Okay, welcome to The Ostrich Plume Years.
This new story follows the lives of Edward (David) and Alice, BEFORE they had kids, BEFORE they were King and Queen, BEFORE Wallis Simpson, BEFORE Francis Erskine, BEFORE Hitler...before a lot of things actually xD
So yeah, welcome to my new story surrounding the Prince & Princess of Wales, who are also Earl & Countess of Chester, Duke & Duchess of Cornwall and Rothesay, Earl & Countess of Carrick, Baron & Baroness of Renfrew, Lord & Lady of the Isles, Prince & Princess of Scotland...there's more title but I won't bore you...yes...David has a LOT of titles bestowed upon him by Daddy-dearest. And, I've also just realised, this is an introduction to George V, cos he's dead when E & A starts...HOW FUN! ^^ Anyway...the three-part prologue idea just popped into my head; whilst David and Alice are off on their three month honeymoon, a certain someone is trying to compose a letter to a love so recently, and so bitterly lost, who recently visited them (it is in first person) . Wonder if you can guess who it is...(free cookie for anyone who does!)
Friday April 30th
I can't remember much of yesterday. Or the day before. Or the day before that. Indeed the last few weeks seem to have flown past in a haze, though one fuelled by alcohol and smoking. I haven't seen anybody I would consider a friend for over a week. And my fiancée does not count as a friend.
I remember listening to the radio broadcast in the evening; my parents and brother having gone to the local picture house to see the film footage, with the perfectly-spoken newsreader detailing the highlights of the day.
I wouldn't have been able to cope.
So I sat in my bedroom with only a bottle of absinth for company and I realised then that I couldn't run away to America as I had planned the previous night; the temperance movement wouldn't suit my borderline alcoholic tendencies. I wept feasibly as I thought of living without memories that should've been mine and having to watch the man I hated with every fibre of my being have the ultimate prize of being married to the woman I loved.
I know it has probably happened to every other man throughout history.
But the fact is that it has happened to me; and it is, quite simply, unbearable.
I remember thinking about it; I remember going into the bathroom; I remember opening the varnished mahogany box containing the seven cut-throat razors, each with the initials F.E punched into the metal, and taking one from its velvety home.
And then the next thing I remember is waking up this morning to the sound of birdsong. That was a unwelcome sound. I have always loved birdsong; but this morning, as the beautiful melody reached my ears, it was a sign that I was not only alive, but hopelessly so.
My suicide attempt was a foiled one.
It seems that even God doesn't pity me enough.
And I had wept.
The scar that last night's activities had left is now healing under a large and uncomfortable dressing. If I press down hard enough with my fingers, I can still feel the open wound, not yet starting to scab over.
The doctor tells me I was lucky to have missed my jugular. As far as I am concerned, I was unlucky to have missed my jugular.
She came to visit me today. I wasn't expecting any visitors, least of all her. When the figure of a woman first approached my bed I had recoiled in horror at the very real possibility of it being my mother, or worse still my fiancée.
But my fears were relayed to my great, and bittersweet, relief as she approached and held out her hand for me.
There was one foolish part of me that wanted her to tell me that she had left him; that her heart had finally felt what I had been longing for it to feel, and that she had left him for me.
Left a prince for, at least in comparison, a pauper.
Alas, she said nothing of the sort. But she didn't have to; as she held out her hand I noticed the bulge of her engagement ring, now coupled with wedding band, stretching the tight brown leather of her left glove. I also noticed, glittering on the collar of her coat, his mark. I say mark, what I really mean is a brooch depicting three ostrich plumes, dripping in diamonds, and wrapped in a crown, also sparkling with diamonds. She belonged to him now, that so much was obvious.
She noticed me staring at the piece of jewellery and blushed "He gave it to me last night, he said the only time I'm allowed to take it off is when I'm no longer Princess of Wales..," I could sense her happiness dying on her last words as she looked at me. I, by this time, had turned my eyes away from her and was staring across the ward.
There was that silence again.
"How are you feeling?" Was the first thing she asked me.
"Well enough," was my reply. I remember pausing for a moment, trying to catch her eyes with my own again, but again she kept them hidden in the shadow of the brim of her cloche hat. She has beautiful eyes. I then dared to ask her "I thought you would be on your honeymoon."
