How To Mend A Broken Heart
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The Dowager Lady Matlock, Suzan Fitzwilliam, sat in her private sitting room which overlooked her back garden. Though it was March and there was still a chill in the air, the garden was already beginning to come to life. She enjoyed her garden during the spring and early summer as it was always a riot of color. But she could not help from smiling to herself as she viewed the newly awakened life bursting forth from the earth because as she looked upon the budding plants, she felt that same new awakening within her own self.
Glancing down at the last letter she would ever receive from her dear friend and cousin, Emily, her eyes grew misty. She looked upon the letter she had surely read a hundred times since receiving it. Picking it up once more, she read it yet again:
My dearest Suzan,
If you are reading this, then this dreadful illness has overtaken me and I have not had a chance to see you again or ask of you one last favor.
You must know that you are not obligated to grant any of my requests but this one is extremely important to me and I know you will take careful consideration before accepting or declining. Though, I will not hold it against you if you choose to decline my request. However, for your own sake, I would hope for your acceptance.
Jamie’s death has been extremely hard for you as I have discerned from your letters. I fear for you and your health if you do not find a diversion to aid you in your grief. Therefore, my dearest friend and cousin, my last request for you is designed to give you that support to find your way out of your despair and melancholia.
My request concerns Tommy Bennet’s daughter, Elizabeth. As I have enumerated her many qualities to you over and over, I do not need to inform you of how dear she is to me and how I worry about her future as if she were my own daughter.
While Elizabeth is charming and intelligent and has been a true companion to me in my last days, she has a sadness about her that may cause her to lose that part of her that makes her such a remarkable young lady. Fear for how she will choose to live her life is what motivates this appeal. Her family has been through so much these last few years that I am afraid she will embark on a path to please them and thereby, cause her to sacrifice any happiness she might find in her own life.
Please watch over her. Guide her in finding her own way in life and please ensure she does not settle for a life that will make her unhappy.
This may seem like an impossible request. But let me ask you to meet Elizabeth first hand and judge her for yourself, that she is an extraordinary young lady and is deserving of a better life than her own family is willing to allow for her. I beseech you, dear cousin, to seriously consider this –my last appeal to you – this is how dear Elizabeth is to me. I hope and pray you are able to help Elizabeth as she is truly a daughter to me.
Your devoted cousin,
Lady Suzan ran her finger over the signature before putting the letter safely away. Resuming her position by the window, she let her thoughts wander. She thought of the first time she read the letter and now how guilty she felt about her reaction to it.
When it arrived, it had been well over a year since her beloved Jamie had passed, and she was still mired in grief; she missed him so much. Almost immediately after laying him to rest, she moved with a few trusted servants into the dowager house at Dovecote and away from life. She could no longer stand to be in the house that held so many memories of her husband. Secluded away she rarely received visitors, except her eldest son, Edward.
Upon first reading the letter, she was annoyed that Emily would ask something like this of her. Then guilt flowed through her as the realization that her solitude had kept her from spending time with her dearest friend and cousin during her last days. I am such a selfish woman! I let my grief overpower all my sensibilities. I should have gone to Emily when I knew she was dying. But I could only think of myself, my loss, and had not a care about anyone or anything else, especially my dear, sweet Emily. She shook her head in disgust at that last thought for beyond a doubt, it was true.
Thinking back over their lives, she knew why Emily had asked such a thing from her. Both of them had wanted daughters. While she had two sons, Emily and her husband were not able to conceive any children which had been a great disappointment to her dearest Emily.
Seating herself in her favorite chair, she thought of how close she and Emily had been growing up. Their family’s estates were but five miles apart, and in their earliest years, they rarely spent time apart from one another. They also attended seminary together. They were presented at Court at the same time and enjoyed their debutante season immediately afterwards. Both were an only child making their relationship was more like sisters than cousins.
Henry Horner, Lord Webberley, and Emily had a marriage similar to hers and Jamie’s. Both couples had been married by an arrangement through their parents.
Lord Webberley had come into his title not long after his marriage to Emily. He was an ambitious man, and it did not take him long to be appointed to a diplomatic post in Germany, in service of his King; later he had worked his way up to become England’s ambassador to Belgium. Though she and Emily had not seen very much of each other during their married lives, they did keep up a constant correspondence. When Lord and Lady Webberley were back in England, they frequently visited each other.
It had become the dearest wish of each lady to have a daughter. So their daughters might experience the same closeness that their mothers had enjoyed while growing up. But that had not come to pass. The receipt of Emily’s letter concerning Elizabeth Bennet, however, had awakened that longing for a daughter and made her a bit envious of Emily’s good fortune in having known the pleasure of having a daughter. To have Emily entrust such a treasure to her made her realize it was time to remove that cloud of gloom that had encompassed her life over the past year. It is time I start living again!
Smiling she thought of how happy she had been getting ready to take on such this challenge, but she could not help but think on how wonderful her life had been and what a fool she had been to have succumbed to such a dreary way of life. Jamie would be heartily disappointed in me for allowing his passing to affect me in such a way.
