I'd say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband's dead
body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted,
was still twitching upon the floor.
I stared at him, not quite taking in the fact that he had
just collapsed at my feet. He lay, curled like a question
mark, his evening suit ink-black against the white marble of
the floor. He was writhing, his fingers knotted.
I leaned as close to him as my corset would permit.
"Edward, we have guests. Do get up. If this is some sort
of silly prank—"
"He is not jesting, my lady. He is convulsing."
An impatient figure in black pushed past me to kneel at
Edward's side. He busied himself for a few brisk moments,
palpating and pulse-taking, while I bobbed a bit, trying to
see over his shoulder. Behind me the guests were murmuring,
buzzing, pushing closer to get a look of their own. There
was a little thrill of excitement in the air. After all, it
was not every evening that a baronet collapsed senseless in
his own music room. And Edward was proving rather better
entertainment than the soprano we had engaged.
Through the press, Aquinas, our butler, managed to squeeze
in next to my elbow.
I looked at him, grateful to have an excuse to turn away
from the spectacle on the floor.
"Aquinas, Sir Edward has had an attack."
"And would be better served in his own bed," said
the gentleman from the floor. He rose, lifting Edward into
his arms with a good deal of care and very little effort, it
seemed. But Edward had grown thin in the past months. I
doubted he weighed much more than I.
"Follow me," I instructed, although Aquinas actually
led the way out of the music room. People moved slowly out
of our path, as though they regretted the little drama
ending so quickly. There were some polite murmurs, some
mournful clucking. I heard snatches as I passed through them.
"The curse of the Greys, it is—"
"So young. But of course his father never saw
"Never make old bones—"
"Feeble heart. Pity, he was always such a pleasant
I moved faster, staring straight ahead so that I did not
have to meet their eyes. I kept my gaze fixed on Aquinas'
broad, black-wool back, but all the time I was conscious of
those voices and the sound of footsteps behind me, the
footsteps of the gentleman who was carrying my husband.
Edward groaned softly as we reached the stairs and I turned.
The gentleman's face was grim.
"Aquinas, help the gentleman—"
"I have him," he interrupted, brushing past me.
Aquinas obediently led him to Edward's bedchamber. Together
they settled Edward onto the bed, and the gentleman began to
loosen his clothes. He flicked a glance toward Aquinas.
"Has he a doctor?"
"Yes, sir. Doctor Griggs, Golden Square."
"Send for him. Although I dare say it will be too late."
Aquinas turned to me where I stood, hovering on the
threshold. I never went into Edward's room. I did not like
to do so now. It felt like an intrusion, a trespass on his
"Shall I send for Lord March as well, my lady?"
I blinked at Aquinas. "Why should Father come? He is no
But Aquinas was quicker than I. I had thought the gentleman
meant that Edward would have recovered from his attack by
the time Doctor Griggs arrived. Aquinas, who had seen more
of the world than I, knew better.
He looked at me, his eyes carefully correct, and then I
understood why he wanted to send for Father. As head of the
family he would have certain responsibilities.
I nodded slowly. "Yes, send for him." I moved into
the room on reluctant legs. I knew I should be there, doing
whatever little bit that I could for Edward. But I stopped
at the side of the bed. I did not touch him.
"And Lord Bellmont?" Aquinas queried.
I thought for a moment. "No, it is Friday. Parliament is
That much was a mercy. Father I could cope with. But not my
eldest brother as well. "And I suppose you ought to call
for the carriages. Send everyone home. Make my apologies."
He left us alone then, the stranger and I. We stood on
opposite sides of the bed, Edward convulsing between us. He
stopped after a moment and the gentleman placed a finger at
"His pulse is very weak," he said finally. "You
should prepare yourself."
I did not look at him. I kept my eyes fixed on Edward's pale
face. It shone with sweat, its surface etched with lines of
pain. This was not how I wanted to remember him.
"I have known him for more than twenty years," I
said finally, my voice tight and strange. "We were
children together. We used to play pirates and knights of
the Round Table. Even then, I knew his heart was not sound.
