The Brother with News and Strong Opinions
Her brother, Lord William, rushing through her door and sitting on the bed next to her, pulled Eliza from her thoughts. He was so distracted he did not realise he had sat on top of the wedding dress. In his hands he carried a newspaper.
"You are supposed to knock," Eliza reproached her little brother, turning to give him a false stern look.
"Never mind that," he said quickly, flapping his hands, as if to flap the reproach away. As he did so the paper in his hand crinkled noisily.
"Have you heard the news?" he asked excitedly,
"I have not, but no doubt you are going to tell me."
"We're at war!" He unfolded the newspaper and showed her the front page. 'BRITAIN DECLARES WAR' screamed the headline. Knowing very little about politics and what not, this came as something on a shock to Eliza, even if to the rest of the country it was nothing more then a grim realisation of what people had feared for months.
Eliza turned the newspaper and began to read the article. But she didn't understand it; it was full of the names of places and people she'd never heard off. She folded the paper back up neatly and passed it back to William.
"Aren't you gonna read it?" William asked surprised.
"I don't understand what happened," Eliza explained. "And say going to. Do not talk like a commoner, William," she reproached him, more to hide her annoyance at not understanding what was happening. Manners and etiquette: that's what Eliza understood. After all it was all the string of governesses had taught her. She'd had one that made her eat an entire meal with a book on her head. She'd been fired a week later for some unknown offence, much to Eliza's relief.
William rolled his eyes at her reproach and then went on to try to explain to her how the war had been brought about, the assassination of someone and something about alliances, but Eliza found it all terribly confusing and she told him so.
"I'm only woman, I don't understand all this politics and military dealings." William shot his sister a look of annoyance and Eliza felt she knew why.
"You shouldn't put yourself down like that Ellie," he said gently. But it annoyed her, why should she be scolded for thinking what had been thought for centuries. Women had their place in the world – and it most defiantly wasn't in the parliament or the army.
"Just because I know my place in this world," she replied. "And don't call me Ellie!" she snapped. "It's -"
"Ghastly and working-class," her brother mimicked her with a sly smile. "And who says that that's your place in the world, the lives of women are changing, Ellie. What about the Suffragettes for a start." He shot her a look that said, 'ha, got you!' Eliza sighed. Her and William had had, if not this argument before, then one that was very similar. He was always trying to stop her from thinking and acting the way she knew she had to, because it was what the world, and her father, expected of her.
She was usually the rational one during their argument, but something about his smug look infuriated her.
"So you'd let women vote?" she asked in a falsely calm voice. "What about…run the government, would you let women do that? Would you let women rule you?" she said pointedly.
William replied that he would, so Eliza called him a liar. Something about the conversation had got her blood up, he was just so pretentious and uppity about being modern, that for a moment, she wanted to expose him for the hypocrite he sometimes was.
"Really?" she snapped sarcastically. "So in this pretentious modern world that you envisage, the one you are always telling me is coming soon, is just around the corner. You'd have a government run by women? A country run by women? But then who'd run the home? The man? A wife would rule her husband? Would you allow a wife to rule you?" she ranted, asking him questions he did not want to answer.
"Well, it, it would depend, on you, you know," he stammered. She could tell he did not know how to answer, and despite herself she could not resist flashing him a smirk.
In the end he gave up, "I don't want to fight with you, Eliza." She knew that he was giving up, and that if she had done the same he would have never have let it go, but she did what a lady does and simply let it go, to do anything else would have just given him more ammunition for his argument. Plus she was not actually pleased she had proved her point, as what she had basically just done was prove that he had the right to rule her.
"So Britain's at war then?" she asked simply and calmly. Taking them back to the earlier conversation like they had been nothing in-between. He did the same, telling her about the army recruitment drive and other military matters like there had been no break in the conversation. But it was stilted conversation neither had forgotten the earlier argument and tempers were still high, just well hidden, and both knew the other felt exactly the same.
It was only when William began to talk about the new recruits, the patriotic men up and down the country who were, as he spoke, joining the army, that he began to brighten up. To forget the early tension and concentrate on the current conversation, Eliza saw the change and relaxed to.
