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Washington’s Once Princess

By @Val


Howard Nemur sat opposite of Emilie in the train car, his round cheeks turning flush every time he glanced up at her. There was a boiling rage in him, uncontainable when eyeing the object of his betrayal. She returned his hot anger with pink embarrassment, ashamed and wroth with herself for having sought his help.

Fifteen years. That was how long Howard had attended this child, and only once in her self-righteous existence had he struck her. Howard wished to strike her again, as he had done when she first came to him seeking personal amnesty in her time of disgrace. There was a sense of duty in that action. Atonement for the shame she had brought the regal name, her own name, which Howard had sworn to protect. Emilie’s lips, unaccustomed to abuse, had begun to bleed, and compassion for the child soon won over Howard’s senses. Against all moral obligation to the crown, Howard accepted this denounced heir into his custody.

A month later she did beseech him once more, wishing to flee Washington in a train car to Winchester. To rid himself of her treacherous presence, and also for the place young Emilie still held in his heart, Howard made the arrangements. She had chosen, he thought, the perfect time to resign in disgrace. Were it not for the coming festivities, this escape West would not be so practical. In fact, the more he thought about it, Emilie could not have orchestrated this better if her disgrace were in fact planned.

Unlike Howard, Emilie was not thinking about the successes of her dishonor. Quite the opposite. Emilie Kates considered instead her namesake, relentlessly comparing her dishonor to the favourable reign of a woman longtime dead. A queen she had once been said to resemble in her fine features and benign disposition. Popular opinion did change with young Emilie’s fall from grace. This new juxtaposition was shocking. The entire history of a beloved monarch, soiled by her own descendant’s weakened refinement and loose morals. Emilie did wonder at the power she never knew herself to possess – the ability to tarnish a historic family name with the simple matter of her disownment.

On her mind now was the strong opinion of Washington, and what its subjects now muttered in their dim lit parlours over shared glasses of port and brandy. These things, these scandals, have happened before in the Kates royal family, though never to an expected heir. Emilie assumed – no, she knew – that for her it was worse. She had committed similar crimes as her predecessors, though being next in line for the throne led to a greater agony when raked over the hot coals of Washington’s scrutiny. She had been the intended queen, and her crimes were of the sort that brought into question an entire monarchy, landing a watchful eye on the next century’s line of Kates kings and queens.

Emilie pitied poor Henry. A nine year old boy did not deserve his name questioned and abilities debated because of his sister’s incompetency. If only he were born a Clemonte, or a Montesa, or a Belo. Were he the child of some acquainted crown, he would be free of this humiliation. Not doomed to rule Washington without the respect or acceptance of his country’s people.

The Countess jolted. This did not startle Emilie as it once had. She recalled, as her head snapped against the windowpane, that at one point in time she had been fearful of this monstrous work of metal and smoke. It had been, and still was, so much bigger than her. That seemed reason enough to fear something, though now Emilie had fears that grew much larger than this iron Countess. Invisible ones – opinions and politics – that, though they went unseen, did not fail to outweigh the childhood fear of trains.

As the Countess rattled through the flush mid-region of Nicolet, Emilie felt in her chest her adolescent unease returning. It was natural, she reminded herself, to fear things that reminded us of our insignificance. This reassurance did little good. She pulled the shade, blocking her view of the expansive agricultural region. It was flush with green and thick with plantlife. foreign to Emilie’s upbringing in urban Washington. Foreign, yes, yet it sparked in her an unwanted memory – the memory of her treason.

On the day of her reckoning, Emilie thought she would make her mother proud. Queen Margaret was a dainty thing, easy to please. That is how Emilie would remember her, though she knew the talent for delighting her mother was no longer in her possession. Dishonor seemed to have worn away many of her previous talents. Her constant occupations; stitchwork, drawing, piano forte – all the hobbies she practiced in those long years of childhood, gone now. Her mother would keel at the thought of Emilie’s hours now spent idle, had the scandal not toiled her nerves already.