"No," she replied, she shifted in her seat, glancing up briefly at me before looking down at her hands again "We were advised to put it off until the strike is over. Not only because of the practical reason of there being very few sailors," I had closed my eyes by this point, and opened one as I heard her sigh before continuing "But because it wouldn't be appropriate."
I could name several things inappropriate about the situation, but I lay silent as she spoke again, obviously trying to avoid questions she thought I was going to ask, "Has Philippa visited?"
"Pippa?" I echoed her as she mentioned my fiancée; I remember thinking of two possible responses, I could either tell her the truth and say how Pippa had showered me with kisses and unrequited love, or I could lie and say she had not yet visited, I could even say she had broken off the engagement, saying how she didn't want to be tied to an alcoholic.
I decided the latter.
"She hasn't visited," I cleared my throat before adding quickly "She telephoned my mother; she wants to break off the engagement," I found myself easily forming tears in the corners of both my eyes "She said she couldn't marry a man who drank through the night."
The reaction I received wasn't the one I was hoping for. She eyebrows were knitted down over her eyes and for a moment I thought she was angry with me. But then I realised she wasn't "Well she should be ashamed!" She exclaimed "You can change!" She still didn't look me directly in the eye "And you will probably do so faster if she helped you! If you like I can write to her and suggest she gives you another chan-"
"No!" I interrupted her suddenly, nervous about her finding me out as a liar, I quickly fabricated a reason "Don't write to her. She'll only use it for her own gain. She told my mother she's going to America to find one of those Nouveau Riche husbands."
"Well," she replied with a determination to her voice "Bully for that Nouveau Riche husband," she went quiet again before adding softly "If I were her I'd be ashamed," she finally looked at me from behind the brim of her hat, her deep-blue, hyacinth eyes staring at me "You'd make any woman a fine husband."
I stared at her for a moment longer, taking in the soft features of the face I will never wake up next to and whose resemblance I will now only ever be able to point out in pictures of a future sovereign, never my own children. I wanted to give a heartfelt, eloquent monologue, but the time for great displays of affection has long since passed, and anyway, I would never be quite as good at them as he was.
That awareness came out in what I said next "Any woman except you?"
She bought her hand to her head and rubbed her temples, sighing exaggeratedly "Francis..," she whispered as she exhaled "My dear, dear Francis," she leant forward and took my cold hand in her warm one, holding it tightly "You," she was careful to keep her voice low "You know why we would never be suited," she shrugged and tried to make the age-old excuse "We are more akin to the love between siblings than we are husband and wife."
I remember snatching my hand away and snarling at her "We are only more akin to the former because you never gave the latter a chance."
She looked away; I fear now I may have hurt her by saying what I did in the tone that I did. She looked at me again after a few moments, saying slowly "Francis, I came here because I was concerned for you as a friend, I heard what had happened this morning and I decided to come and see you," she looked up at me "My husband protested, of course he did, we've not even been married a day and I've seen more of other people than I have him," the tone of her voice suddenly took on a serious note as I stared at her with a blank expression "I came to see you, Francis, because I think of you, and care for you, as a friend."
Without giving me a chance to reply or ask more questions she stood, saying "I really must go, I've an awful lot to do," I watched her open the little brown bag she had with her and move something from inside the bag to my little bedside cabinet, beside the jug of water and vase of flowers. She removed her hand and I was struck to see the Victorian jewellery set-bequeathed to me by my late grandmother-that I had given her as a twenty-first birthday present three years ago. It was a set of citrine and gold earrings, with a matching ring. I suppose that I, in my love-blindness, had foolishly hoped she would accept it as an engagement ring.
She did nothing of the sort.
I looked up at her with confusion "They're yours..," I remember reaching out, picking them up, and trying to force them back into her hand "Take them."
"No!" She pushed my hand away "I can't, Francis. It," her voice shook as she moved her hand back to her side "It wouldn't be right for me to have them. Not now. Give them to your new fiancée."
I remember stammering as she turned to leave "B..bu..but you could use them when we see each other again, perhaps?" I was beginning to feel desperate "You don't have to tell him who they came from."
"David knows," she turned round to me and nodded, mentioning her new husband by his preferred name for the first time "And he was the one who suggested I give them back," she paused, almost as if she was working up the courage to say what she did next "And I decided, on my way down here, that it's time you and I went our separate ways, led our respective lives. You in Canada working for the Governor-General and me here as future Queen."
"Alice," I finally dared breathe her name as she stood by the corner of the bed "Please don't."