"I wish I could join them Eliza, I really do!" he said wishfully. "Those men, Eliza, those men are the sorts of men Britain needs. Brave young men, proud to be British, proudly flying the British flag– ready to die for their King and country, ready to show those good for nothing Krauts what's what. That's an honour that is, what an honour." Eliza sat listening in surprise as her usually modernised brother talked like an old aristocrat. She knew she should not say anything but almost involuntarily she shot him a look of surprise, but also smugness. Her eyebrows were raised in surprise, but her mouth twisted into a little smirk. He was always having a go at her for being a traditionalist and yet here was. So much for Mr. Modern, she thought.
He saw the look she flashed and was brought out of his daydreaming about soldiers and honour.
"What?" he asked her.
"Oh nothing," she replied smugly and then instantly wished she hadn't used that tone of voice. He asked again irritated and she replied, more sweetly, that it was nothing important, because she knew she could not tell him what she was thinking. That he would go ballistic at her if he did.
Eliza watched as her brother struggled to push down his curiosity and move the conversation on. He began to wriggle, as though uncomfortable. Oh no, thought Eliza, as he asked her what he was sitting on and she remembered what it was. She sat in silence as he stood up and picked up the offending item. Her wedding dress.
"What's this?" he asked icily. She resisted, as she so often had to, the urge to be sarcastic.
"My wedding dress," she said steadily and waited in silence for the explosion she knew was coming.
"You're really going through with this then?" He asked coldly. "Doing what Daddy wants. Being Daddy's little girl. Daddy's piece of meat to sell to the highest bidder more like he," he spat at her.
"It's, it's not like that, William," she stammered.
"What, do you love him?" he asked rhetorically. "It's not like that you say," he pointed out with fake calm. "Then tell me, what's it like, eh? What's it like?" he screamed at her.
"Ok maybe, maybe, you're right," she admitted dejectedly. "But I have to William, I have to. I know that and you know that," she said sadly. "You can't change the world we live in William. It is was it is." She looked at her brother, waiting for his reaction to this realism.
"Maybe for you, Eliza. But I'll never conform to … to that man!" He spat the sentence out with disgust. "And since you clearly have, I, I," he struggled to finish the sentence. Eliza watched him. She knew him well enough to know that whatever it was, he did not want to say it. But yet again her temper was up, she was fed up with him judging her, with him preaching to her, when sometimes it was clear to her he was talking nonsense, acting like he was better to her, simply because she conformed to the role she had to play.
"You'll do what?" she asked angrily, knowing she was pushing him, knowing that she had taken it to far. That she should have done what she always did, what a lady should do. Control her temper and let him win. Seconds afterwards she already wished she had and he had not even answered her yet.
"I…I give up on you," he said in a voice that was supposed to be calm, but gave away his true emotion by cracking, showing how much it broke his heart to have to say those words to her. He stood and watched the shock hit her. "You'll have your new husband and your father, all who agree with your traditionalist snob views. What do you need your wayward brother for?" he asked in a falsely sweet voice with a slight smile. But yet again she could hear the emotion hidden beneath the mask, and the smile disappeared in a second, it slipped off his face to be replaced with a frown that showed the inner sadness the words brought him.
All Eliza could do was stand there in shock. It had always been the two of them. Throughout their childhood, they had relied on each other. With an absentee father, a mother they had all but lost at an early age, and a constant flow of nannies, governesses, and servants, they depended upon each other as they grew up. And Eliza had always thought that after everything they survived together as kids. After everything that happened with their mother. Theirs was a relationship that could survive any fall out, any argument. And it was the realisation that she had been wrong about that, that the one person she thought she could always count on was turning his back on her. It was that that stilled her body and silenced her lips.
William turned to leave the room, halfway across he stopped, and Eliza heard him sigh. For one heart-stopping moment she thought he was going to apologise, that she would instantly forgive him and everything would return to normal. But then he started to walk away again, and rage suddenly coursed through her body, replacing the shock. It was this rage that caused her to speak, to say what she had been thinking, before she could stop herself.
