aisle and the silly grin on my face.
When we took our seats in the carriage, the grin must have still been there, because Rob asked about it. "Why the enormous grin Lady Caroline? Does the thought of being married amuse you?" If it had not been for his joking tone and his own smile, I might have thought that he was angry. His voice had startled me out of my reverie. "Amuse me? Oh no. I am very happy, but not amused. At least not in the way you mean. I am grinning for another reason."
Rob raised an eyebrow, and in that exaggerated brogue that always makes me laugh inquired again "So you will not tell me lass? I have ways of making you talk!" He tried to look sinister, but it only made me giggle more. "And what might these ways be dearest husband?"
Rob leaned forward and kissed me. Our lips parted, and I must have sat dazed for a few seconds, because the next thing I remember was shaking my head, as though I was trying to get my brain to work again. "Well?" he grinned. At that moment I was powerless. I would have told him anything he wanted to know. So I told him why I had been grinning as we had walked down the aisle. Rob threw his head back and laughed that rich full-bodied laugh of his. "A fine story this will make for our children and grandchildren Carrie." I leaned against him and we stayed amused by the whole idea until we arrived at Pemberley, where Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy had graciously agreed to hold the wedding breakfast.
It was when we were in the reception line that the first wisps of an unusual conversation began to reach my ears. At first, I could not see the two speakers, because they were standing behind a rather tall man. But I recognized the voices easily enough. Mrs. Lewis and Mrs. Osborn had voices that reminded me Mrs. Bennet and Mrs. Phillips years ago in Meryton.
Their discourse was obviously one that I was not intended to hear, but hear it I did. It was only fragments at first, but as I heard more, I was able to piece it together.
"I was certainly surprised to see all the ladies from Pemberley here to help decorate the sanctuary yesterday afternoon!'
"Yes, Mrs. Medcalf said that she wanted to do something special for this one and that price would be no object. So I was able to use so many of those ideas that I have been storing up. But I also mentioned that I would not have enough help, so she just smiled and said that she would take care of everything."
Mrs. Osborn laughed and replied, "I don't believe that Mrs. Smith will ever get over having a future countess working on one side of her and the lady of the manor on the other!"
Upon overhearing these statements I stood stunned in silence for a moment. I had wondered where all the ladies had gone yesterday afternoon only to receive the butler's rather enigmatic reply of "Last minute arrangements, Miss Bingley".
The idea that my friends and family would exert so much effort on my behalf left me speechless and it was with great difficulty that I wrested part of my attention away from eavesdropping and back to greeting people. Nevertheless, a large part of my concentration remained focused on the two people making their way up the line.
"I shall have to thank Lady Andrea for her wonderful ideas for decorating the altar. I had not thought of using those colors before." commented Mrs. Lewis.
Turning my head away from the two ladies, I found Mr. Bennet standing before me. He smiled and whispered "Reminds you of someone else, doesn't it?" I smiled in return, knowing whom he was referring to. Mr. Bennet then took my hands and said, "I am glad to see you finally find happiness." His statement touched me and I leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. He laughed and stated "Now Lady Caroline, we don't want Sir Robert and Mrs. Bennet getting jealous, do we?"
The remainder of the guests passed quickly, and I tried to keep Mrs. Lewis and Mrs. Osborn from guessing that I had overheard them. Shortly before it was time to go, I beckoned Caroline over to me and whispered in her ear. She nodded that she understood, and I waited a few minutes before going to the room I had mentioned.
Stepping into the room I saw that Caroline, no doubt aided by Sarah and done an admirable job of collecting all the people that I had named. No words seemed enough to express my gratitude, but I knew that I had to say something. " I do not know what to say," I managed eventually. Kitty frowned. "It was intended to be a secret. A token of our appreciation for all that you have done for us." The expression on my face must have signaled my confusion, because one voice after another began to speak.
"You were the first one outside my family to accept me."
"You told me my fianc»e was alive."
"You found me a husband."
"You gave me the courage to truly live for the first time."
"You understood when no one else did."
Kitty was at my elbow. "Now do you see why we did this?" I nodded, trying to keep my eyes from filling with tears.
I had known that saying goodbye was going to be hard, and the scene in the library had made it no easier. We gathered near the carriage, and I saw Fanny and Sam whispering something to Rob. No doubt extracting a promise they can come visit.
Then we were on our way, driving towards Edinburgh. I asked Rob where we would be staying that first night, since I knew that the journey would take several days. He stated that on his way to Pemberley he had selected several pleasant inns for us to stay at, the one we would be stopping at on our wedding night, being perhaps the nicest one on the journey.
The inn was agreeable, and judging from the attention given to us by the innkeeper and his wife, I wondered if Rob had not made some sort of arrangements on his way to Pemberley.