He used to go quite blue sometimes when he was overtired.
This is not unexpected."
I looked up then to find the stranger's eyes on me. They
were the darkest eyes I had ever seen, witch-black and
watchful. His gaze was not friendly. He was regarding me
coldly, as a merchant will appraise a piece of goods to
determine its worth. I dropped my eyes at once.
"Thank you for your concern for my husband's health,
sir. You have been most helpful. Are you a friend of
He did not reply at once. Edward made a noise in the back of
his throat and the stranger moved swiftly, rolling him onto
his side and thrusting a basin beneath his mouth. Edward
retched, horribly, groaning. When he finished, the gentleman
put the basin to the side and wiped his mouth with his
handkerchief. Edward gave a little whimper and began to
shiver. The gentleman watched him closely.
"Not a friend, no. A business associate," he said
finally. "My name is Nicholas Brisbane."
"I know who you are, my lady."
Startled at his rudeness, I looked up, only to find those
eyes again, fixed on me with naked hostility. I opened my
mouth to reproach him, but Aquinas appeared then. I turned
to him, relieved.
"The carriages are being brought round now, my lady. I
have sent Henry for Doctor Griggs and Desmond for his
lordship. Lady Otterbourne and Mr. Phillips both asked me to
convey their concern and their willingness to help should
you have need of them."
"Lady Otterbourne is a meddlesome old gossip and Mr.
Phillips would be no use whatsoever. Send them home."
I was conscious of Mr. Brisbane behind me, listening to
every word. I did not care. For some unaccountable reason,
the man thought ill of me already. I did not mind if he
Aquinas left again, but I did not resume my post by the bed.
I took a chair next to the door and remained there, saying
nothing and wondering what was going to happen to all of the
food. We had ordered far too much in any event. Edward never
liked to run short. I could always tell Cook to serve it in
the servants' hall, but after a few days even the staff
would tire of it. Before I could decide what to do with the
lobster patties and salad molds, Aquinas entered again,
leading Doctor Griggs. The elderly man was perspiring
freely, patting his ruddy face with a handkerchief and
gasping. He had taken the stairs too quickly. I rose and he
took my hand.
"I was afraid of this," he murmured. "The curse
of the Greys, it is. All snatched before their time. My poor
girl." I smiled feebly at him. Doctor Griggs had
attended my mother at my birth, as well as her nine other
confinements. We had known each other too long to stand on
ceremony. He patted my hand and moved to the bed. He felt
for Edward's pulse, shaking his head as he did so. Edward
vomited again, and Doctor Griggs watched him carefully,
examining the contents of the basin. I turned away.
I tried not to hear the sounds coming from the bed, the
groans and the rattling breaths. I would have stopped my
ears with my hands, but I knew it would look childish and
cowardly. Griggs continued his examination, but before he
finished Aquinas stepped into the room.
"Lord March, my lady." He moved aside and Father
"Julia," he said, opening his arms. I went into
them, burying my face against his waistcoat. He smelled of
tobacco and book leather. He kept one arm tucked firmly
around me as he looked over my head.
"Griggs, you damned fool. Julia should have been sent
The doctor made some reply, but I did not hear it. My father
was pushing me gently out the door. I tried to look past
him, to see what they were doing to Edward, but Father moved
his body and prevented me. He gave me a sad, gentle smile.
Anyone else might have mistaken that smile, but I did not. I
knew he expected obedience. I nodded.
"I shall wait in my room."
"That would be best. I will come when there is something
My maid, Morag, was waiting for me. She helped me out of my
silk gown and into something more suitable. She offered me
warm milk or brandy, but I knew I would never be able to
hold anything down. I only wanted to sit, watching the clock
on the mantel as it ticked away the minutes left.
Morag continued to fuss, poking at the fire and muttering
complaints about the work to come. She was right about that.
