"...that I shall say goodnight, until it be morrow."
- William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet.
The Prince Regent’s Birthday Ball was held on his naming day, rather than his actual birthday.
“Tradition”, the Palace liked to say. Routine, Reynolds had called it. Not that Routine did all that much for the King, these days, but relationships between servants were always a matter of what they could grasp, in between their all-consuming duties.
Ironically, Brimsley had come to understand Reynolds better through their respective monarchs. He had been the one to console Charlotte as much as propriety permitted when she wept over the little Prince Alfred, who did not survive his childhood, and Princess Amelia’s death, and again only weeks later, when the grief finally broke King George’s mind beyond return. From her first days in England, he had been the ear to her fears, couched as complaints. He had witnessed her struggles, and could only be as supportive as possible, her safe harbour in the world.
Reynolds had been the same for King George, the only one to truly know how hard the King struggled to maintain his grip on sanity, what he endured for the promise of a cure, and the hopes and fears that warred in his mind.
It was hard, to feel compassion for their plight, to want – so desperately want – to help, all while knowing that their respective stations did not allow for such plain speech or advice as was needed.
Queen Charlotte did love her children, and wanted the best for them, but at the same time, she was a stranger to them. Fifteen pregnancies in the first twenty years of her marriage, Queen Charlotte’s every activity closely monitored so as not to endanger the royal baby growing inside her, left her very little opportunity to be a mother to those children already in the Royal Nursery. Then she’d had to take the reins and rule a kingdom in King George’s illness, draining even more time and energy.
Brimsley was the only one who knew how much she doubted and blamed herself for the King’s decline. She questioned if the Doctor’s brutal methods actually had been the best thing for the King’s… episodes, after all, and whether she had been wrong to send him away. Likely no one would ever know, but that did not make the doubts easier for Queen Charlotte to bear.
She dressed in the now-outdated styles from the early days of their marriage, the same elaborate hairstyles from when George first fell in love with her. Anything that might bring the brief periods of lucidity.
It could be no easy thing, trapped in time, grieving a husband lost yet unable to properly mourn while he lived. Her daughters had chosen to remain with her, and then become almost as trapped as Queen Charlotte was. It had mattered less, when Princess Charlotte of Wales was alive as the Prince Regent’s heiress, married and expecting, but now the Crown suffered the same crisis as when King George took the throne: limited legitimate heirs, and an unclear succession if the Princes and Princesses didn’t start having legitimate children of their own.
As it ever had, Queen Charlotte’s fears were expressed in sharp words and angry complaints, having taken Dowager Princess Augusta’s lessons a little too much to heart as a young Queen struggling to find and keep her footing.
Sitting down at his desk while Queen Charlotte’s dressers assisted her in preparing for the night, Brimsley penned a short letter. “Tonight, I shall dance alone, and remember the feeling of you in my arms. Duty binds us apart, but my heart is ever in your keeping.”
He sent a footman to take it to Kew Palace.
Reynolds had followed King George to Kew, of course, and his opportunities to see Brimsley in person, rather than communicating by note and the occasional meeting when walking Queen Charlotte’s dogs – or delivering a new one when the king forgot he had already gifted the one before - were rare. Reynolds missed Brimsley like an amputated limb, but they endured.
It was treasonous to imagine the King’s death, but there were times that Reynolds wished for his monarch to finally have peace and allow his Queen to mourn him properly, rather than the half-oblivious suffering, knowing that something was not right, but unable to identify it.
The King’s attendants prepared him for bed, and Reynolds sat down to read Brimsley’s note, and pen a reply. “One day, we will dance together again. Until then, my heart is with you, even if I cannot be.”
Brimsley would not have time to himself again this evening, so Reynolds would send it over first thing in the morning, via whichever footman he was least pleased with at the time.
The news that Prince Edward and Princess Victoria had brought, the news of a new legitimate grandchild, must be a great weight off her heart. Brimsley ordered the carriage made ready to take the Queen to Kew.
Sometimes he wondered if Queen Charlotte suspected – shrewd and cunning woman that she was – because no sooner had Reynolds stepped into view to welcome them, than she waved him away. “Do not hover so, Brimsley! I can walk inside myself.”
The half-smirk on Reynolds’s lips did nothing to conceal how pleased he was to see him. “Well, Brimsley, since this is likely to be a long visit, perhaps you would care for some hot cider in my quarters?”
Reynolds’s aristocratic good looks had faded slightly with age, just as Brimsley’s boyish features had, and the fires of youthful passion had cooled, but even as their visits became rarer, the sight of the other man never failed to make the world that little bit brighter. “Thank you, Reynolds, I should enjoy that very much.”