I am well aware that the denouement of my story was not precisely a complete version of events as they transpired. I do not apologize for this. In the first place, I am told that this is good storytelling; to trim the fat off one’s experiences. In the second, there are things one cannot speak frankly about in a document intended for publication. One may allude, and I think I have done so quite cleverly, but one can do no more. I am of two minds about this. But even if our society were to be more open about the course of true love, as it were, I would not wish for my own relationship to be held up as an example.
And yet . . . I cannot help but hope that my hypothetical reader has become attached to me, and perhaps even to Emerson. It is not as difficult to become attached to Emerson as I once thought. Besides, I myself recall what happened next quite fondly.
In any case, I see no reason why I should not set down a few more cherished memories in the pages of a private journal. They can always be stricken from the record at a later date. I will do that myself if possible. Our heirs will be of the most intelligent and sensitive nature, since I intend to raise them so. But the task of editing my writings may be too much for even the best and brightest minds of the next generation.
I do not consider this an insult. My mind is exceptionally bright, and Emerson and I are, quite simply, unique. Particularly, I think, in matters of the heart. Another reason to continue the tale.
So having properly established my reasons for continuing this journal and stressed the private nature of the material that follows, I shall pen my epilogue.
On the night of my proposition to Emerson (and Emerson’s interesting counter-proposal in return) I awoke in some confusion. A number of unfamiliar sensations were the cause. Chief among these was a heavy weight on my chest. In my half-woken state I wondered for a moment if some portion of the wall had fallen and pinned me. Perhaps the tomb of his majesty’s hand-washer was about to become my final resting place as well. Then I blinked, the world came swimming into focus, and the familiar white walls of my dear Philae brought me back to the proper place and time.
I say proper. The situation was anything but. Now fully awake, I took stock.
This was not my bedchamber. The offending weight was an arm. The arm belonged to Radcliffe Emerson. The sprawl might or might not be his regular mode of sleep; I was not yet in a position to be sure of that. But if his somnolence (and the slight snore) was brought on by exhaustion, then that state was well deserved. Even here, I think I need say no more.
Truth be told, now that I had assessed the pressure on my chest with a properly wakeful mind I did not feel in any immediate danger of expiring. Emerson’s tenacious grip on my waist was rather charmingly affectionate, in a possessive sort of way. I wondered if he would attempt to be so expressive in public, now that things were settled between us. Though of course I could not allow it if he tried.
Do not think that I was ashamed. But neither was I prepared to stay and be discovered en déshabillé. I suspected that poor Evelyn and Walter would be shocked enough to hear of the sudden thawing of relations between Emerson and myself without any suggested improprieties. In retrospect, I have no doubt they would have accepted the situation. But it would have been awkward, to say the least, and they had both had quite enough of scandal, poor things.
Fortunately it was still some hours before dawn. The unfamiliar— though not unpleasant —arrangement meant that I had not slept long. Unfortunately it did not matter. I was, most decidedly, trapped against Emerson’s side.
I did not want to ruin the moment. On the other hand, technically speaking, the moment had passed quite some time ago.
I applied my elbow judiciously to Emerson’s side.
To his credit, his response was less explosive than I had expected. I believe he was too muzzy with sleep to protest.
“What the devil?” he muttered. I forgave him that. Truthfully I would have forgiven him almost anything in that moment. I had turned under his arm, the better to pinch him if necessary, and the sight of his sleepy blue eyes warming as he realized who was in such close proximity to him was extremely effecting. He smiled. “Amelia, I might have known that you wouldn’t be the kind to wallow in the heat of—”
“You needn't continue. I never wallow, literally or metaphorically.”
“Of course not. Well, good morning.”
“It is not morning,” I corrected him, moving to evade the embrace that had accompanied the greeting. “Fortunately for us. Otherwise the crew would already be up and about.”
“Ah. Yes. The crew.” And for the first time, Emerson’s mouth turned down and his grip slackened. I could not help feeling a trifle disappointed, but not wishing to give lie to my previous boast, I shook myself and slipped out from under his arm.