"No, Francis," the new Princess of Wales told me sharply "I've made up my mind. We're never to see each other again; we can hear about one another on the social circuit and we may bump into one-another at the occasional thing but that's it. Our friendship, as it stands, is at an end as soon as I walk out of this ward."
"Would it be even if you weren't Her Royal Highness?" I asked bitterly, my voice must have sounded as hard as stone as I forced sobs back down my throat "Even if you'd married the Duke of Manchester?"
She looked at me with an emotion I couldn't read and then bowed her head; there was a part of me that wondered if she was praying, and it was after a few minutes that she finally gave me her answer, in a cold, distant voice "Yes," she said simply "Yes, Francis, it would be over even if I'd married Montagu."
"Why?" I must have sounded desperate as I howled at her like a spoilt child.
"Because," her voice was cutting but still she blinked at me with sympathy in the depths of her eyes "Because it wouldn't have made a difference who'd I'd married. Your reaction would still be the same. The only situation where it would be different is if I'd have said yes to you," her hand caressed her new brooch as she added "And it isn't David's fault that you're blinded by jealousy."
"Jealousy?" I echoed her harshly "Jealousy? Lissy, there are many things I am, and many things I am not, and jealous is not one of the-."
"No, you are quite correct," She hissed and jutted her chin out at me "There are many things that you are not, and that you never will be. And he is one of them," she clearly meant her new husband, and the final blow came when she said coldly "And if you wouldn't mind, Francis, I'd prefer for you to refer to me as my new title dictates. Only family and friends can call me Lissy."
That was the last thing she said.
I didn't watch her leave. I closed my eyes tightly, and lay there praying that somehow I would be able to turn back the clock; if not three years then to the previous night and I would make sure I would be lucky enough to slit my jugular vein.
In the immediate emotion, I lashed out with my left hand, smashing the jug beside me so water spilled all over the cabinet, my bed sheets, and the floor and shards of glass embedded into the soft skin of my palm.
It didn't hurt.
A nurse came running at the sound, repeating to me in a nauseatingly reassuring voice that it would all be alright and that I wasn't to blame. The broken glass was swept up and the water mopped away, and I then had a doctor picking out the little bits of glass from my hand.
Whilst he was sitting uncomfortably close to me, he spied the ring and earrings that she had left on the cabinet, he didn't look up as he asked me "Do you want us to give them to your fian-"
"No!" I bellowed, interrupting him with a simple order "Get rid of them!"
After my hand had been bandaged, I was assesed by three separate doctors and was promptly diagnosed with manic-depressive disorder. I remember sitting blankly as they explained the reasons behind the diagnosis to me. Not that I was listening.
What was the point?
I passed the rest of the day watching the ward staff go about their business, and later, after tea, read This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Not that I could concentrate for most of it; they bought a chap in who was obviously in a complete fantasy world, shouting something about stopping the rebel Colonies and how the command of King George III must be obeyed.
After a while, he quietened down, and his ramblings were reduced to no more than mad mutterings as he slept. I could concentrate again. But in the silence of the ward, which was full of the mad, insane, and then myself, I was left alone with my thoughts.
And I still am, which is why I am writing so late. I decided to record this all whilst it is still fresh in my memory so that I will be able to tell the entire world that I once tried to commit suicide because of my love for the Princess of Wales.
It would make a nice story, wouldn't it? A nice penny novel about the second son of a Scottish Earl who managed to make the future Queen of England fall into his arms with a wink and a smile.
But, alas, these sort of situations only ever appear in novels.
I think there is a part of me that will move on, of course. And I still have Pippa. There is a part of me that wants to be a father, regardless of the mother. And there is a part of me that, as is true in everyone, wants to be loved.
Though, despite everything, I hope this business with the workers on strike clears up soon, I wouldn't want Alice's honeymoon to be spoiled because of a few protesting seamen.
Maybe one day she will contact me again. Maybe one day I will run into her unexpectedly. Maybe one day I will finally be able to tell her how much I love her.
And maybe I will die having never heard another word from her, having never spied her at a party, and having never declared my undying love for her.
I hope not though.
Francis Walter Erskine
I know...that was an odd one. I juggled with ideas for this prologue but then settled on this. Those who have read E&A will know Francis, and those who haven't will get a taste for him from this prologue, it just sets up the story for y'all. Hope you enjoyed!