She thought back to the only person she had allowed in her life recently, her eldest son, Edward Fitzwilliam, who struggled with his new role as Earl of Matlock. Without his father to turn to, he naturally sought out his mother. To him, his parents were one in the same. He needed help, and she had not been able to deny anything to him, her first born, a child born out of love for her husband.
Yes, she said to herself as she thought about it…James Fitzwilliam, the fifth Earl of Matlock, had been the love of her life and she had been the love of his, even though their marriage did not start out that way. He had been quite a rascal during his time as a bachelor Viscount, much the same as his son, Edward, was and still is to a degree. Father and son were very much alike. However, the difference came in their marriage partners. James had been fortunate to have been paired with her, Suzan Whitlaw, a woman with beauty and common sense and a passion for living. Edward’s wife, Julia, was …well, unfortunately, she was not of the same mold as her mother-in-law.
At the time of their wedding, neither James Fitzwilliam nor she had any expectations of what their marriage would entail. While she had heard the rumors of her future husband’s rakish reputation, she had resigned herself to his having mistresses, especially after what her mother had related about what was to happen in the marriage bed; so she was not concerned about his little trysts as long as he was discreet, after all, that was the only vice he was known to have.
Who would have thought that an arranged marriage where both participants were indifferent about the situation would have blossomed into such a torrid love affair? Not long after their wedding did they find themselves to have much in common which included the same principles and ideals on how to conduct their lives. The biggest surprise was how much they enjoyed the physical side of their marriage. They found they had the same voracious appetites in their more intimate endeavors and that fact bonded their lives as none other. After producing the next Earl within the first year of their marriage, the spare appeared in the third year. Unfortunately after that, there were no more as both had desperately wanted a little girl. But they were happy with the two children they did have, and they did enjoy trying to conceive that long desired female child as often as possible, even after the age where conception was not probable.
Suzan would always miss Jamie’s wit and humor and companionship. She knew that as well as she knew the back of her hand. Now Emily, however, had entrusted unto her care a young woman to fill the role of surrogate daughter – the daughter she and Jamie were never able to produce and who was also the daughter of Tommy Bennet. If truth be told she had had a bit of an infatuation with young Tommy Bennet though he was her junior in age. She laughed at all the trouble that usually came her way when she would follow him on his little schemes and adventures. She would admit that the trouble was worth it because of the fun she had enjoyed when she was with him and Emily.
And now Tommy’s favorite daughter was coming to stay with her. She was excited, more excited than she had been in years, at least since before Jamie became ill. Though she could not help believe that those so dear to her, who had passed on, had not conspired against her to make her renounce her grief, she could see them (Jamie, Emily, and even Tommy Bennet) sitting in heaven watching her and chuckling.
A knock at the door brought her from her thoughts. “Yes?”
“Your Ladyship, the carriage has arrived,” replied the footman sent to announce the impending arrival of her guest.
Lady Suzan stood and straightened her hair and gown and then went to greet her salvation.
As the carriage came to a stop, Elizabeth looked out the window to the white façade of Crandall House, the London townhouse of the Dowager Lady Matlock. Soon there was a multitude of footman coming to collect her and her single trunk from the carriage. However, as she exited the carriage, she realized the need for so many footmen; all of her belongings had been loaded on the carriage. All her trunks had come with her and that made her extremely embarrassed. What will Lady Matlock think? Will she think I have plans to establish myself at Crandall House on a permanent basis?
Feeling herself blush at
the impropriety of such a mistake, she looked around to see that the house,
along with all its neighbors, sat in a square with a large park as its focal
point. The park was just beginning to
bud and she thought what a lovely place it would be to take a walk or sit on a
bench and read. Her blush deepened as
she realized that she would not mind living here as the park would provide a
nice respite from the rest of dreary and gray
Hearing the large oak door open, she turned around to see a very distinguished man, possibly in his late fifties, appear, “Miss Bennet?”
“Welcome to Crandall House. My name is Hornsby.” Stepping aside, he motioned for her to enter.
Smiling her gratitude to the butler, she entered the house. While removing her bonnet and pelisse, she looked around in awe of her surroundings. She had never seen any place so elegant but with such unassuming good taste as to make it feel welcoming.
Elizabeth, however, still held some apprehension about this visit. While she knew that Lady Matlock was cut from the same cloth as Lady Emily, she hoped, therefore, she would find her amiable and pleasant. The fact of entering a stranger’s house was a bit disconcerting, especially when that stranger was of the upper crust of ton society and so far removed from the country society of which she was so accustomed.
As she studied her surroundings, Elizabeth noticed a woman descending the staircase. There could be no mistake that the woman was none other than the Mistress of the house. Lady Matlock was, by far, one of the most beautiful women she had ever seen. Knowing her to be in her late fifties, the same age as Lady Emily, she was startled that this woman appeared much younger. Lady Matlock was dressed in a simple, but elegant, dark emerald green silk gown with no other adornments but a simple gold heart-shaped locket and a gold wedding band. On further examination of her countenance, there was warmth and friendliness and sincerity that put Elizabeth immediately at ease.
“Miss Bennet, welcome. I am Suzan Fitzwilliam, Lady Matlock,” the woman announced.