We had the finest room the inn had to offer. As I stepped from my dressing room and crossed to the bed, I could not but wonder if my husband had paid extra for it. I slid into bed, wearing the new nightdress that Louisa had purchased for me. It was then that I truly began to wish that I had let Jane tell me something the night before.
I do not know what possessed me to do it, but I slid farther into the bed and pulled the covers over my head. When I had been a little girl, I had often hidden under the covers, believing that nothing could harm me there. I stayed there for a moment or two, and then I remembered something from my tomboy days, when Louisa and Charles had dared me to do something. "I am Caroline Bingley. I am afraid of nothing!" had been my battle cry. Now it was "I am Lady Caroline and I am bloody petrified!" Then I heard Rob moving about in his dressing room, no doubt ready to enter. I threw the covers back and pulled myself up, no doubt red faced. He surely saw that I was embarrassed, but thankfully did not guess the real reason for it.
The next morning I awoke with a start. The arm that possessively lay across my waist and the presence of another body in the bed confused me for a moment, before I realized where I was. I turned over carefully, trying to keep from waking Rob only to find that he was awake, watching me. He propped himself up on one elbow, and kissed me on the forehead. I pulled his arm tighter around me and sighed contentedly. "I could spend all day like this". Rob smiled and said, "Perhaps we will, when we reach Edinburgh."
The days spent in the carriage sped by. Rob talked about his time in the Army and his travels across Spain and France. I marveled at his ability to portray a place in words. The only things he seemed to have difficulty discussing were the men he had known who had been killed. It surprised me that the death that touched him the most was not that of a fellow officer, but that of an Edinburgh boy, the son of the butcher who had provided meat to the Macmillan family for years.
One afternoon I was dozing in my corner of the carriage when Rob shook me awake. "I would like to show you something". We stepped outside and then I saw it. It was the stretch of seaside that he had mentioned when we had first met at Pemberley and it was even more beautiful than I imagined. The road was quiet, so we walked along it for a time, the carriage following as I admired the view
We arrived in Edinburgh late the next morning. As the carriage was being unloaded, I saw one basket that I did not recognize. I pointed it out to Rob, and he spoke to the footman, who unloaded it. The conspiratorial look that passed between them was impossible to miss and I grew more suspicious. The basket was set before me and I opened it. A small puppy stuck its' head out. Startled, I looked at Rob. He smiled and announced that it was a wedding present from my nieces and nephews, who had thought that I might "need a keepsake from home." I had long been fond of the spaniels at Foxchase and I guessed that the puppy came from there. "True," Rob said. "But it has a name already, so you cannot pick your own name. They wanted a name that reminded them of you. So I suggested "Bydand". He saw my look of confusion and hastened to explain. "It means "steadfast". "Ahh!" was all the reply I managed before I reached into the basket and lifted the puppy out. "Let us go see our new home!"
Chapter 19, the last chapter
Saturday, December 12, 1862
Fifty years. Has it truly been fifty years since I sat in a church in Meryton, bitter at how unfairly life had treated me? It seems as though it was a lifetime ago, and of course it was. I look back now at all that has happened to me since then and I realize that I have had a good life.
While many of life's blessings may have come to me later than they do to most women, I did enjoy them--a husband who doted on me, and three children who grew up healthy. Rob, bless his memory has been gone two years now, but I do have my reminiscences, and I only need to look at my son or my youngest daughter to remember him. Rob and I enjoyed just over thirty-seven years of married life, split between Scotland and London.
I can remember how nervous I was when I first arrived at the Edinburgh house. Like many brides I was anxious when we arrived, but Rob presented me with a puppy, a gift from my nieces and nephews and Bydand was such an energetic little fellow that I seemed to absorb excess energy from him. Thus when we entered the house, I was a little more at ease.
Besides the fears that are normal for all new brides who are crossing the threshold of the house they are to be mistress of, I had a few additional ones. I knew that in the eyes of some people I would be a foreigner. For the most part, I need not have worried. The servants accepted me quickly, and I believe that the years I kept house for Charles, even if they were a decade in the past, helped to smooth the way with our redoubtable housekeeper, Mrs. Maxwell.
Knowing nothing of Edinburgh, except for what my husband had told me and what I had read, I was curious as to what my activities in the city would be. Being the mistress of a large house, would of course keep me occupied much of the time. But it was a pleasant surprise when the vicar (who I believe the Church of Scotland calls a minister, another difference I had to get used to!) called with his wife ten days after our arrival. Evidently, the Macmillans had long played a key role in several charitable organizations in the city, and the mistress of the house was expected to uphold this tradition. Rob's sister Helena had carried out the role since her mother's passing, but from that time on, the responsibility became mine.
