Dorothea interjected. âEdward seems to have been more intimate with Augustus than with Laura.â
Sir Sidney frowned, but only said, âNevertheless, I will do my duty by her.â
So it was settled, and I was rewarded in some measure for my sorrows and misfortunes.
Thus ended the adventures of my youth. Both love and friendship were forever lost to me, for I never found another husband to compare with Edward, though I have twice since tried the married state with much the same result. Nor has there ever appeared in my circle a friend like the lovely Sophia.
With the money provided by Sir Sidney, I retired to this remote spot, forever to lament the death of my mother, father, husband and friends. Of course, mourning, as everyone must be aware, can be quite an exhausting business. I am constrained to renew my strength with the occasional party, ball, or theatrical entertainment.
As for the others, all remain much the same to this day, with the exception of poor Philippa, who has long since gone to her reward; her husband still drives the stage to Edinburgh, however. Sir Sidney married Lady Dorothea, to the mutual advantage of both their fortunes; and Augusta so far debased herself as to wed a Frenchman. Philander and Gustavus went on the stage, performing in pantomimes and other entertainments, under the names of Lewis and Quick. I often attend their performances when I am in London for the season. Isabel returned to Ireland for a time, then established herself in Bath as one of the pillars of Polite Society.
As for me, nothing can ever offer consolation for all I have endured, nor erase the memories which time merely burnishes to an ever-glistening lustre. The loss of my One True Love, Edward, is a tragedy which has blighted my entire life. I therefore conclude with this word of advice to all young ladies of tender sensibilities: preserve yourself from a First Love and you need not fear a Second.
Take heed, dear reader, from my fate. And so, adieu.
T he preceding narrative is not, in fact, a complete record of the life and exploits of Laura. Nor does it do justice to at least one of the other unfortunates who figures in her story. The recounting of Lauraâs last days is an arduous task that has been left to my own feeble pen, but it was one that I could not, in all good conscience, neglect.
I visited Lauraâs home on three occasions over the course of a fortnight in order to read aloud her effusive prose. When at last I had finished, she expressed herself as being intensely gratified by hearing her words given voice, which accolade I accorded all the respect of which I felt it to be worthy.
âIâm afraid,â I told her then, rising from my seat, âthat I must be going. The evening is far advanced, and my mother expects me for supper.â
âBut stay,â she abjured me mysteriously. âBefore you go, allow me to reveal to you the heart of my humble house.â
âIf you insist.â
She led me down a narrow hallway to a small ante-room festooned almost entirely in black draperies. As we passed through the doorway, directly facing us was a large demi-lune table above which hung two portraits. One was of a somewhat gloomy-looking young man and the other a desiccated blonde. The table was covered with about a dozen votive candles, looking more like an overdressed church altar. They provided the only light, making the rest of the room appear like a small cave or grotto.
Coming up behind her, I could see that each portrait was draped with a swag of black velvet which puddled against the wall at the back of the table.
âHere, Marianne,â she said in hushed tones, âis the shrine to my lost love, my vanished hopes and dreams.â
âThese portraits, I suppose, are those of your husband and your friend?â
She then reached down and picked up two miniatures which lay