Taught from infancy that beauty is woman's sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison. Mary Wollstonecraft
‘Let none claim that it is only upon love we mortals are doomed to exist. Love, labour, friends and fortune may come and go, but a proper self-respect is the staple of the soul.’
Thus Mary confided in the journal she had started to keep as a means of quelling the tumult of her grief. Her thoughts revealed a meteoric ascent to maturity. Seated at the davenport in her bedroom overlooking the pale façades of Mayfair under a canopy of grim sky, every hopeful impulse was dashed. She was stricken with grief to the point of fever. Her throat was swollen and painful. Dr Denman called daily to administer a febrifuge. He patted her hand kindly, as though she had the vapours, and told her she would be right as a trivet in no time, healthy young woman that she was. Berkeley did not know what to do next. He was as unprepared for such a contingency as for his reaction. Above all, his instinct was to protect her. He was thoroughly ashamed of his vile behaviour in Gloucester and wanted Mary to believe that he had acted under duress and out of character. This nymph from the sticks made him want to prove himself! (Hell’s teeth, the quick-tempered Mrs Bayly had never exercised such a hold over him!) Berkeley saw that no good would be gained from foisting himself upon Mary. He must bide his time, show patience, humour her. Win her!
Mary did not know whom or what to believe. It terrified her to contemplate the intricacies of Berkeley’s obsession. What did a man who had everything believe she could give him? Was it her very resistance that had driven him wild? Was it that she had invoked the right to withhold her virtue? Whatever it was, he was plainly proof against her tearful pleading for release.
“I swear I shall make you unhappy and shan’t amuse you half so much as a lively opera-dancer.”
Berkeley roared with laughter. “You’ve a warm turn of phrase for a God-fearing vestal! Nay, Polly, if I’d wanted a milksop maid, I’d have looked in a dairy, or a painted coryphée, the Green Room.”
“Pray don’t call me by that name!!
“That’s what some call you in Gloucester. I’ve heard Will Lane call you that.”
“The maltster’s apprentice?”
“ ‘There goes Polly and Billy Cole,’says he. ‘She’s a fine wench, and Billy….ah well, bless you, sir, Billy’s-a-dying since he went to live in the house of that old clyster-pipe, Parker’.”
“They say that Billy is idling!” As her only son, Mrs Cole had encouraged his chronic delicacy. ‘Billy’s ever so poorly,’ she would say, “and not in any way to learn his books.”
“Lane’s a fund of information, I’ll say that!”
Mary burst into a fresh fit of weeping.
“How long will you keep me a prisoner? What will become of me? With my reputation in tatters, I shan’t be fit to return home.”
“That is not how such things fall out, sweetheart,” Berkeley said. In one chivalrous gesture, he shook out a folded lawn handkerchief from his pocket. “Come, dry up your tears. The future is rosier than you think. We shall deal famously, you and I.”
The echo of his words hung on the air. He got up and poured whisky which he tossed off in one draught, stunned by the enormity of this concession. Future? He had never in his life considered the future for two minutes together! “I must go. I’ve an appointment at Tattersall’s.”
Mary looked at him beseechingly, wanting some kind of resolution and, perversely, hoping not to be left alone with her misery. To be hermetically sealed with a cook, a butler and a maid, having no entrée anywhere in the neighbourhood, no companions but turbulent thoughts, was a sentence in itself.
“Will you be dining here tonight, my lord?”
He paused, registering the wistful note in her voice. “I shall suppose that to be an invitation, Mary. Thank you, I will. I must see that you eat up your dinner and regain your strength.”
During those bewildering days, the scale of her sister’s deceit had made its impact. There was no Mr Turnour as far as Mary could see. Susan’s establishment was financed by Berkeley for the sole purpose of gaining his way. Her willing connivance had earned her ample reward and a sly satisfaction in teaching Mary a lesson. Possibly she felt that Mary owed the Coles this eminent connection. It would be in her power to change all their lives for the better if she played her trump card: her fatal desirability in the Earl’s eyes. She could seek redress for Will Farren who had borne the brunt of his sister-in-law’s pride. A sense of responsibility for Ann and her children began to trouble Mary sorely. The little ones did not deserve to suffer.
That day, she fretted long about the lot of women. It could not be denied that the ancient droît de seigneur of feudal times still operated beneath a veneer of good manners. A man need not spare a moment’s hesitation for his arrogance in assuming that any woman he chose was there for the taking. Barriers could be trampled down at will without a grain of guilt. Stories abounded of poor wretches who had swung on the gallows for want of the price of a loaf. Yet this Lord of the Gloucestershire Vales, and much else besides, could pillage lives in a bid for amusement. Susan had been right about one thing: there was no changing the status quo. Women were powerless against it. How hard it was to do what was right! As she pursued this line of thought, Mary realised how jaded Berkeley’s palate for life and love must have become to want to keep her hostage.
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Causes Rosy Cole Supports
World Vision, International Prison Outreach, Salvation Army, Emmaus Project, Poor Clares, DogsTrust, BUAV (against animal testing) WWT (Wildfowl &...