Elisabeth's Tale
by Merri-Todd Webster
(30 April 1999)

"And behold, thy cousin Elizabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren."
(Luke 1:36, Authorised Version)

It must be difficult for you to understand why I'm not angry.

You see, my husband and I are relics of a bygone age. No one expected us to be in love when we married. It was all arranged. It was a suitable match, and we were quite compatible, really, though he has always preferred the city and I the country. We were always considerate of one another's feelings, and we had quite similar approaches to the rearing of children, so it all worked out quite well. Even when I began to have some understanding of my husband's real work, and what it meant for... all of us.

But we were never *in love*. We were never expected to be. It wasn't something I expected of him, not something necessary to our marriage. We were quite happy without it.

So I was not terribly shocked, you see, when he told me that he had always preferred the company of other men. Younger men.

I had suspected as much. Not that he ever gave me cause to feel jealous, or behaved in any way inappropriately. But a woman knows, as they say.... Our youngest was four when we agreed that three children were enough, that we no longer wished to live together in an--intimate way, and that we should each be free to pursue discreet liaisons, as long as we did not publicly humiliate the other.

Don't look so shocked, child. We English can be civilised, too.

He was always very discreet. He kept them out of my sight when we visited together. He supported me more than generously--his family was much wealthier than mine. He consulted me on everything that had to do with the estate, the inheritance, and the welfare of the children. We became better friends, I think, once we ceased to pretend a desire which was not there. And I entertained an old friend from my school days one Christmas and found myself falling in love, perhaps for the first time in my life. Douglas and I have been together for many years now, and he is a good friend to the family, to my husband, and supportive of his work.

The first time I met you, I knew you were different. The mere fact that you were permitted to meet me signalled that difference. There have been some... companions, in the past, who never even knew I was alive; they were allowed to assume that he was a widower. I was content that it should be so. But you were introduced to me not as a mere companion, but as a protege. As the man he was training to take over his position in the syndicate. His heir, in that way. It was only by seeing the way he looked at you that I knew something more was going on.

I don't know if you've realised it, Alex, and I think you should know. He has fallen in love with you. And you have been more... loving to him than you can imagine. He is so lonely, in many ways, for all the friendship he and I have shared. You have shared responsibilities, dilemmas, that I could not. And you have gifted him with your beauty. Don't try to blush--I know quite well you know what you're doing with those eyes. It is an asset. You have used it wisely in gaining his attention, and you have kept his attention with your intelligence and your aptitude for the work. You would *not* have remained in his favor if your looks were all you had to offer. Nor should I be sitting here telling you these things. I have the respect for you that he does, my boy. He has chosen well in choosing you.

I shall have to go back to Scotland soon, lest I arouse suspicion. But this house here is in your name now--yes, he would have told you that--so you may visit as often as you like. I want you to take care of him, Alex, *good* care of him. He needs you not only to continue his work, but to love him as much as you are able. Don't tell me that you are not capable of that. You're a good liar, my dear, but not that good. I've seen too many pretty boys who were interested only in his money and his breeding, and how it would make their reputation to be known as one of *his* paramours. You are not one of those. You came to him for work, I know--he told me about that--but you've stayed with him for love, whether you know it or not.

Now. After he sees me off, he will want his bath and his bed. Go to him then, my boy. Don't wait for him to come to you. Go to him and do what your heart tells you. Oh, you still have a heart, Alex. I can hear it beating. And so can you.