The first few meetings were of course awkward. I was the newcomer, thrust into a leadership position mostly by tradition. But the ladies of the committee were helpful and if I made one or two mistakes, they were willing to overlook them or attribute them to ignorance. Thus I learned one of the two mottoes that came to be a beacon for all my married life, the Macmillan family motto, Miseris succerre disco, meaning, " I learn to succor the unfortunate"
We spent our first anniversary in the Highlands, and I came to love the area. So much so that we returned there every few years for the rest of our married lives. But the Highlands will always mean more to me than tranquil beauty, because the following May, our first daughter, Georgiana Charlotte was born.
I was fortunate that she was born in London, so I was able to have my family about me. Rob, like many first time fathers wanted to stay and "be helpful". Jane with a commanding tone no doubt used often on her three children ordered him to "Get Out!" and a man who had led soldiers in battle and debated the most important political issues in the land slipped out the door. If I had not been in so much pain, I would have laughed.
The birth of the fair-haired Georgiana (Rob insisted that in all other ways she resembled me) was memorable for one other incident. At some point during that day, I must have called Rob something unrepeatable. I thought nothing of it at the time until later in the summer when I received a letter from Charles. It seemed that he and Jane had just been through a blazing row (yes, the idea of them fighting at all still surprises me) and she had referred to him by the same name that I had called Rob. Charles seemed more amused than angry about the whole thing, but he did ask that I not teach Jane anymore "unladylike" phrases.
Those days were idyllic. If Rob had been disappointed that his first-born child had not been a son, he never showed it. Little Georgie as everyone called her (and many still do to this day) soon had her proud papa wrapped around her tiny finger. The artist who had painted the miniatures of my nieces and nephews had become one of the most sought after portrait painters in London. We were fortunate that he was able to paint a pair of miniatures for us, as well as a portrait of Rob and I for the Edinburgh house.
Two years after Georgiana was born, we were blessed with another daughter, Helena Louisa. She and Georgie were as different as night and day. Where Georgie was a fair-haired version of me, Helena was a dark-haired copy of her father. Like her namesake and godmother, Georgiana was quiet. Helena was a tomboy in her youth and quite a handful as she prepared for her entrance to society, so much so that her exasperated father once called her "Hell's Belle."
Just as I began to despair that I would never give Rob an heir, I became pregnant again. Four years had passed since Helena's birth, and my forty-first birthday was rapidly approaching. The doctors, fearing for my health, made me spend much of my pregnancy in bed. I was astonished to hear that Lady Andrea Fitzwilliam was in a similar condition and we spent hours each day writing each other letters about everything and anything that had happened to us. The postmasters must have been more than a little disappointed when Alice Fitzwilliam and Andrew Charles Macmillan were born within days of each other.
Andrew was his father's pride and joy. This is not to say that Rob loved his daughters less, or that he was not as proud of them. Rob had more than enough love for all three children, and he was proud of them in their own unique ways.
My son was also the cause of most of the turmoil in the house. Beginning with chasing the dog about, he moved on to tormenting his sisters. By the time he had learned to behave properly, it was time for him to go away to school. Rob had insisted that his son "be raised like a Scot". I had grown to love Scotland, but the idea that my son would be hundreds of miles away from me for months on end frightened me. In the end, we compromised on sending Andrew to Harrow. My arguments that Andrew was only half-Scottish once again fell on rocky soil when it was time for university. Rob insisted on a school in Scotland, as opposed to Cambridge, where Charles and his son William had been educated.
Andrew instead went to St. Andrew's, which was not so bad, since it was close to both Edinburgh and the country estate. After he completed his education, he made the decision that changed his life and that of his family forever.
Growing up in a period when we had only fought colonial wars in far away places like India, Andrew had his heart set on being a soldier. I remembered the heartache that Mary Fitzwilliam had been through during Waterloo and I pleaded with him to choose something else. Rob had survived both Waterloo and the Peninsular campaign, and he talked about the Army at great length, going so far as to enlist Sir James Passmore and General Sir Michael Fitzwilliam to speak with Andrew in order to give him a clear picture of what military life was like.
But Andrew had inherited a double dose of stubbornness and all our speeches were useless. In the end, Rob decided to do what he could for our son, hoping that "a few years of dreary garrison duty" would make Andrew change his mind. Since Andrew, like his father, was a superb rider, I privately hoped that we might secure him a commission in the Greys. But the cavalry proved to be too expensive and Andrew instead joined the 93rd Foot, a Highland regiment. Some of the men seemed to take an instant dislike to Lieutenant Macmillan, on the basis of his mixed Lowland/English parentage, but they slowly grew to accept him.
In the summer of 1853, Andrew proposed to Lady Alice Fitzwilliam, the daughter of Lord Matthew and Lady Andrea. She was a beautiful girl with long dark wavy hair and a complexion that showed her mother's roots. Alice and Andrew had been born days apart and had thus known each other since childhood. Their falling in love was not completely unexpected.
