I wake in an empty bed, my mood made worse by morning drizzle. The wind picks up, howling. Showers turn to blowing sheets of rain before breakfast. What does one do on such a dismal day but nurse disappointments? I could read by the fire, or do needlepoint but feel oddly restless and unsettled.
John left abruptly for London yesterday afternoon, alarmed by rumors of legislation to tax wealthy landowners. This unpopular measure will surely fail in the heavily conservative House of Lords, but attendance of all members was paramount to curtail possible consequences. The manor feels large and cold without him.
I sit at the vanity brushing my hair, the green of my eyes starring back, as if searching for answers. Perhaps we should have bought a villa in France. Art is so alive there and the weather predictable. No, I tell myself. John would never leave England, not even for the summer. His loyalties are too deeply rooted. I place my brush on the table, coil my hair, choose a lavender pick comb and fasten mounds at the crown of my head. My mind is racing now. How shall I begin my education? What shall I do with the loneliness of the day?
John’s book, Descartes Theory of Ideas, sits on the arm of his leather chair. I finger its worn binding. Yes, I decide, feeling inspired. I’ll read René Descartes and surprise him. We’ll discuss theories over tea when John returns. I tuck my feet under the warm folds of my nightdress, open the book and begin.
All knowledge comes in three categories: authority, sensory experience or reason. We take sensory images to be like the material body but we can never know if the material world is like the sensory experience we have of it, because we can never compare these mental experiences with the world itself. This is a Cartesian Conundrum. To know if the world is like our sensations of it, we would have to know the world directly to compare our sensations with the material bodies.
Perhaps I won’t read after all. Such a dry intellectual turn of words would surely send me to an early grave.
Ducks with opened wings splash in a raging stream outside the window. They’re foraging for insects and splattering mud. The gardener’s cap shields his face as he digs near hydrangeas, and the groom steadies a herd of mares returning from the bridleway. Everyone is at work despite the weather – and I suddenly realize that work is my answer as well. I’ll use the day to make a studio in the attic and ready art supplies. My spirit brightens as I imagine painting in the garret’s natural light, positioning an easel, and the installation of shelves to house paints, books and canvas. I pull the servants cord with renewed excitement.
Albert enters looking gaunt. A moment of calm passes between us as I make a mental note to have his uniform tailored to fit his declining frame. His service can not be faulted, and yet a smug quality in his smile puts me off.
“Albert, please inform the coachman that I’ll be leaving for the hamlet of Crambe in twenty minutes. I’d like him to ready the carriage.”
Albert is not quick to move. “May I ask what takes you into such turbulent weather?”
It is not his place but I will answer. “I am in need of project supplies.”
He pulls at the cuff of his white glove, firelight emphasizing the shine of his balding head. “Are you sure Lady that the supplies you need are not already in the storage room? The housekeeper and kitchen staff do an excellent job of… ”
“Do not question my orders! Have a carriage ready in twenty minutes.”
“Of course, my Lady, it’s just that the weather is not fit for travel. Horses are easily spooked in this gale. In my experience, once mid-day darkness sets in, things can only get worse. Perhaps one of us could go in your stead, and if it is not urgent, travel could be delayed until the storm breaks.”
“That is enough Albert. I’m sure you would not dare question the orders of Master Attwood. I’ll expect my carriage at two o’clock precisely, without footman or traveling maid. A single coachman will suffice. You’re excused.”