Elizabeth immediately felt welcomed by this stranger and then curtsied to acknowledge Her Ladyship. “Good afternoon, Lady Matlock. I am honored to have been invited into your home.”
“Miss Bennet, it is my pleasure to have you here,” Lady Matlock responded with a regal nod and a smile.
Taking in Elizabeth’s simple blue-gray muslin gown and her dark brown hair, Lady Matlock marveled at her guest’s perfect creamy English complexion. The eyes that lit up her face with such life and intelligence made Lady Matlock realize everything that Lady Emily had written about the young lady standing before her had been true. But the resemblance to her father, Tommy Bennet, was what really drew her Ladyship’s attention to the young woman.
Indicating that Elizabeth should follow her, Lady Matlock led the way to a nearby drawing room.
“Miss Bennet, you must be famished from your journey. Please have a seat.” Lady Suzan motioned to a nearby sofa and then took the seat next to her.
“Thank you, your Ladyship.” Elizabeth seated herself.
Lady Matlock motioned for the servant to serve the tea. “How was your journey?”
“It was most pleasant, your Ladyship. The sun shone brightly and the weather was very pleasant for this time of the year,” she replied.
Smiling, Lady Matlock thought that Elizabeth’s optimism would make her a most delightful companion.
After they had finished their tea, Lady Matlock said, “Miss Bennet, you must be tired from your trip. I will ring for Mrs. Hornsby to show you to your room.”
“Thank you, your Ladyship. I admit to being slightly fatigued,” Elizabeth said.
In an apologetic tone, Lady Matlock went on, “I need to apologize to you for being unable to dine with you this first evening of your stay. I am obliged to have dinner with an old friend of the family. I had believed it was for last night before being informed it was for tonight.”
“Your Ladyship, that is perfectly fine with me. A nice bath and a dinner tray, and I will be ready for bed.” Elizabeth smiled her appreciation.
“Thank you, Miss Bennet, for understanding for I know it is unpardonably rude for the host to leave a guest on their own, especially on this first night of your visit,” Lady Matlock continued to apologize. Then quickly changing the topic of conversation, Lady Matlock said, “Melly has been assigned to you, during your stay, as your personal maid. If she does not suit you, please let Mrs. Hornsby or myself know and we will find you another maid.”
“Lady Matlock, I am sure that Melly will be fine as I am quite used to managing on my own,” Elizabeth said, hoping she didn’t sound ungrateful.
“She will soon have you unpacked and a bath waiting for you. I will have a dinner tray sent up to you around seven o’clock. Will that be sufficient time?” Lady Matlock looked to Elizabeth to make sure that she would be comfortable with the plan.
“Yes, your Ladyship,” Elizabeth responded, dropping her gaze momentarily.
Noticing her blush, Lady Matlock asked, “What is it that does not meet your needs?”
“Lady Matlock, I am ashamed to admit that all my belongings attended me on this journey, and I had only meant to bring one trunk. You see, when I return to Hertfordshire in a few days I will be going to my sister’s house. All my trunks had been packed in anticipation of that move. When the carriage arrived this morning, all my trucks were loaded onto the carriage before I was aware of it. I would not have you think that I plan to stay beyond my welcome.”
“Miss Bennet, I require all my guests to feel at home while in my house. What can produce such a feeling but to have all your belongings surrounding you? Do not make yourself uneasy,” Lady Matlock said and then thought that Miss Bennet may not realize it but this young lady would never return to Hertfordshire if she had anything to say about it. Also she could not help but silently laugh knowing full well that this delightful girl would be in residence a lot longer than she evidently planned.
After they finished their tea, Mrs. Hornsby returned to escort Elizabeth to her suite of rooms.
As Elizabeth entered the rooms that she had been given, she was in awe. She had never seen such elegantly appointed rooms. There was a sitting room, that would catch the morning light, containing an overstuffed sofa and chairs grouped in front of the fireplace, a small table and chairs in front of one window, a writing desk and bookcases in the corner and deep windows seats at the windows. The room was in pale spring colors; the wallpaper used small floral patterns in its design. The sofa and chairs were covered in a chintz material that depicted large peonies and lilies with bluebells and snowdrops and greenery as the background; it felt like she was in an indoor garden. The bedchamber was equally bright and cheerful with a huge four poster bed, window seats, and a set of chairs in front of the fireplace. The entire suite had a decided feminine, inviting feel to it.
A young girl of about eighteen came from the dressing room and startled at seeing Miss Bennet.
“You must be Melly?” Elizabeth inquired.
The young girl curtsied and then replied, “Yes, Miss Bennet, I have finished unpacking your things and have requested water for your bath. It should be ready in about fifteen minutes.”
“Thank you. That will be perfect.” Elizabeth smiled at the girl.
After her bath, Elizabeth dismissed Melly and went to her sitting room. Standing at the window gazing at the delightful view of the back garden, she thought how lovely it would be to live in such a beautiful home. Later, after finishing her evening meal and penning a few letters to send home to her family and Mrs. Truman informing them of her safe arrival, she climbed into bed. Her fatigue and the comfort of such a luxurious bed immediately sent her to a deep comforting sleep.
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