It was shocking to Emilie how difficult her mother’s face was to produce by memory. She knew the proud, queenly expressions of this dignified woman, but the only conjurable image was that of their last meeting. It remained vivid yet, though months had passed. Queen Margaret’s face had gone pale, black tears weeping from eyes that could only stare, mouth agape, at the daughter before her being lost. Emilie could think of her now in only a permanent state of grief. Stoney eyed, cloaked in black, a mesh veil over her somber face. Her little Emilie, her only daughter, dishonored and denoted – banished from the capital and forgotten by her monarchy.

There was, at this point in Queen Margaret’s life, no chance of replacing Emilie. She was, after all, an elder queen, well beyond her reproductive years. No hope of a second daughter to offer the Hammond name for marriage. Nothing to sweeten relations and strengthen the Cross Monarchal. Margaret’s hopes fell to Henry, the remaining heir, a boy of only nine. She had been lucky in conceiving him, but so much remained uncertain. His character was unknown to the world and to Margaret, who wept at this. Emilie had seemed such a perfect match, though this assumption proved false. Henry had been raised in the same manner and grown to adopt the same sweetly disposition as his older sister, yet Margaret’s severe error of judgement with the first of her children would forever keep the queen from ease. She would never come to trust young Henry in the way she had Emilie. Once was enough to prove such unprecedented faith inethical.

Emilie lemented the grief she had caused her mother, and she wished for some way to apologize to poor Henry, but her brother would never hear it. Not when Washington was hundreds of miles behind her. It seemed there was not a person from her past she could remember without feeling guilt. In the time, she believed her actions would leave Margaret with something to boast about to her congress of fine ladies in satin dresses as they sipped coffee and discussed what they knew to be truly important: the engagements of their children. The succession of their blood. Emilie’s engagement, above all else, was in the thoughts and kind wishes of these congressional coffees.

Emilie wanted this. She craved her mother’s pride. She desired the jealousy of these prominent, yet significantly lesser, women. She had so such lust for Mr. Du Ponts, her betrothed, and yet she agreed to the match with confidence. Their marriage was to be, as royal marriages always were, the simplest way of assuring an alliance.

He was not so bad – Mr. Du Ponts. A bit wiry, but not displeasing on the eyes. His hair was a light brown, cut short around the neck and ears, with yet some length left on top to be slicked back and styled – as was the trend. There was little to be said about his features. He was sixteen years old on the day they met, and Emilie only twelve. After a ceremonious introduction, Emilie was left with little to remember about her intended husband, but she knew he was not cruel. Not violent. Nothing of the wicked sense. In every aspect he was a respectable suitor. He’ll grow up handsome, Queen Margaret whispered into her daughter’s blushing ear. Du Ponts is a good name and a clever match. The king had little else to offer in response to what would become his daughter’s husband and half of Washington’s ruling couple. In this way the engagement was settled between the Kates and the Du Ponts – with little question of the children themselves but of their names – securing a new regal bloodline.

Emilie saw her betrothed a scattered few times in the three years to follow. Seven times in total. She hardly recognized him on the day she fell from grace.

Mauve colored silk. The queen had picked the dress out herself. She eyed Emilie happily in the strategically selected color. It looks lovely with your eyes. The garment fit loosely around Emilie’s chest, hinting at a figure that was yet to develop. It would be coming quickly, she gathered. The monthly bleeding surly could not plague her without some form of reward. She smiled at her mother, genuinely, and at her reflection as well. That day she looked far older than fifteen, and she carried herself in a way only mature women knew how. Queen Margaret had orchestrated things so that her daughter would know these womanly ways well ahead of her time. While her husband busied himself running a country, she prepared an heir.

A successful marriage is a successful reign. The queen insisted on this, and it seemed true enough for her own. For three years she fussed to replicate this success in her daughter. She encouraged discourse between Emilie and the Du Ponts women, who Emilie saw more of than her betrothed, and consented to anything that would please Mr. Du Ponts – small gifts and well attended parties for the most part.