“I should have just enough time to sneak back to my cabin. Of course I may have to evade our watchman. What a shame I spoke to him so severely about dereliction of duty. As it is he’ll be searching every shadow, and I’m hardly dressed to avoid detection. If only I had thought to bring some ashes and . . . I beg your pardon, but are you laughing at me?”
He was, in a manner that gave me the gravest suspicions about several previous ‘coughing fits’ I had witnessed over the past few weeks. His shoulders were positively shaking with mirth. “Hardly dressed? You haven’t said enough.”
“I meant in my nightgown, obviously. Haven’t you any kind of coat long enough to cover it?”
“I concede the point.” I looked around the room again, but nothing immediately useful sprang into view. Emerson’s belongings seemed to consist mostly of books, foolscap, and bottles of ink. There was also, to my surprise, a pith helmet. I supposed this one had never made it out into the field with him and so had been spared. “Well, it cannot be helped. I shall have to use the shawl again.” And, having regained as much costume as I’d arrived in, I shook the aforementioned covering over my shoulders. At least it was a fine deep blue, even if the shade was vivid.
“There is also your hair,” Emerson pointed out helpfully. At some point he had moved to stand behind me, and I felt his fingers at the back of my neck. “Have I mentioned yet that I particularly appreciate it?”
He had not. I could feel the blood rising to my cheeks. “I suppose it is dark.”
“Hm. And luxurious,” he agreed affably. I was not yet used to affability in Emerson. Interestingly, it produced very much the same low rumble in his voice that annoyance might have. I resigned myself, not unhappily, to a life lived at both lower and higher decibels than I had been used to.
“It is long, at any rate. Very well, I believe you’re right. I will leave my hair down. I don’t know what you’ve done with the pins, anyway.”
“Duce take the pins,” said Emerson.
As it turned out, I did not leave the room for some time longer. When I did, it was without saying goodnight, or even good morning, to my husband-to-be, for he was soundly asleep. Had I but known . . . but it is useless to speculate.
I had expected to see Emerson again at breakfast, where we would break the news of our engagement to our nearest and dearest. To my surprise he did not appear, even though I lingered so long over cold tea and congealed eggs that Evelyn began to express real concern.
We were alone together on the upper deck of the dahabeeyah at the time. Between the seclusion, the dear child’s earnest concern and my secret wellspring of happiness, which was threatening to spill over at any moment, the temptation to confide was irresistible.
My news did not astonish her as much as I expected. In fact, she went so far as to claim that the surprise on her face was only because she had not expected the two of us to settle the matter so quickly, after dragging our feet for so long!
But I was so caught up in her sweet expressions of delight that I let this outrageous claim pass. In truth, I was rather overcome myself. To gain not only a husband, but a real family, a sister and brother I admired and respected . . . no one could be deserving of such happiness, but I knew that I must try, for their sakes.
“But where is Radcliffe?” Evelyn asked when we had both regained some degree of composure. “Has he gone to find Walter? Amelia, you should have told us both together. I cannot imagine our joy would have overpowered the two of you— after all, what could?”
I laughed at her little joke, but was forced to confess that I did not know Emerson’s whereabouts. He might well have slept late, I suggested. Evelyn, sweet soul, was not on the lookout for any deeper meaning and readily accepted my explanation. At my insistence, she promised that she would not broach the subject unless Walter did it himself.
But her question bothered me very much. Surely, now that everything was settled, the man was not avoiding me again?
As the day progressed, I was forced to confront the idea head on.
I could not believe that Emerson was having second thoughts. Oh, there were many reasons why he might. If I was entirely honest with myself, there were even a few reasons he should.
I am not an easy woman to get along with. In fact, I had always taken a certain amount of pride in this— knowing that no man would grind Amelia Peabody under his heel! I did not believe for a moment that Emerson would wish to bully me (more than he bullied everyone, that is.) But was he ready to take on a lifelong challenge? Was I ready to supply it?