"You sounded like him!" she said, almost sneeringly. He turned around out of curiosity. Eliza knew she shouldn't say what she was about to. But he had basically disowned her, and sheer rage made her want to tell him the truth, to shout it into his hypocritical face. But instead she said it calmly, quite coolly; though she knew the devastating effect it would have on him.
"You know when you were asking what's up earlier and I said nothing?" He nodded, she could tell by the look of confusion on his face that he had no idea where this was heading and she had to resist the urge to smirk. "You sounded like our father." She said it almost innocently, like it was a piece of trivia; like she was naïve to the fact that it was the most insulting thing she could have said.
Straight after she saying it she was filled with regret, but most of all dread. She was already despising herself for it. She watched in silence as her brother stood still with shock, she knew she had shocked him to his very core. She waited for his reply, for hatred to spill out of the one person she actually loved in this world.
"I'm, I'm sorry," she said quickly, trying to repair the damage. "I didn't mean it, William, truly, I didn't." Her fear showed her in voice. But when her brother eventually spoke he was surprisingly calm.
"Maybe I did sound like our father. But only for a minute or so," he told her rationally, in a voice that was disturbingly calm, as if he was contemplating something. But Eliza could tell by the look on his face he wasn't finished and she was right.
"But you, Eliza, you're going to spend the rest of your life sounding like our mother." He emphasised the last word heavily.
Just like comparing him to their father was the worst insult she could have said to William, comparing her to their mother was the worst thing he could say to her, though for different reasons. He hated his father with a passion, she on the other hand, dreaded being their mother.
William continued, "Your entering into a loveless marriage with a bastard, just like her." He watched her pained reaction. "Your children will probably have a life like ours. Is that what you want for your children?" he asked bitterly. She stood in silence shaking her head as tears rolled down her face. "You'll live like our mother…" There was a pause, a silence; even Eliza's crying was silent. William seemed to be steadying himself to say the final blow. Which he did as he then added with venom "And then you'll die like our mother." He turned to walk away. It was said and done now. He couldn't take it back – no matter how much he wanted to.
Shock. Pain. Dread. Rage. These were what flooded Eliza as she stood watching her brother leave. And it was these that compelled her forward. She was hitting him and shouting at the top of her lungs, tears falling down her face. Fat ugly tears, which she did not even bother to wipe away.
"Bastard, utter bastard," she shouted again and again. Her soft blows hit his arms and chest. He gently pushed her away and walked out the door. She followed him and pushed him back.
"Say it again, you bastard, say it again if you dare," she goaded hysterically.
"Eliza," he pleaded, his voice soft and gentle, begging her to understand. To forgive. Eliza felt ashamed of her breakdown.
She suddenly became aware of several members of the household staff, staring at her in surprise. She was acting very unlike herself. Very unladylike. She realised she must look startling, screaming and crying at her brother, in her nightgown and her hair unravelled. Like a mad woman. The thought filled her with dread.
"Shouldn't you be working?" she snapped at their staring faces, the first thing that came into her head. There was a dull muttering of 'yes ma'am' and the shocked servants left. She quickly headed back to her room. She thought she heard William gently say her name again somewhere behind her, but she ignored it. And with a gentle slam she shut the door and then she collapsed against it and wept tears of shock and fear
Some time later, Eliza was finally composed enough to stand up and mop her face. Slowly shock began to subside and be replaced by rage: at her brother for what he said, at her father for forcing her into marriage, at Albert simply for being the man he was, but mainly at herself for getting herself drawn into this vile situation. So bloody stupid.
Eliza turned back to the bed. She picked up the wedding dress, so achingly beautiful, and flung it across the room as far as she could. Then she collapsed onto the bed and sobbed her heart out.
Eventually she was all cried out and she lay there with the vivid memory of her mother on that dreadful day. It was branded into her mind, and try as she might, she could never shake the vision of it out of her head. She lay there, remembering that agonizing day five years ago when she had last seen her mother, or the empty shell of a person who was supposedly her mother, and thinking profoundly about what her brother had suggested