As I sit down at my desk to write, I wonder if my journal will be able to hold all the events of this day, or whether the pages will scatter like leaves torn from a tree in a tremendous storm…
We were all just sat down to breakfast when in came Papa, quite flushed and out of breath, and told us that the Titanic had struck an iceberg and sunk! We were speechless at such a calamity, although not until Mama explained to me that an iceberg is not the same thing as an ice cube did it truly dawn on me, the enormity of the event. Mama said she couldn’t escape an ominous sensation that our charmed world, so seemingly solid, was somehow on the verge of crumbling away and vanishing forever. The breakfast-room butler, Eames, was cleaning up crumbs and she said to him, “Eames, wouldn’t that be too awful for us—for all of us?” Eames nodded and said it would be, madam, and then Mama, who loves Eames like a devoted employee of thirty-two years, pointed out a few tiny crumbs on the floor, almost microscopic, actually, and suggested the best thing might be for him to bring his nose down to ground and snort them up, the way gentlemen used to do with snuff.
A few minutes later Evans, the butler who opens the front door from within while a third butler, Ealing, blows encouragement on the hinges from outside, announced that my cousin Carlisle had arrived and was requesting to see me privately in the library. Mama and Papa and my sisters all twittered and twinkled, because it has seemed only a matter of time before cousin Carlisle should propose to me. Of course it has struck me, in moments of reflective solitude such as occur when one lives in a home of two-hundred-and-fifty rooms on 500 acres including a petting zoo and a chocolate fountain, that perhaps it isn’t the healthiest thing to marry one’s cousin. But then Mama always reassures me that there is strong, sturdy Nordic blood on Carlisle’s mother’s side. Mostly the backside. From the front and in profile she is quite nondescript. And he is awfully rich. His valet has a valet.
After we had exchanged pleasantries, agreeing to open them later, Carlisle told me he wanted to ask a question that could change our lives forever, depending on my answer. But then Great Aunt Rodelinda came charging through the room, shouting that Archduke Franz Ferdinand had been shot by an antichrist, or an anarchist, or something. After she was gone, I composed myself so that I might tell Carlisle he could go jump in a lake—it is curious, how capricious we aristocratic women are—but
I had to let him ask his question first. So I told him to fire away. He wanted to know would I would be prepared to give up fox hunting, which he found barbaric in such a civilized age as ours, and instead allow villagers to be catapulted into the air and used as clay pigeons? Then Aunt Rodelinda came charging back in, shrieking that we were now at war. Carlisle stiffened with militant pride and said he would join the cavalry, if they would have him. I said it was almost certain he would be accepted immediately, since he had yet to dismount from his horse. He galloped off through the French doors and was gone.
Like Mama, I too now felt as if a shadow had fallen across our life of innocence and privilege. “My generation has been sacrificed, and with it my youth,” I said while we had our tea. Mama became quite cross with me. She insisted I buck up for the sake of the country and stop all this moping, or she would cancel the ball for my forty-fifth birthday. I rushed from the room in distress and fell into the arms of the old parlor maid, Tessie. Actually, I fell on her, because she was writhing across the floor in a velveteen sack, the better to buff the polished floor. I wept like a child and she, dear old soul, consoled me like a child and gave me a lollipop.
Oh, I suspect people in the future will find our way of life—this “saga” of life upstairs and downstairs—a source of fascination or even cheap nostalgia, such as I feel for the rum trade. And yet I hope they will realize how much we loved our chattel serfs servants, and how much they admired us.
By dinner, the war had indeed changed our lives forever. “The lamps are going out all over Europe,” said Papa as we sat in the dark eating a cold spaghetti that, thanks to the delicious ingenuity of Cook, earlier in the day been an antimacassar in the foyer. I saw no use staying at home while our boys were in the trenches, so I trained to drive an ambulance. If only there had been any soldiers lying around wounded on our property, I would have felt deeply fulfilled. But Papa strictly forbade Borse the gardener to dig trenches or put up barbed wire, and so none would come.
But—finally—we have peace as the day concludes. My maid, Becky, has come to tell me she has drawn my bath. She is a darling, but she has no eye and can barely hold a pencil, and she has made the tub look like a rhombus filled with chaotic fire. I can’t imagine life without her! Oh—now Eames is striking the gong down in the hall and shouting at the top of his lungs that Archduke Franz Ferdinand has been assassinated all over again. I suppose history does repeat itself.