For that matter, were our independent spirits prepared to enter into a partnership in all things?
Surely, the answer was yes. I told myself this in the morning as I walked alone on the deck, and at luncheon, when Evelyn’s demure but pointed smiles assured me that Walter was still all ignorance.
But by early afternoon I had— I admit it! —begun to doubt my own actions. Had I offended some deep-set masculine pride that did not understand rationality? It seemed plausible. The male ego is such a fragile thing.
By late afternoon, I wondered if, worst of all, his reservations had nothing to do with me at all. Perhaps he still had some lingering attachment to another. Perhaps he remembered my unflattering comments about my own family. Oh, there were a thousand such “perhapses.”
I have said that I am not given to flights of fancy or morbidity, and that is true. But it is also a fact that I am a most intelligent woman. I am able to follow the path of possibilities to not only the most plausible, but to every probable conclusion. I could do so in an instant. Emerson had given me hours to brood. Under such circumstances, how could a mind as quick as mine not churn?
Obviously this could not stand. If I were to marry, it must be because I was of one mind and soul with my husband. And I could not be of one mind with Emerson unless I spoke to him, learned what his true thoughts were and, if necessary, bested him in animated discussion until I had brought him round to my way of thinking.
Fortunately there is not much room to hide aboard a ship. Though I will concede that Emerson did his best. I found him with the crew, sitting in unusual quiet and with a distant expression on his face while they regaled him with, I have no doubt, a series of extremely inappropriate stories. They were clearly not expecting me to assail them in the bastion of masculinity they’d made in their quarters on the lower deck, and broke off with shamefaced confusion when I arrived.
Emerson stood, looking quite abashed himself. He refused to meet my eyes, and his greeting trailed off in a manner most unlike his usual overbearing confidence. I believe he had been expecting me. He submitted immediately when I suggested a stroll back to the saloon. Indeed, he followed me so quietly that I became concerned.
My first act after shutting the door and drawing the curtains to ensure that the room was as private as possible was to advance on him with a hand raised to the level of his forehead.
“Are you feverish?”
“What?” he muttered, like a man waking up from a dream.
“I have not triggered a relapse, have I?”
He stared at me for a long moment. Then, blessedly, his strong white teeth were bared in a proper bark of laughter. When he spoke, he sounded much more like his old self.
“How you can have the audacity to call yourself medically competent and then ask a question like that . . . I don’t believe such a thing is even possible.”
“I am endeavoring to find an explanation for your ridiculous behavior,” I shot back, stung and provoked. “A fever would be preferable, but if your conscience has overcome you I very much wish you would give me the hearty apology I deserve. I will accept it, and then we will never speak of this again.”
My barb hit home, and far more painfully than I had expected. Emerson looked positively struck. “Apologize?” He murmured, “So, you do think you deserve an apology?”
“Naturally I do.”
“Ah,” he said, and such a shadow of guilt settled on his features that my heart sunk down into my boots. I told myself firmly that my lips were quivering with rage and no other, sadder emotion, and drew myself up.
“Really, you of all people should know better than to ask. You may have decided that I am not marriageable after all, but that does not at all invalidate my sense of self worth.”
My full height did not bring me to Emerson’s chin. He had to take a step back to look at my face instead of the crown of my head.
“Not marry you!” he said, “You absolute fool, I have been worrying all day that you wouldn’t have me.”
“What? But we— that is— Forgive me, I do not yet have the words in my vocabulary for this conversation—”
“Yes, well. I know what you mean. And that was exactly my worry, do you see? I have been perfectly free with my opinions that the act doesn’t tarnish a woman in any way. But I know very little of what you think. And if you had decided you didn’t appreciate my advances—”
I threw up my hands. Emerson practically jumped back, but I was not interested in calming his skittishness at the moment. “Your advances indeed, you ridiculous man. Nevermind that I came to you. Yes, let us put that aside for the moment. Even if we do, haven’t my actions towards Evelyn told you everything you need to know?”
“Theory and practice are sometimes very different.”