There would be much work for her when I put on widow's
weeds. It was unlucky to keep crepe in the house, I reminded
myself. It would have to be sent for after Edward passed. I
thought about such things—crepe for the mirrors, black
plumes for the horses—because then I did not have to
think about what was happening in Edward's room. It was
rather like waiting for a birth, these long, tense minutes
of sitting, straining one's ears on tiptoe for the slightest
sound. I expected to hear something, but the walls were
thick and I heard nothing. Even when the clock struck
midnight, the little voice on my mantel chiming twelve
times, I could not hear the tall case clock in the hall. I
started to mention the peculiarity of it to Morag, because
one could always hear the case clock from any room in the
house, when I realized what it meant.
"Morag, the clocks have stopped."
She looked at me, her lips parted to speak, but she said
nothing. Instead she bowed her head and began to pray. A
moment later, the door opened. It was Father. He said
nothing. I went to him and his hand cradled my head like a
benediction. He held me for a very long time, as he had not
done since I was a child.
"It is all right, my dear," he said finally,
sounding older and more tired than I had ever heard him.
"It is over."
But of course, he was entirely wrong. It was only the beginning.
I he days leading up to the funeral were dire, as such days
almost always are. Too many people, saying too many
pointless things—the same pointless things that
everyone always says. Such a tragedy, so unexpected, so
very, very dreadful. And no matter how much you would like
to scream at them to go away and leave you alone, you
cannot, even if they are your family.
Especially if they are your family. In the week following
Edward's death, I was inundated with March relations. They
flocked from the four corners of the kingdom, as mindful of
the pleasures of London as their family duty. As etiquette
did not permit me to be seen in public, they came to me at
Grey House. The men—uncles, brothers,
cousins—briefly paid their respects to Edward, laid
out with awful irony in the music room, then spent the rest
of their time arguing politics and arranging for amusements
that would get them out of the house. My only consolation
was the fact that, like locusts, they managed to finish off
all of the leftover food from the night Edward died.
The women were little better. Under Aunt Hermia's direction,
the funeral was planned, the burial arranged, and my
household turned entirely on its head. She carried around
with her a notebook filled with endless lists that she was
forever consulting with a frown or ticking off with a
satisfied smile. There was the crepe to be ordered, mourning
wreaths, funeral cards, black-bordered writing paper to be
purchased, the announcement for the Times, and
of course my wardrobe.
"Unrelieved black," she informed me, her brow
furrowed as she struggled to make out her own handwriting.
"There must be no sheen to the fabric and no white or
grey," she reminded me.
"I know." I tried not to think of the new gowns,
delivered only the day before Edward's death. They were
pale, soft colours, the shades of new flowers in spring. I
should have to give them to Morag to sell at the secondhand
stalls now. They would never dye dark enough to pass for
"No jewels, except hair jewelry," Aunt Hermia was
saying. I repressed a shudder. I had never warmed to the
notion of wearing a dead person's hair braided around my
wrist or knotted at my ears. "After a year and a day,
you will be permitted black fabric with a sheen, and deep
purple or grey with a black stripe. If you choose to wear
black after that time, you may relieve it with touches of
white. Although," she added with a conspiratorial look,
"I think a year is quite enough, and you must do what
you like after that."
I glanced at my sister Portia, who was busy feeding her
ancient pug some rather costly crab fritters laced with
caviar. She looked up and wrinkled her nose at me over
"Don't fret, dearest. You have always looked striking in
I grimaced at her and turned back to Aunt Hermia, who was
deliberately ignoring Portia's flippancy. As children, we
had been quite certain that Aunt Hermia was partially deaf.
It was only much later when we realized that there was
absolutely nothing wrong with her hearing. The trick of
hearing only what she wanted had enabled her to raise her
widowed brother's ten children with some measure of sanity.
"Black stockings of course," she was saying,
"and we shall have to order some new handkerchiefs edged
"I am working on them now," said my sister Bee from
the corner. Industrious as her namesake, she kept her head
bowed over her work, her needle whipping through the fine
lawn with its load of thin black silk.