Something unexpected did occur the following year, as the 93rd was sent to the Crimea. Alice was with their first child and I grew increasingly worried that Andrew might be killed. Alice and I both begged him not to go, either to resign or to request a transfer to another regiment. Andrew looked at me like I had just slapped him. Pleading with Rob, begging him to use his influence in turn angered him. The night Andrew left was the only night that Rob and I spent the night in separate beds while in the same house.
Since I had been unable to persuade Andrew not to leave the 93rd, I followed the news of the regiment as best I could. That terrible day when the Light Brigade rode into the history books at Balaclava, the 93rd also made their mark. It was with an odd mix of fear and pride that I read the stories about "The Thin Red Line".
Andrew survived the Crimea unwounded, although he did fall ill several times due mostly to the appalling living conditions. Alice and I both hoped that he would come home after his experiences in the Crimea, if only so he could see his new son for the first time. But instead he was sent to India with the rest of the regiment, to help put down the terrible Mutiny.
In November 1857, Andrew and the 93rd were once again heroes, thanks to their desperate fighting to rescue the surrounded Residency at Lucknow. One bloody, all night attack won six members of the regiment the Victoria Cross before breakfast. Although he was badly wounded, Andrew was one of them.
His wounds were severe enough to require his return to England. Thus on that glorious summer day, his wounds healed enough that he only needed a cane to walk, Andrew came home. Alice and their young son James were the first to greet him as he descended the gangway. It took a great deal of time for James to feel at ease around his father, but now the two are inseparable.
Rob passed away in October 1860 after a short illness. Georgiana, like her godmother was a pillar of strength to me in those days. Andrew was asked to stand for Rob's seat in the Commons and after giving the matter a great deal of thought he agreed.
His experiences had changed him. Gone was the youthful exuberance of his earlier years, replaced by a quiet thoughtfulness that reminded me of his father. Andrew is not a gifted public speaker like Rob, but he does do well when debating issues that are close to his heart.
My dear son does have one somewhat amusing quality however. He is a grown man who still lives in mortal fear of his mother! Only this morning, he approached me, no doubt prompted by Alice or the housekeeper, to demand that I stop using one of Rob's old canes to help me about the house. (My arthritis has been giving me trouble recently and Rob's cane tends to damage the floor). I gripped my cane firmly and fixed him with my best maternal glare. The glare had a most farcical effect. My son the battle-scarred war hero practically tripped over his own feet trying to get out of the room.
I took a moment to examine the cane more closely. It had been a gift to Rob on our 25th wedding anniversary. I read the inscription, faint, but still readable: Nemo me impune lacessit. It was the motto of Rob's old regiment, which translated as "No one provokes me with impunity". But it had a meaning for me as well. I had learned, mostly with Rob's patient coaching to control my temper. There were still people who had felt the sting of Caroline Bingley's famous tongue, but they were the only ones foolish enough to truly provoke me.
After scaring Andrew half out of his wits, I rose with difficulty and made my way upstairs to get dressed. Tonight was the 50th anniversary of Jane and Charles and the Darcys. Most of the extended family was there.
I sat in my usual spot by the fire with Louisa and Charlotte. "The widow's corner" as Charlotte called it. General Fitzwilliam had dubbed us "The Old Woman's Club". When asked by Louisa if he would like to join us, he smiled. "Fifty years ago, it would have been pistols at dawn if someone had called me that." But he joined us as we watched the other members of our generation on the dance floor.
The years had been good to the Darcys. Mr. Darcy was nearly as handsome now as he had been five decades before and Elizabeth still had that glint in her eye. Charles is a bit stooped, but his spirit has not left him. After watching them for a time, I closed my eyes and thought of Rob. We so liked to dance. When I opened my eyes, Louisa was smiling at me. She leaned over and whispered "Thinking of old times?" and I nodded before wiping away a tear.
But Lady Andrea Spencer nee Fitzwilliam has outdone us all. After burying Lord Matthew, her husband of over 40 years, she remarried, to a charming if elderly Duke. It was difficult to say whose children were more shocked by the move, but both of them seem happy and Charlotte and Louisa have both asked if John has any brothers who are available. He just throws back that handsome silver head of his and laughs.
I cannot help but think that life had been good to me indeed as I sit here watching, trying to remember as many details as possible. Tomorrow, I believe I will sit my granddaughters down and tell them a story. A tale about an embittered woman who dreamed of her Prince Charming. Some fairy tales, after all, come true.
My thanks to Annie, Lise and Peg, whose stories helped me to see Caroline as something other than the wicked witch of P&P. And to that Caroline hater par excellence, Dani who told me I was on the right track when she said she liked my Caroline.
© 2001 Copyright held by author