Song of the Caged Duchess – Hanna Hamilton

Tears streamed down Lady Esther’s face as the carriage pulled away from Harcourt Manor and out onto the main road. Her lady’s maid, Amelia, reached out and rested a hand on top of hers. “Take heart, My Lady,” she said. “After all, this was only your first courtship, and you’re still very young. It won’t be long before you capture the attention of another gentleman.” Esther shook her head. “There’s no one else like him, Amelia. No one else in the world.” “You told me yourself, many times, that one gentleman is just as good as another,” Amelia said. “But I was wrong,” Esther said. “I believed that his standing in society was what mattered most about him, but there’s so much more to him than that. And now…” She let out a dramatic sigh. “I was about to say that I would never see him again, but it’s worse than that, isn’t it! It’s ever so much worse. Because not only will I see him, I’ll have to watch him marry someone else! How can I bear it?” “You mustn’t dwell on him, My Lady,” Amelia said. “Let him fade from your thoughts.

Forget him, if you can.” Esther shook her head. “How am I to do that, Amelia?” she asked. “These past three months have been the most emotional of my life. I never expected that anything like this would happen. I never expected that I would fall in love.” “Young ladies fall in love when they attend their first Season,” Amelia said wisely. “It happens. You are certainly not immune to that, My Lady.” She reached into her pocket and produced a handkerchief, which she handed to Esther.

“Everything will be all right. You’ll see.” “I’ve been happier this Season than ever before in my life,” Esther said. She dabbed at her eyes carefully. “Isn’t that strange? I never thought my life was lacking anything before. I always thought I had everything I needed.” “I told you otherwise countless times,” Amelia reminded her. “I told you, didn’t I, that you couldn’t ignore love?” “Don’t scold me, Amelia,” Fresh tears cascaded down Esther’s cheeks. “I know you’re older than I am, but this seems a very cruel time to remind me of your wisdom.” “I don’t do it to be cruel, My Lady,” Amelia said gently.

“I do it to show you that I know what I’m talking about. To show you that you can and should have faith when I tell you that love will find you again. The pain you’re feeling today won’t always be so fresh and raw. One day, you’ll be able to remember this fondly.” “I don’t think I will,” Esther said. “I wish I had never known him at all!” “You don’t mean that,” Amelia said. “Think of the good times you had this Season. Think of how it felt to be courted. You enjoyed it while it was going on, even if it hasn’t ended as you would have hoped. You wouldn’t change that, truly, would you?” Esther sighed.

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I really don’t, Amelia. Because the truth is that it has been wonderful. That’s part of what makes it so painful now to see it coming to an end.” “Of course,” Amelia said. “I would be surprised if you didn’t feel that way. You’ve felt love for the first time, and have known what it is to be loved. That’s a difficult thing to say goodbye to. It’s intoxicating. It feels as if the world is coming to an end.

” “Yes,” Esther agreed. “That’s exactly how it feels!” “But is the pain so awful that you would prefer never to have felt the good things that came before it?” “I would prefer to have the good things without any pain,” Esther said, deliberately sulking just a little bit. She was gratified when Amelia laughed. “There you are,” Amelia said, patting her arm. “I knew your strength and good humor would get you through this, My Lady. You’re going to be all right.” “I don’t know,” Esther said. “I think you’re right that I’m glad to have experienced love. But when I think of what he must be thinking about his time with me…it just makes me want to curl up and hide! He must think so poorly of me.” “I don’t think that’s true,” Amelia said.

“We can never really know what others are thinking or feeling, My Lady, and it does us no good to guess.” “This doesn’t feel like a guess,” Esther said. “Did you see the way he looked at me yesterday as he was leaving? And the worst part of all is knowing that I deserve his disdain! All the terrible things he must be thinking about me—he’s exactly right to think them.” Amelia shook her head. “Be kinder to yourself, Lady Esther,” she said. “This was your first courtship, after all. Even if it was mishandled, you’re hardly the first young lady to make the mistakes you made. If anything, it’s he who is in the wrong for not being more understanding of your situation and your inexperience!” “Oh, Amelia,” Esther sighed. “You would take my side no matter what I had done, wouldn’t you?” “I would,” Amelia agreed stoutly. “But that doesn’t mean that my opinion ought to be disregarded, My Lady.