They would have made good children, Emilie and Mr. Du Ponts. Handsome boys and pretty little girls. She knew it immediately upon their formal reintroduction. Mr. Du Ponts was nineteen on that day. In those three years of engagement he had grown tall and his lanky limbs took up some muscle. Not enough to make him bold, but enough to acquire an ego.

His handsome features, Emilie could not deny. They were exotically fair and kindly arranged. His brown hair had lightened over the years, though styled similarly to what she remembered. Her thoughts went back to three years prior, when they first became acquainted. Did she look as grown now as she felt inside? Was she as beautiful as he remembered, or had she changed from the distant memory that must have faded from him over time? She wondered vainly if the mauve dress pleased him, and if she compared to the women of Maine he was accustomed to. Beyond reason and self respect, she began to imagine if their children would be beautifully dark like her with the Du Ponts fair hair, or pale skinned cherubs crowned with Kates black locks.

Princess Emilie, he greeted her cordially, kissing her extended hand. She could still feel it now, through the grime of her new life of exile, and shuddered slightly. In that time, she responded confidently, and began a day that should have been the first of many together.

Mrs. Du Ponts parted from her son that afternoon for the company of her peers, allowing a warning glance before taking seat for cards. Emilie did not question this at the time, though since her fall she had ample time to consider the glances and unspoken implications of the monarchy and its neighboring society. Queen Margaret encouraged privacy for the couple with great fervor, disregarding the impropriety of premarital solitude.

The betrothed entered this solitude with polite acceptance; Emilie accustomed to her mother’s disregard of that which was typically expected, and Mr. Du Ponts eager to escape the confining royal society. He seemed to care little for the company of Mrs. Du Ponts or any of the fine ladies and honoured gentlemen she sat with. In Emilie’s eyes, he was quite deviated from the high class men and women who often craved the crown’s favor. Emilie was charmed by this.

When my mother announced our engagement, I had expected some monstrosity, Mr. Du Ponts said. You never know with princesses. Some are fine women, but I’ve met a few spoiled heirs with little to boast of in their plain faces. But you are quite an agreeable young woman.

Emilie did not question Mr. Du Ponts. She would have liked to, but there was little room for response. He spoke with gusto about many things, sounding urgent in his need to address such topics as politics, sport, and even the finer theatre and orchestra. To Emilie’s great joy, she had many clever things to say in response. Her mother had prepared her well. It occured to Emilie that Mr. Du Ponts was testing her, hoping to know if his intended wife was as silly as young girls tended to be. She believed herself, at the time, clever for having realized this. Cleverer yet for having passed.

In all their talking and testing of each other, Emilie detected no fault in Mr. Du Ponts. He was enthusiastic in his conversation and polite in his manners. Patient in listening to her sometimes lengthy responses and generous when leading short debates against her unpopular opinions. Upon his suggestion that they walk the grounds of the estate, Emilie agreed to it most eagerly.

The image of what came next for the young couple would not leave the back of Emilie’s eyelids. She saw the children most vividly, and the waterline basked in the orange of a setting sun. Blinking, she wished it away. To focus on what was before her, Emilie thought, was necessary in order to forget it. What was before her happened to be Howard Nemur.

Nemur was a round man, early thirties by Emilie’s best guess. His dark hair remained inky, without a speck of grey that seemed to overcome most men as the entered middle age. He flipped through the paper at hand, eyes squinting to read the print. When he did glance towards Emilie he became red, returning to his reading with a flick of the paper. His grip crinkled the pages, knuckles tight.

