Last week we left our main character, Ella Middleton, a young seamstress in London, 1840, discussing the troubles of loneliness with her wealthy client and good friend Juliet. She still wonders if the suitor her mother is pressing her to take is a good man. Is he all that she dreams of?
I thought of Frederick here and there throughout the next several days. I confess it was not without a blush or two, but I was also cautious. He had knocked at the door, but had not gained entrance into my heart. That left me to wonder if he had the key. Sometimes it takes a very long time to gain someone’s confidence. Other times, like with Juliet, it takes only a moment. His conversation had intrigued me and flattered me, but I still felt haunted by a distrust for him.
All of these ideas took a turn in the road when a letter came for me Tuesday evening.
I have eagerly waited to receive a note from you since my visit and I confess that you have come to mind more than a few times. Again forgive me if I seem too eager. I am almost entirely deprived of conversation, much less from a lady as noble and beautiful as yourself. It seems there are few ladies who truly understand the word honor, and I am delighted to find that you do. I find you fascinating and intriguing. At the moment I would like nothing more than to converse with you, and if you chose not to reply I will take the hint and leave you be.
Until then I shall remain,
I laughed at the first sentence. Why would I write him first? He was the gentleman and it was his place. Without waiting, I took up my pen and began a response.
I merely awaited you to write me. I find your eloquence stunning. Let me first warn you that I am excessively fond of rambling and capable of writing a very great deal. I have overwhelmed many friends and suitors by the length and amount of my letters. Since you said on Sunday that you too ramble I hereby challenge you to see if you can match my pace.
You have certainly come to my mind a number of times as well. I must confess that you have opened a well of memory in me. The first time I fell in love it was before I was allowed to go out. That has been many years back and it was a drawn out and painful experience. In spite of the fact that it was only a correspondence of letters, he treated me with cruelty and I confess that I have been angry and hurt over the matter ever since. The fact that meeting you has made me go back into those memories is shocking to me. I was so hurt then that I closed off those thoughts, afraid to face them alone because of the pain they would cause. What can I say? You are somewhat like him in temperament, accent, and interests. At the same time you are very different.”
I wrote a bit more, mainly asking various questions. He had peeked my interest, much more than I had expected he would. The following day I thought of him almost constantly, coming up with all sorts of questions to ask him in my next letter. His words awoke many wells of thought, so that I felt almost swamped by my own soul.
After many hours of labor I found myself exhausted on Monday evening. I took a pen to paper, perhaps as a letter to Frederick, but also perhaps just to myself. I wanted to explain myself to him so that he might understand the type of woman he was trying to romance. So I began.
“Mine is a heart that longs to be romanced, that is empty and has been empty for many years. It aches to be used, to be filled. And yet to admit this longing is to bring upon myself shame. To say that I long to marry is to invite the scorn of others. It is to bring the snickers of men, or of women who believe that true womanhood is some kind of demented sort of constantly vulnerability and dependency. If I am to say that I long to be romanced I invite the scorn of “being a woman.” Why? Why? Why? Are men incapable of longing? Are men devoid of a desire for romance? Are men truly heartless? Are men never lonely? Are men entirely self-reliant? Do men never long that the empty corridors of their thought be wandered by someone else?”
My tears splashed over the paper.
“What is it in the hearts of men that they have become so cruel? Is it a crime to want to be loved? And is it somehow only a woman who longs to be loved? And is it a crime to be a woman? Because… because I have always been told that it is.”
I resolved not to send the letter. At least not yet. It was too painful, too open, too much of my own heart and my own vulnerability to show him just yet. I simply folded the paper on the table and left it there on the table.