I feel that any sensible person would be on your side.” “I can tell you that my parents certainly won’t be,” Esther said miserably, leaning back in her seat. “They’ll be furious that I spoiled my chances at marriage.” She laughed ruefully. “To think that the one thing they’ve said to me all Season long was that I shouldn’t ruin my prospects! Over and over they said it, and over and over I took offense. It felt like such an insult that they thought they needed to tell me not to ruin things, that they were so certain I would. And now, in the end, it turns out they were right! I have ruined everything.” “You’ve done nothing of the sort,” Amelia said. “But you know that’s what they’re going to say,” Esther said. “They may, My Lady,” Amelia agreed.

“But you must pay them no mind if they do. Remember, I’ve been with you all Season long, and I can see no point at which you acted in a way your parents would not have approved of.” “If anything, the problem is that I did too much of what they would approve of, isn’t it?” Esther asked. “A problem for which you can hardly be blamed,” Amelia said. “You are young, Esther, a fact you often seem not to remember.” “I’m not that young,” Esther objected. “I’m twenty years old, Amelia, and you yourself are only four-and-twenty. You act as if you’re old enough to be my aunt sometimes, but you’re more of an elder sister.” “That’s true,” Amelia said. “And as a servant, I have no personal experience with the challenges of being a lady.

But I have had my share of romantic affairs. I do know a thing or two about what that’s like. You did what you thought was right, Lady Esther. You and I discussed it many times.” “And every time, you told me I was wrong,” Esther sighed. “I should have listened to you, Amelia, and not to my parents. If I had, this might have ended differently.” “You can remember that when your next suitor comes calling,” Amelia said. Esther shook her head. “I can’t imagine being courted by anyone else,” she said.

“I’ll only be able to see the ways in which he doesn’t measure up.” “You’ll get there,” Amelia said. “I don’t know if I even want to get there, Amelia,” Esther said. “I thought I was mere weeks away from being married.” “I know you did,” Amelia said sympathetically. “Marriage will happen for you, My Lady. I’ve no doubt of that.” “Can I tell you the strangest thing of all, Amelia?” “You can tell me anything,” her lady’s maid said. “Surely you know that, My Lady.” Esther nodded.

“I always thought I knew how I would feel when the time came for me to marry,” she said. “I thought I would feel proud. Accomplished. As if I was in control of the situation. I thought it would feel like I had mastered something.” “And it wasn’t like that?” Amelia asked. Esther shook her head. “Just the opposite,” she said. “I’ve never felt less in control—of my feelings, of my future. And yet I liked it! I’ve never been happier! I would never have imagined that it would be that way.

” “You were in love,” Amelia said gently. “We all lose control of ourselves when we fall in love.” “Well, perhaps if I’d maintained more control of myself, I wouldn’t have lost him,” Esther said. “If you had maintained control, I doubt you would have fallen in love in the first place,” Amelia pointed out. With a sigh, Esther buried her face in her hands. “Don’t think that I don’t see how silly I’m being,” she said. “Our time together is over, and he is to marry someone else, not me.” She shook her head. “He could admire me, or he could think I’m the worst person I’ve ever known, and what difference would it really make?” “It matters to you because you care for him, My Lady,” Amelia said quietly. “It matters because you want him to care for you.

Even though you’re not to be married, his opinion probably matters more to you than anyone else’s in the world right now. It’s normal that you should feel that way.” “But I’ll have to let that go,” Esther said firmly. She was determined to put this unfortunate incident behind her, difficult though she knew it would be to do so. “I want to find love with someone else eventually, even though it seems impossible right now.” “That’s good, My Lady,” Amelia said encouragingly. “It’s good that you’re able to foresee a future where you’ll be able to do that.” Esther nodded and turned to look out the window of the carriage. The truth was that it didn’t seem possible at all. It seemed like an insane daydream, like hoping that she would one day be able to fly.

How could she fall in love again the way she had this time? And do I truly even want to fall in love again, when I know that doing so would mean saying goodbye to the love I feel today?

.

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