Emilie stared at the man who once was like a father to her when her actual father was busy being a king to his country. Look at me, she thought. Howard only grunted, continuing to absently read his paper. Look at me! This time the thought came desperately and with no reaction. Emilie’s brown eyes began to water and she turned to the window, pulling the blind to see the waterfront now passing by. Children swimming. This brought her again back to her memories. Indistinct figures in her mind, splashing pond water, echoed by the sound of Emilie’s own laughter. Before it could transfigure into a vivid flashback, Emilie pulled the window curtain shut once more, cutting off her view of the Nicolet waters. The train car darkened only slightly and she shifted so that her back leaned against the window, folding her legs onto the seat and hiding her face.

Howard peaked up at this, glancing from the window to Emilie. From behind his newspaper, he spoke for the first time since taking seat in their small train compartment. “You don’t get to forget.”

Emilie’s eyes lifted. They found Howard glaring angrily.

“Or pretend it never happened,” he added.

“I wasn’t-” Emilie tried to argue.

“You were,” he interrupted, “and you can’t.”

There was silence between the two – Emilie speechless, Howard allowing his words to sink in before continuing. He had known her long enough to read these truths plainly from the contortion and shades of her face. He knew she was distracting herself from the memories, and he knew they caused her pain. Howard could not help but wish this pain upon her. It was only right. “Emilie Kates is gone. She does not exist. Not in Washington, not in Winchester. It doesn’t matter where you go or what name you adopt, Emilie Kates will survive only inside of you, and you will always remember what you have done. To yourself and to your family. That is your atonement.”

With this, Howard flicked his paper and returned to reading, feeling as though he had made a powerful speech. Emilie saw it as such, but not one that she could leave unquestioned. “If Emilie Kates no longer exists beyond my conscience, then who am I to the rest of the world?”

Howard looked Emilie in the eye for the first time in months, his gaze intense. “Pick.”

“A name?”

“A name. A history. You’ll need both.”

Emilie looked to her hands, toying the string of her waist. She muttered more to herself than Howard, reciting a phrase her mother often spoke. “God save the liars of this world.”

“To hell with the liars,” Howard said, abruptly filled with anger. “God save the traitors and renegades first. Our kind need it most.”

Emilie’s throat hitched as the thought of her betrayal was thrown so suddenly in her face. There was silence as she repented. Nearly half an hour passed before Howard spoke again. “Start with a name,” he instructed, disregarding the paper onto the seat beside him.

Emilie considered her options, gears turning in her mind. Thoughts came slowly as she transitioned from silent repentance to conversation. “Margaret?” She asked, not confident in her choice. She knew it was wrong the second she said it.

“Not your mother’s name. You’ve stolen enough from her already.”

Ashamed with herself, Emilie thought deeper. Her dark brows furrowed, creasing with deep thought. Wearily, she asked, “Will Martha do?”

Howard considered.

“Martha Brown?”

Howard nodded, understanding. “A servant.”

Emilie shook her head. “Housekeeper.” She was surprised that Howard remembered her at all, though this distinction she felt needed to be made. “She was kind to me, and dead four years. I don’t think she’ll mind me borrowing her name.” 

“Be certain on this princess, you aren’t borrowing anything.” Howard realized his mistake in calling Emilie princess, though he does not backtrack to fix it. Instead he pushes on with only an awkward pause to recognize the plundar. “If Martha Brown is the name you choose, then so be it, but do not imagine you’ll be giving it back.”

Emilie considered this, as well as the ill fate awaiting anyone who takes from the dead. She mulled this over, though it became clear to her in all her thinking that she was already in as grim a predicament as possible. “I am certain,” she said, finally, summoning her courage to hold Howard’s stare. She felt emotional at the declaration, but not unwavering. Howard appeared to accept her certainty with a cool, uncaring demeanor. He reached for the paper and returned once again to his reading, leaving Emilie blinking and overwhelmed. She knew what terrible power a name could have. Her own had the ability to condemn her once omnipotent self to the cruel judgements of society. To speak it brought even unfamiliar eyes on her with hatred and disgust. Indeed, a name was a powerful thing. Hers had been ungodly.

Silently, the once princess of Washington, wished herself better prospects under the name of Martha Brown.

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