“Not when the theory is sound. Besides which, I must say that you and I were extremely compatible.”
“That . . . is one way of putting it, yes.”
“Then we are agreed. And I cannot believe that you thought for a moment I would have any regrets whatsoever.”
Emerson looked at his boots, hemming awkwardly. “Well . . . that really was your fault, you know. You were so eager to leave, and after I spent so much time persuading you . . . I woke a half an hour later, you know. Not long at all. You might at least have shaken me before you left.”
“Is that what this is about? I left because I had to. I assure you, I did not want to. Really, of all the silly notions—”
His gave me a narrowed glance. “And how did you spend your day, exactly?”
I could not lie to him. If Emerson’s fears had been ludicrous, then so had my own.
Emerson shook his head. “Look at us. Even my brother, a ridiculous romantic of the first stripe, has behaved with more sense.”
“Well, perhaps we need not go that far,” I countered. “But only because Walter is particularly romantic.”
“I could be romantic,” said Emerson, and looked as if he would like to prove it too. But I held up a hand.
“No, wait. Do not take this as a rejection, please, but as long as we are laying all our worries out on the table there is one more thing that ought to be considered.”
“Consider it later,” Emerson urged.
His tone was very persuasive. I took a step back. “One moment. I am sorry. I should have thought of this last night, when you changed the terms of our engagement.”
“Did I? I’m sure you intended to propose.”
I resisted the urge to disagree. I would set him straight on that point later. “You should know that you are putting yourself in a position to be gossiped about.”
My infuriating fiancé, if so he was to remain, shrugged. “If you mean more than the standard effusions that seem to accompany any wedding, I don’t see why that should matter. You will take them in stride, and I will ignore them.”
I had retreated to the back of the room. I could go no further. Fortunately, I was well able to rely on my words. “Really though, you must see that there are very few reasons for most men to seek my hand. I am old. I have no illusions about my looks. In short, while my father’s estate was not a large one . . . “
Emerson had the effrontery to laugh. “Ha! So you’re saying they will all call me a fortune-hunter, Peabody? Well, I shouldn’t be surprised if they did. After all, it was your opinion not so long ago, was it not?”
“That was completely different—”
“Yes, you’re right. You thought I was using Walter as bait, not my own poor person. A much more understandable mistake.”
Now that his worries were soothed, Emerson seemed to be enjoying himself very much. His eyes were glittering and his tone was practically mirthful. I tried again. “There is nothing poor about your personage, and I rather think you know it.”
“Really? I believe you once called my unprepossessing.”
“But truly, Emerson. You should understand. People will talk.”
“Yes, I’m sure they will. Although I doubt they will say exactly what you think. In the first place,, you’re no older than me. Why a man in his thirties should be expected to look to the younger generation for his bride is beyond me. Second, I very much doubt that anyone else shares your opinion of your looks. I never did, from the first moment when you came at me like a brilliant British battle-ax in the museum.” He loomed over me, looking more alarmingly benevolent by the moment “Third and finally, I suspect it will be quite obvious to everyone that this is a love match. I would not enter into any other kind of marriage.”
My knees gave way. I sat down on the sofa. “Oh.”
It was, of course, the same thing I had always believed about myself. But hearing it from my dear Emerson’s lips, I realized once and for all how very foolish the past few hours had been.
How could I believe that we were not two halves of a whole?
Emerson seemed to guess the turn of my thoughts. “May I be romantic now?” he asked, leaning forward once again.
“I believe you already have been,” I told him, truthful to the last.
“You called me Peabody earlier,” I reminded him.
He stopped short. “So I did. Do you prefer that?”
I gave the question its due consideration. “You know, I think that I might. I had come to see it as a mark of respect. I see no reason why it cannot be a sign of affection as well.”
“Good, I approve. Then if you are through interrupting me—”
“I am not.”
Emerson laughed, and kissed me soundly regardless. “No. I suppose you’re not. But may I just say, Peabody, that if this is an example of the wedded bliss I can expect when we are married . . . I cannot wait to begin.”